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Report: Céline Complaint Advances

NEW YORK — French fashion house Céline on Monday obtained the verbal consent from Nine West Inc. and its parent, Jones Apparel Group Inc., to convert a temporary restraining order involving Céline’s "Boogie" bag into a...

NEW YORK — French fashion house Céline on Monday obtained the verbal consent from Nine West Inc. and its parent, Jones Apparel Group Inc., to convert a temporary restraining order involving Céline’s “Boogie” bag into a preliminary injunction, sources told WWD Wednesday.

The parties are embroiled in a trade dress infringement dispute over an alleged knockoff of the Boogie bag design under Nine West’s Enzo Angiolini label. Both the TRO, obtained Nov. 23 by Céline, a part of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Fashion Group, and preliminary injunction involve the removal of offending products from stores. The underlying trade dress dispute still has to be litigated, unless the parties reach a settlement.

Theodore Max of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, Céline’s counsel, declined comment on the case.

Robert Sherman of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, representing Nine West and Jones, declined comment, but acknowledged that the preliminary injunction process is in the works.

According to court documents in the Boogie bag case, in-house counsel for the LVMH Fashion Group contacted Nine West and four Asian-related entities in the Pacific Rim Oct. 18 asking that they stop infringing Céline’s Boogie bag. Nine West was contacted one month later via a cease-and-desist letter over the alleged infringement, this time by Ted Max, Céline’s New York counsel.

Laurie Gentile, Nine West’s associate general counsel, in a Nov. 19 letter, responded that the firm didn’t believe “consumers are likely to be confused or mistaken as to the source of the Enzo Angiolini bags.”

The lawsuit was first reported in the New York Post.

She further said in the letter that Nine West was refusing to provide Céline with information about Nine West’s sales of the Enzo bags or to “comply with your further demands in this matter. However, I can advise you that the Enzo Angiolini bags were produced and sold as a seasonal item in limited quantities. We do not have plans to continue with this line in future seasons.”

Jacques Bessy, intellectual property director of LVMH’s fashion and leather goods business group, told WWD that LVMH is seeking “compensation,” but declined to say how much.

It turns out that Enzo Angiolini isn’t the only alleged copycat at Jones New York being fingered by LVMH’s legal department.

Bessy said Wednesday he has also sent a letter to Nine West concerning an alleged knockoff of Fendi’s oyster-shaped “Ostrik” bag. “They are well known for taking ideas from other companies,” he claimed of Nine West.

Anita Britt, executive vice president for finance at Jones Apparel Group, said the company doesn’t comment on matters under litigation.

The Boogie bag litigation is the latest tangle between the parties. LVMH also took legal action against Nine West in 2001 concerning what is viewed as a copy of Céline’s “Angel” shoe and succeeded in getting it off the market.

Court documents in the Boogie bag litigation referenced the Angel shoe matter. Gentile, in a Sept. 21, 2001, letter responding to a letter from LVMH, wrote that the firm decided to “cease” manufacturing the shoe at issue. She added in the letter: “Please be assured that the Angel shoe was produced and sold only as part of the Nine West spring 2001 line and only in limited quantities.”

A subsequent follow-up letter on Sept. 26 from LVMH counsel to Nine West’s Gentile said the Sept. 21 letter “amounts to significant support for the view that Nine West considers its present practice of copying our client’s designs a planned program in which it incrementally copies more, and copies closer, profits quickly from the copying and then ceases and desists when notified.

“Our clients have authorized us to proceed with legal action without recourse to a cease-and-desist letter the next time Nine West decides to pursue its strategy at the expense of any of the LVMH Fashion Group’s proprietary designs. We believe that in that event, and given this warning and the history of the last few months, we will be able to persuade a court that Nine West is engaged in an unfair trade practice, and that our clients are entitled to compensation for the whole of it.”

Bessy characterized LVMH’s “vigilant” protection of intellectual property as a necessity for luxury brand managers. Bessy also heads up anticounterfeiting efforts at LVMH and he cited an increase in activity, especially in China, “where we are taking the appropriate measures to fight against piracy.”

He said many firms have done versions of Louis Vuitton’s famous “graffiti” bags, a collaboration with Stephen Sprouse for spring 2001, but it is difficult to take legal action because it is considered a “style” of design that is not protected under trade dress protocols, unless the knockoffs involve the Louis Vuitton name.