Balenciaga Learns the Hard Way That Those Little Tree Air Fresheners Are Copyrighted
Over its 99-year history, Balenciaga has enjoyed considerable clout as a fashion bigwig, with fellow designer Christian Dior dubbing its namesake, Cristobal Balenciaga, “the master of us all.” If, however, the Paris-based luxury fashion house continues to end up in trademark trouble, one might be tempted to christen him and his workforce “the imitators of us all.” Two months after having found itself in a spat with a souvenir merchandise distributor over a tote design, the powerhouse entity’s American subsidiary must defeat a claim that it lifted a copyrighted design by the CAR-FRESHNER Corporation to peddle key rings.
Since Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s creative director, has a reputation for transforming what Complex called “commonplace styles and items” into “expensive iterations,” this new legal blowback could find his employer needing to stitch together a lucrative apology. CAR-FRESHNER Corporation is going after the high-profile defendant over the possibility of product confusion, holding that consumers—owing to perceived design similarities—might mix up its Little Trees Air Fresheners with Balenciaga’s branded goods. The in-question rings debuted in New York City last month, with Neiman Marcus also hawking them, and CAR-FRESHNER Corporation, which has owned its trademark since 1952, intends to argue that the acclaimed designer is 66 years behind the times through its latest product launch.
Whenever companies engage in lawsuits, it can be easy, especially when the issue is product confusion, to pick apart the merits of a case. In this instance, one could quickly point out that end-users are not likely to become baffled when comparing a $3 air freshener with a $275 key ring. That argument, however, goes only so far, as CAR-FRESHNER Corporation could accuse Balenciaga, whose holder’s evergreen composition indeed mimics the look of the automobile products, of legal laziness.
That charge could come as a result of precedent, meaning that it will state that Balenciaga failed to seek permission to replicate the design. That could prove a fruitful point, as other businesses have received permission from CAR-FRESHNER Corporation to license lookalikes. It seems that accusations about its moral center are beginning to give its creative works some competition when one thinks of Balenciaga, so this confrontation with CAR-FRESHNER Corporation could present us with a comprehensive look at just how far a company can go when issuing something that even remotely resembles an existing commodity. Given Gvasalia’s history of making use of established designs for his output, we are going to presume that this case will again show that imitation might be the most insincere way to make headlines.