A New York Souvenir Company Is Suing Balenciaga For Copyright Infringement [Updated]

And, um, Fashionista is named in the lawsuit?
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The Balenciaga tote in question. Photo: Farfetch.com

The Balenciaga tote in question. Photo: Farfetch.com

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From DHL T-shirts to Ikea bags, Demna Gvasalia has become known for his expensive, high-fashion and ironic takes on unremarkable, everyday items both for Vetements and Balenciaga. While Gvasalia has become the subject of many jokes, Diet Prada posts and even conspiracy theories as a result, no one's actually sued him for copyright infringement — until now.

One of Gvasalia's more recent and egregious "familiar-looking" products is Balenciaga's "Multicoloured New York Bazar Shopper" tote, which debuted early this year and looks pretty much identical to souvenir totes you can find in most of New York City's tourist-heavy areas and gift shops despite costing $1,950. Clearly Gvasalia shouldn't have messed with the New Yorkers behind the company that manufactures these, because on Friday it filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Balenciaga America.

Photo via official complaint filing.

Photo via official complaint filing.

The plaintiff, City Merchandise, Inc., a souvenir company that has been in operation for more than 30 years, alleges that the "total concept and feel" between its designs and Balenciaga's are identical, describing them as "virtually indistinguishable."  It is seeking injunctive relief, recovery of damages and Balenciaga's profits and/or statutory damages, and attorneys' fees.

The filing contains detailed descriptions of the company's original artwork and its "whimsical and appealing layouts and arrangements, compilations and/or collages, skyline perspectives, depicted objects and environmental elements, color schemes and shading, highlighting and bordering, shapes and sizes." 

The real kicker? As proof that Balenciaga's infringing activity had already been "highlighted to the public," Fashionista, and our eagle-eyed editor-in-chief Alyssa Vingan, are named in the suit — a fact of which we were not aware until we arrived at page eight of the filing about 30 minutes ago. It reads: "The editor-in-chief of Fashionista.com, one of the most influential voices covering fashion news with a monthly readership of over 2.5 million, humorously chided Mr. Gvasalia for copying the Design on Plaintiff tote bag (which could be purchased by a tourist at a Hudson News gift shop in JFK Airport for approximately $19.99), whereas Defenant's tote bag retails for nearly $2,000.00," and includes a screen shot of her tweet, embedded below.

The suit also includes other examples of Balenciaga and Gvasalia being called out for allegedly copying others' designs, including those of Ikea and Ruff Ryder, as well as Gvasalia's own admission that his work is all inspired by existing garments. "Based upon its dubious reputation in the fashion industry for appropriating the work of others, as well as public statements attributed to Mr. Gvasalia, it should not be surprising that Defendant has copied Plaintiffs Design in connection with the infringing Products and is passing it off as its own," it reads.

Given the Balenciaga bags' presumably high margins (they couldn't have cost too much to make), City Merchandise, Inc. could stand to receive quite a bit of money if it wins; though it's not clear how well the alleged knock-offs sold — currently you can get one on sale for a steal at $1,170 on Farfetch.

We'll be following this case closely and will be sure to let you all know if we end up having to testify in court. Stay tuned!

UPDATE, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 8:16 a.m.: In new City Merchandise, Inc. vs. Balenciaga court documents obtained by Fashionista, City Merchandise, Inc. claims that Balenciaga dragged their proverbial feet with the lawsuit and has not been forthcoming in providing numbers related to the suit, all so that the Paris-based house could ship the offending merchandise abroad, where it doesn't violate U.S. copyright law. City Merchandise, Inc. also asks that the remaining goods be seized.

"Notwithstanding my initial belief that Balenciaga America was desirous of reaching a prompt and amicable resolution of this matter, I recently became concerned that it would transfer its inventory of Infringing Products that is currently in the United States -- and subject to US copyright law -- to different offshore locations," reads a letter from Edward Toptani, a representative for City Merchandise, Inc. "As such, City Merchandise faces an imminent risk that Balenciaga America will further unjustly enrich itself through the illegal sale of Infringing Products outside of the U.S."

The update also lists several other New York City landmarks, noting that Balenciaga chose the exact same landmarks as those on its own merchandise. "Finally, setting aside the fact that a cursory comparison of the designs on the Infringing Products to the designs on the NYC Skyline Products reveals obvious illegal copying, the articles and related quotes by other observers who have also reviewed and commented on the same designs further serve to confirm illegal copying," the documents read.

One such observer, Alyssa, was again named in these documents. "I understand that one such person who saw our tote bag in JFK was a woman named Alyssa Vingan Klein, who is an editor at a well-known fashion magazine and apparently is familiar with Balenciaga products." 

As always, we'll continue to update this as we learn more.

UPDATE, Monday, Dec. 10, 4:10 p.m.: Both City Merchandise, Inc. and Balenciaga have agreed to settle this legal dispute outside of court, according to an exclusive report from The Fashion Law, thus dismissing the case "with prejudice," in which City Merchandise Inc. can no longer file lawsuits against the French luxury house for the same issue again.

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