When Nanette Lepore partnered with Bluestar Alliance LLC in early 2015, the plan was to take the brand global. Lepore, who had been in talks with other investors, chose the brand management firm because they promised she would remain involved.
"We needed more licensing but didn't have the contacts we needed to go forward with that," she told Fashionista at the time. "What I liked about this deal is that I have the opportunity to have investment in my core company, and I still have complete control over my core company. This was the partner where I felt I had the most control over running the company the way I like to run it."
But as with so many brands that have allowed outsiders in — whether by taking an investment or forging a licensing partnership — it seems that relationship has soured. On Tuesday, Lepore filed suit against Bluestar Alliance on claims that the company has cheapened her brand and acted unlawfully. "The ink on the agreements comprising the deal had not even dried when Bluestar began showing its true colors," the suit alleges. The main point of contention is licensed products that bear Lepore's name but are not up to her standards. Lepore stresses in the suit that "she would not be willing to sacrifice the overall quality and reputation of the Nanette Lepore brand" for "quick earnings in the short term." She was to have final approval on all products bearing her name. Conversely, Bluestar Alliance used its "exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable and perpetual license" of the brand to produce a number of "shoddy" products, including luggage with allegedly carcinogenic chemicals, none of which received Lepore's approval. The company has apparently also attempted to terminate the license agreement, which would allow them to use Lepore's name without restriction.
"Sadly Lepore has received numerous complaints about Bluestar’s shoddy products bearing her name that quickly fall apart, or even worse, pose health risks to consumers (such as risk of cancer and birth defects)," the lawsuit claims. "Indeed, adding insult to injury, despite firing Lepore as creative director, Bluestar continues to represent to licensees and others that Lepore approves and endorses BH's licensees' shoddy, defective and inferior products, when in fact she does not."
Indeed, the other primary issue is that Bluestar Alliance unjustly fired Lepore from NL Brand Holdings, in which she and her husband Robert Savage hold a 20 percent stake. When Lepore held her spring 2016 presentation in September of 2015, she tapped artist Sean Kinney of Eddie Eddie by Billy Tommy for four looks which were exclusive to the show and never produced. Bluestar Alliance found that collaboration to be a "willful and material breach" of contract, which stated she would not associate her name with nor endorse any brand other than those owned by Bluestar Alliance, and terminated Lepore from her role as creative director of NL Brand Holdings without severance. The suit alleges Bluestar Alliance was given advanced notice of the "props" and that Lepore was never notified that it would be an issue; two weeks after terminating her, the company attempted to re-hire her under one-sided terms, which Lepore rejected during initial negotiations.
Lepore is seeking $735,000 in damages, in addition to punitive damages and damages covering attorney fees.
We have reached out to Nanette Lepore and will update with any statement.