Three California street artists have filed a lawsuit against Roberto Cavalli SpA, claiming items in the company’s Just Cavalli collection were imprinted with unauthorized copies of their work, compromising their reputations.
This story first appeared in the September 2, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Jason Williams, Victor Chapa and Jeffrey Rubin allege that “the artwork of the so-called Graffiti collection” was mechanically copied without authorization or even the artists’ knowledge from a single mural in San Francisco’s Mission District that the trio created in 2011. The legal action was in response to the March 2014 introduction of the Just Cavalli apparel and accessories collection, with the plaintiffs charging that “every square inch of every piece (including clothing, bags, backpacks, and shoes) was adorned with graffiti art.”
Williams, Chapa and Rubin are more widely known by their respective tags: Revok, Reyes and Steel. The men, who have exhibited their work internationally, and domestically at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, contend they “never consented to lend their artwork to consumer products of any kind,” according to the suit.
Cavalli fully disputed their claim. “The company would like to state that no official notice of such suit has been received. However, we have heard of some highly inflammatory allegations, which have no basis in fact and are incorrect; we intend to contest and defend against these allegations vigorously. In order to avoid the time and expense of unnecessary litigation, we also intend to communicate with the artists’ attorneys to discuss a mutually agreeable resolution of the issues,” a company spokeswoman said.
The three artists are seeking an undisclosed sum of sustained damages, punitive damages and the restitution of all profits received. Their complaint demands a jury trial, alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition, false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, unfair competition under California law and negligence.
Filed Aug. 25 in the U.S. District Court in Central District of California, the suit also cites Staff International SpA and Staff USA, which produce and market Just Cavalli, Nordstrom Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Zappos.com Inc.
A Nordstrom spokeswoman said, “We are aware that the lawsuit was filed but Nordstrom has not been served with the complaint. Just Cavalli will defend Nordstrom with respect to the allegations raised in the complaint.”
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment and a Zappos spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Friends tipped off the three artists to the alleged similarities between their work and Just Cavalli prints, said Williams.
The complaint notes, “If this literal misappropriation was not bad enough, Cavalli sometimes chose to do its own painting over that of the artists — superimposing the Just Cavalli name in spray-paint style as if were part of the original work. Sometimes, Cavalli added what appears to be a signature, creating the false impression that Roberto Cavalli himself was the artist.”
“Nothing is more antithetical to the outsider ‘street cred’ that is essential to graffiti artists [indeed, the Pasadena Museum of California Art exhibition mentioned above was entitled ‘Street Cred’] than association with European chic, luxury and glamour — which Cavalli is the epitome. To anyone who recognizes their work, plaintiffs are now wide open to charges of ‘selling out.’ ” the complaint reads.
Once legally served, which will probably happen this week, Roberto Cavalli SpA will have 30 days to file an initial response, according to the artists’ lawyer David Erikson of the Erikson Law Group.