We are in the middle of fashion month and reams and gigabytes have been written about the various collections that stomped down runways. Apparently Chanel has got its interlocking-C embossed undies in a bunch about writers and editors using its name as a descriptor for other designers’ collections. So the company took out an entire back page ad in WWD yesterday to tell us all off entreat us:
“A note of information and entreaty to fashion editors, advertisers, copywriters and other well-intentioned mis-users of our Chanel name: Chanel was a designer, an extraordinary woman who made a timeless contribution to fashion. Chanel is a perfume. Chanel is modern elegance in couture, ready-to-wear, accessories, watches and fine jewelry. Chanel is our registered trademark for fragrance, cosmetics, clothing, accessories and other lovely things. Although our style is justly famous, a jacket is not ‘a Chanel jacket’ unless it is ours, and somebody else's cardigans are not ‘Chanel for now.’ And even if we are flattered by such tributes to our fame as 'Chanel-issime, Chanel-ed, Chanels, and Chanel-ized', PLEASE DON'T. Our lawyers positively detest them. We take our trademark seriously. Merci, Chanel, Inc."
Chanel is one of the few fashion brands that can truly be called iconic. If I write that a jacket looks “Chanel-esque” you know exactly what I’m talking about. However, I could get into legal trouble if I write that. Yep.
I spoke to Anne Sterba, who is one of the attorneys at the intellectual property firm Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck. (They are the firm that recently represented Valentino during that 16-year marathon trademark case.) She has never worked with or represented Chanel, but offered her take on the WWD ad.
She said that Chanel or any other trademarked name can’t be turned into an adjective. To do so would require the permission of the company. They own the name. You can’t use it in any kind of descriptive manner at all.
I asked Anne about writing something like: “Designer X showed a collection of jackets that looked a lot like Chanel’s 2004 collection.” She said that even that is a gray area. Like Kleenex and Xerox, Chanel is trying to prevent their name from becoming generic.
So why the ad? “They are policing their brand,” Anne told me. “They have to do it, because if they end up in court with a trademark issue and they can’t prove to a judge that they’ve been trying to protect their brand, they will lose credibility.” So this ad is apparently a part of that process of protecting the trademark. She also mentioned that while start-ups and newer designers might want that exposure, because any press is good, it can hurt the perceived quality of more established brands.
So with this in mind, the jackets I saw in the windows of several different stores today were merely tweedy and boxy, with embellished hems and plackets. They reminded me of no particular brand at all.