NEW YORK — A defiant Paul Marciano, chief executive officer of Guess Inc., took the stand Wednesday to defend his brand against claims that it has been knocking off Gucci’s trademarks for years.

This story first appeared in the April 5, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Marciano, dressed in a navy suit and white button-down shirt, endured a full day of tough questioning by Gucci’s legal counsel, Louis Ederer of law firm Arnold & Porter LLP. The court case, which began last week in federal court here, involves allegations by Gucci that Guess and its exclusive licensee for footwear, Marc Fisher Footwear, devised a “massive scheme” to knock off Gucci product. Gucci is seeking $221 million in damages. Guess denies the claims.

At times ruffled by Ederer’s persistent questioning, Marciano insisted that Guess took “inspiration” from many different brands, including Gucci, for its diamond-shaped logoed pattern, square “G” design and tri-striped design present on certain styles of Guess handbags, small leather goods and footwear.

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“This kind of pattern is common in the world of fashion and it’s not particular to Gucci,” Marciano said, referring to a Guess handbag with a diamond-logoed “G” pattern brandished by Ederer. “What I understand here, which is very frequent [in fashion], is an inspiration to create an original bag of G’s with the same components. That’s what design is.”

But Ederer leafed through pages of e-mails referencing Gucci product spanning from 1995 to 2008 between Guess buyers and employees of Marc Fisher Footwear.

Ederer also cited an instance in which Guess received cease-and-desist letters from Coach Inc. in 2004 for copying its signature “C” design. Marciano said the matter was settled by telephone, adding that the brand was influenced by the “trends of the time,” which included logos.

Gucci’s lawyer turned to the Marc Fisher company. At one point, the attorney read aloud e-mails indicating that Marc Fisher was sending Gucci fabric samples to Guess’ fabric supplier, so that it could replicate the coloring for its logo patterns for shoes.

Marciano said he had no knowledge of those e-mails, but that when he saw Guess’ Mette and Melrose sneakers, which feature “G” logos and stripes, he was “embarrassed” by the similarities to Gucci sneakers.

In the case of the Melrose sneaker, which had a green-red-green stripe similar to Gucci’s, Marciano said he had it pulled from the market in November 2008, but Ederer countered that the shoe could still be found in stores on deep discount shortly after.

The attorney provided further evidence against Marc Fisher’s business practices. From October 2007 to August 2008, Marc Fisher received four cease-and-desist letters from Jimmy Choo, Coach, Adidas and Yves Saint Laurent claiming it was knocking off their designs.

“Jimmy Choo is a bully in the industry,” Marc Fisher wrote in a letter in reply to an angry inquiry from Marciano in August 2008 about the allegations by the four companies. Fisher explained that his firm was “adjusting” to the “new environment” and that it was putting in place outside counsel to see if it was “infringing” on any other designs.

Marciano told presiding U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin that his brand has been “reviewing [product] lines since the letter was sent,” but Ederer pressed on.

“No one from Guess followed up [with Marc Fisher],” he said. “The truth is that Guess has been knocking off Gucci for years.”

“No…fashion is about trend, mood and inspiration,” Marciano countered. “You interpret your own way with your own brand.”

There were lighter moments. At one point, an at-times charming Marciano described how designers can get inspiration from anything — including the green-and-gold Federal-style carpet in the courtroom. His design team would take it, change the colors, tweak the pattern — and put it on a handbag. The crowd in the courtroom chuckled.

After roughly four-and-a-half hours of questioning, Gucci concluded its examination of Marciano, but not without failing to sneak in a comment that Gucci was suing Guess over similar allegations in Italy and China.

Guess attorney Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers LLP began questioning Marciano, asking him to elaborate on his relationship with Gucci.

Marciano told the court that for decades, Gucci had no conflict with his brand until 2007, when it sent a cease-and-desist for the use of items with a green-red-green stripe accompanied by diamond “G” logos. Those products have been removed from the market, Marciano repeated, noting that this lawsuit covers about seven million units.

Before concluding his questioning for the day, which will resume this morning, Petrocelli asked the ceo for his reaction to the idea that Guess has launched a “scheme” to knock off Gucci.

“I’m not happy about it. I think the lawsuit is wrong. I truly believe that if this is something Gucci was genuinely concerned with, they would have acted within days, everywhere,” Marciano said. “Are you telling me today that suddenly you realize what’s happened in 1995?”

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