Announced in July, the Erdem Moralioglu X H&M collaboration launched last week in Los Angeles. Journalists, influencers and high profile bloggers were shipped there, they enthused about a collection that looked like a mix and mesh of floral Erdem and wacky Gucci by Alessandro Michele (maybe at times it was more Gucci than Erdem...), but the event didn't really shake the fashion world, maybe because the designer has a small following or maybe because, having launched major collaborations in the previous years, H&M is losing its Midas touch.
Usually such collaborations generate money for the retailer involved and produce a lot of impressions on social media, but this time the advertising opportunity that H&M may have got was overshadowed not by the alleged craftsmanship of the collection but by other issues of a legal matter.
There are indeed a couple of copyright cases at the moment involving the Swedish fast fashion retailer: a while back H&M released garments celebrating a fictitious team, the "Toronto Wildfox". Yet the word "Wildfox" is a trademark of the brand Wildfox Couture. Definitely not a desperately original label, Wildfox - launched by Kimberly Gordon and Emily Faulstich in 2007 - mainly produces functional garments such as tops with prints and slogans. Just to be on the safe side, a week ago H&M filed a suit in the New York federal court stating it wasn't infringing Wildfox Couture's registered trademark and unfairly competing with them (H&M Hennes & Mauritz GBC AB et al v. Wildfox Couture, LLC et al).
That's just one story, though, as the second one revolves instead around Classixx's Michael David and Tyler Blake. The LA electronica/dance duo filed in a California federal court a complaint against the Swedish retailer (HUSH HUSH SOUND, INC., a California corporation; MICHAEL DAVID; and TYLER BLAKE, v. H&M HENNES & MAURITZ LP, 2:17-cv-07668 (C.D. Cal) after H&M sold sweaters and T-shirts with the name of the band without any authorisation. The duo accused the retailer of trademark infringement, name misappropriation and violation of the California Business and Professions Code.
The duo actually tried to sort things amicably and sent a cease and desist order to H&M prior to filing the lawsuit, but H&M replied that using a word as a decorative feature on an article of clothing is not trademark use. The retailer therefore denied any wrongdoing and stated they had never heard of the musical group, even though the duo's lawyers have evidence that the retailer played their music in their stores.
Now, if H&M had used more general words such as "Classics", "Classic" or even "Classix" or "Classic XXX/Class XXX", they may have managed to easily districate themselves from this embarrassing situation (and they may have used the excuse of a word being employed in a decorative way). These spellings may have been considered as generic words or corruption of the words "classic" or "class", and it would have been slightly harder proving they were linked to a trademark.
The other point that goes against H&M is the fact that the items generated confusion among fans (in its essence, this case is similar to Wildfox's): David and Blake sell indeed their own merchandise and, when some fans spotted the tops in H&M, they tweeted about them, asking the duo if they had been collaborating with the retailer.
It is clear that H&M deliberately damaged the artists and it is only natural to wonder why such retailers seem to be so careless about these issues. You get the feeling this is one of those cases that will be blamed on the intern in "Jeremy Scott at Moschino" style. As you may remember, when Moschino Creative Director Jeremy Scott was sued by street artist Joseph Tierney – for reproducing one of his murals on a Moschino gown, the designer denied personal involvement in the copying, and filed a declaration in a California federal court claiming the graphics were "selected and created by a graphic artist at Moschino", completely independently of him.
Maybe retailers à la H&M should start forgetting about the next cool collab, cancel the party plane and leave the influencers at home: investing money in a team of fashion law advisors and of product namers (IKEA style), who may research words and slogans and check if they are infringing copyrights, may be more useful in the immediate future and they would also guarantee some rather engaging and much needed positive media revenue to the fast fashion retailer.