By  on July 22, 2005

PARIS — Chloé is suing French fashion retailer Kookai for allegedly selling copycat versions of its hot “Silverado” handbag.

Chloé said Thursday that it filed a claim with the U.K. High Court this week, charging Kookai with “unregistered design rights infringement.” Although specifics of the claim are sealed, Chloé is said to be seeking an injunction to prevent sale of the bag, billed by Kookai as its “whip stitch pocket bag.”

Unveiled to the trade in January 2004, Silverado quickly became Chloé’s number-one selling handbag, only recently unseated by the new “Paddington.”

Ralph Toledano, chairman and chief executive officer of Chloé, said the company is fighting a range of infringements both online and in other stores, aided by the intellectual property experts at parent Compagnie Financiere Richemont. He declined to identify other targets of legal action, but said several disputes have been settled amicably.

“What is our industry about? It’s about inventing and innovation and we cannot afford to have people stealing our innovation,” Toledano said in an interview. “Ethically, it’s unacceptable. And it has clear commercial damages.”

Chloé ships its Silverado bags, which retail for $1,875 in snakeskin versions, to more than 300 stores worldwide, including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom in the U.S. Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Richie are among the bag’s celebrity devotees.

Paris-based Kookai, owned by retail conglomerate Vivarte, operates some 460 stores in 40 countries, according to its Web site. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Kookai’s pocket bag retails for about $60 and has been pitched as a cheap alternative to the pricey Silverado.

A trial date has not been set, and the case may not be heard until the fall. At that time, a judge will weigh evidence and witness statements before making a decision. In such cases, it is understood the litmus test is the overall impression of products side by side, rather than the number of features in common.

Toledano said Chloé would continue to feature new versions of the Silverado in forthcoming ad campaigns, and bolster its accessories category with more new designs. Handbags account for about 50 percent of Chloé’s sales, he added.

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