Gucci loses legal battle against parody fashion brand

At first glance, Gucci and Cuggl are far apart in terms of branding and copyright. The first, a world-renowned Italian luxury house, and the second, a small Japanese fashion start-up that parodies luxury houses. But the connection between the two is made when you see the logo of the second on the t-shirt of the first: although the lower part is cleverly hidden, you can easily imagine the Gucci logo there.

Cuggl was founded by Nobuaki Kurokawa, an Osaka-based entrepreneur who sells t-shirts parodying famous brands. N. Kurokawa trademarked the names CUGGL and GUANFI (both in capitals) in October 2020 – the latter is reminiscent of Chanel when the lower half is masked.

According to Marks IP, a Japan-based law firm, Gucci opposed the trademark over a pink hand-painted line that was filed for use on clothing, footwear, headwear and articles of clothing in class 25 b. The Japan Patent Office (JPO) has dismissed Gucci’s claim against “CUGGL”, saying it believes customers are unlikely to be confused to the point of thinking it is a genuine Gucci item.

GUCCI versus CUGGL

For the luxury label, the pink paint makes the text read as “Gucci” and the intention of the label is malicious. But, according to the Financial Times, the Japanese Patent Office tends to decide that people are smarter than big brands allergic to parody would like.

N. Kurokawa’s t-shirts, however, obscure a little more than half of the text, meaning most of the term is obscured. Cuggl, which is pronounced “kyuguru” in Japanese, is not the only parody action by N.Kurokawa. The t-shirts that imitate the Puma logo as well as the tops parodied with the logos of Adidas, Nike, Prada and Balenciaga have all been reworked. Gucci could therefore have considered itself in good company among its humorous interpretations of luxury logos.

Does fashion need parody?

There is further value in the parody and what it says about consumerism and luxury. Logo t-shirts are a key part of revenue for luxury brands and usually consist of a plain cotton t-shirt with a logo applied to the front or back, but accompanied by exuberantly priced tags for the product himself.

Fashion houses do not share this sense of humor and fiercely protect their brands, as well as any potential loss of revenue. If Gucci and Balenciaga orchestrated the piracy of their respective brands last year, the claws of the Kering group do not accept any less than others parodies without their agreement.

These luxury houses have enormous marketing power, they dominate the fashion discourse in the press, on social media, among influencers and in the sphere of people. The prestige they sell consists of an image of exclusivity. According to the authors of The Luxury Economy and Intellectual Property: Critical Reflections report, the social and economic commentary of brands such as Cuggl subverts the message of claws and the uncertainty of the law and absolute power of brands means that parodists risk legal action taken by these luxury giants.

While Gucci and other big houses enjoy freedom of expression and great influence with consumers around the world – the DHL Vetements parody is a key example – they resent roles being reversed.

Image: CUGGL trademark via JPO

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.com. It was translated and edited in French by Julia Garel.

Gucci loses legal battle against parody fashion brand