Tony Duquette Sues J. Crew Over Cardigan Print

Design firm alleges the retailer promoted and sold its women’s “Duquette Leopard Print Sweater” without permission.

A leopard might not be able to change its spots, but an interior design firm believes those spots can be trademarked.

This story first appeared in the April 25, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Design firm Tony Duquette Inc. last week slapped J. Crew Group Inc. with a lawsuit that alleges the retailer’s leopard-print cardigan infringed its trademarks and constituted unfair competition.

Beverly Hills, Calif.-based TDI, which holds the intellectual property rights of the late designer and artist Tony Duquette, claims in its suit, filed in the Southern District of New York, that J. Crew promoted and sold its women’s “Duquette Leopard Print Sweater” without permission.

The complaint alleges that the plaintiff’s marks are now connected to J. Crew’s product at retail, in advertising and in more than 150,000 online searches from various search engines.

In the Fifties, Duquette began creating and using leopard print designs for fabric, wallpaper, carpet, clothing and furniture. As a result, the print became a “signature theme” of his designs and “still remains such a defining and recurring element” in his history, according to the court papers submitted by TDI.

After Duquette’s death in 1999, business partner and designer Hutton Wilkinson, who is also named as a plaintiff in the suit, took the helm at TDI and has continued to design, license, promote and market the late designer’s work.

“We filed this claim to ensure our trademarks are used appropriately and only with our permission,” said Wilkinson, president and creative director of the firm.

Calls to J. Crew seeking comment were not immediately returned by press time.

TDI is looking for injunctive relief, damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs.