NEW YORK — Call it the Battle of the Shapewear Pioneers.
A legal dispute is shaping up between Sara Blakely, founder and owner of Spanx Inc., and Heather Thomson, president of Times Three Clothier LLC and creator of the Yummie Tummie lifestyle brand.
The two high-powered women entrepreneurs are disputing the validity of patents for shapewear products owned by Thomson, who claims that Blakely knocked off several patented control tops.
The seed of the dispute was planted last November when Thomson said she received a package at her Seventh Avenue offices that contained an anonymous note and a control tank top bearing a Spanx label which the note claimed was being sold on QVC.
“I immediately recognized it as my original Yummie Tummie tank. We contacted Spanx by letter [through legal counsel] on Jan. 18 to notify them that they were infringing on my patent ideas and we asked them to cease and desist,” said Thomson. “Spanx then asked for a [one-month] extension to be able to do their own due diligence.…They responded on Feb. 14 saying they didn’t think there was any patent infringement and requested another extension.”
Thomson noted that further communication by letter and telephone was “positive” until Times Three received a declaratory judgment filed by Spanx in the Northern District Court of Georgia on March 5. In the lawsuit, Spanx contends that its products, including The Total Taming Tank, The Top This Tank style and The Top This Cami style, “have not infringed and do not infringe any valid claim of the patents-in-suit.”
Blakely — who started her brand in 2000 by cutting off the legs of control-top tights and creating a shapewear bottom — did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. An e-mailed statement from Spanx said: “Spanx was making shaping camisoles long before Yummie Tummie. We have no further comment. The papers filed in court provide our position at this time.”
Spanx — which generates estimated annual wholesale revenues of about $225 million to $240 million — sells its product in major department and specialty stores and boutiques in more than 50 countries, as well as on spanx.com.
Thomson, who created her company in 2008, sells shapewear and ready-to-wear separates by Yummie Tummie and Yummie by Heather Thomson jeanswear in more than 1,000 doors domestically and more than 600 doors internationally. Thomson also sells her products on HSN and yummielife.com. Thomson would not give an annual sales volume, but estimated retail sales are $60 million, industry experts said.
This is not the first time Thomson — a star of the reality TV series “The Real Housewives of New York,” and a former stylist for Sean John by Sean Combs, Sweetface by Jennifer Lopez and House of Deréon by Beyoncé Knowles — has sought patent protection for her Yummie Tummie shapewear designs.
Times Three filed a lawsuit in December 2011 against LF USA Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of privately held Li & Fung Ltd., the Hong Kong-based sourcing and apparel manufacturing conglomerate. The lawsuit, which alleged that LF USA infringed several of its patents under the Logo Instant Chic by Lori Goldstein brand, was settled in June 2012 for an undisclosed sum. In August 2011, a $6.75 million settlement agreement was reached between Maidenform Brands Inc. and Times Three. The litigation involved copyright design patent infringement of Yummie Tummie designs and Maidenform’s multimillion-dollar Fat Free Dressing by Flexees line of shapewear.
Regarding the row with Spanx, Thomson said she won’t “scream uncle.” “I hope she’s ready for war because I will not lie down,” stated Thomson.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
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Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast