It would appear that a fashion brand Adidas can hold a fashion show anywhere: a church, a warship that has been retired, a subway station that has been abandoned, a stock exchange, the Giza pyramids, and the Great Wall of China Extremity gives rise to exposure, and nothing is sacred.
However, the way a few spectators whispered to one another, “It’s like a fashion show,” earlier this week in a Manhattan federal courtroom was different.
In contrast to previous runway appearances in grand courthouse structures this was the first time.
This was genuine: A real jury would look at luxury clothing under real overhead lighting and use the results to make a decision that could change a designer’s future. Had Thom Browne, a 57-year-old American tailor best known for his cheeky, preppy style, violated Adidas’ copyright of the three stripes?
As if “Shark Tank” had arrived on Savile Row, Mr. Browne took the witness stand on January 9 and held up some of his designs while describing them and their prices.
Mr. Browne was given a pair of his gray waffle-knit sweatpants. Around the left thigh, it had four white stripes running horizontally.
He estimated it to be around $1,000. A juror raised her head abruptly.
Mr. Browne went on. He stated, “This jacket would cost $2,400.”
They represented the legal argument of Mr. Browne: These brands are not rivals, and neither one of them steals customers from the other.
However, Thom Browne’s legal team said on Thursday that there was another argument that they believed the jury would ultimately agree with more: During his closing argument, attorney Robert T. Maldonado repeatedly stated, “Adidas does not own stripes.”
In 2021, Adidas filed a lawsuit over two Thom Browne signatures:
A stack of four bars and a red, white, and blue grosgrain tab, a locker loop inspired by the striped ribbons on sports medals and typically found on one pant leg or sleeve. Adidas claimed that Mr. Browne’s use of these stripes on his more casual and athletic designs was too similar to its trademark, which has used three stripes since the 1950s. Think about the three vertical stripes that run down the sides of Adidas sweatpants and jerseys, or the three diagonal stripes that are on the sides of Adidas Samba or Superstar shoes.)
In 2006, the two companies had previously met. Five years into building his brand, Mr. Browne used three horizontal bars rather than four at the time. He agreed to stop when Adidas asked, adding a fourth stripe to the set.
When Thom Browne’s label began dressing FC Barcelona and the Cleveland Cavaliers in suits for their pregame appearances in 2018, Adidas did not approach him again. Additionally, at this time, Thom Browne, like many luxury brands, began adding sweatpants, hoodies, and other recreational clothing to its activewear collection.
The jury decided in Mr. Browne’s favor, finding that the company was not responsible for trademark infringement or dilution.
The employees of Thom Browne in the gallery wiped their tears away. They compared themselves to David fighting Goliath in some ways. According to the evidence presented in the trial, the company, which is a subsidiary of the publicly traded Ermenegildo Zegna Group, generated approximately $285 million in revenue in 2021. This amount amounts to Adidas’ annual advertising budget. (About $23 billion in revenue for Adidas in 2021.)
After the verdict was read, Mr. Browne said in an interview, “Fighting this was important,” describing the decision as a “protection for creativity” against large corporations. Someone can’t just come and take something you’ve created from you.
Adidas issued a statement in which it expressed disappointment with the verdict and pledged to “continue to vigilantly enforce our intellectual property, including filing any appropriate appeals.”
These kinds of claims are common in the fashion industry; Adidas,
A lot of people think that athletic wear is one of the fashion categories that has grown the fastest over the past ten years. According to McKinsey’s projections, the global market for sportswear will reach nearly $428 billion in 2025.
His arm bars were based on varsity jackets from the mid-century, and previous fashion shows have featured themes like tennis, ice skating, and swimming. The company stated during the trial that it does not invest in traditional advertising, and these elaborate fashion shows are effectively the brand’s advertising, like the one in April with 500 teddy bears dressed in miniature Thom Browne outfits and a rollicking Kelly Clarkson lip-syncing number.)
Mr. Browne advised witnesses not to actually wear his $630 running shoes while running on the witness stand.
However, Adidas’ decision to sue over these items raised an intriguing question about how people will dress in 2023. When does it cease to be active wear if people wear it for everyday activities like going to work, dinner, or serving on a jury (nearly half of the jurors wore hoodies on the trial’s final day)?
One might anticipate that one of Mr. Browne’s staged gender-challenging runway shows would explore the fluidity of these definitions as well as the process of dressing in general. He has choreographed dozens of models, reenacted fairy tales like Cinderella and Noah’s Ark, and constructed his own bizarre offices and schools.
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