The “Black Vogue” fight continues.
The designer Nareasha Willis had begun her “Black Vogue” fashion brand in 2017 in response to what she argues is the fashion industry’s appropriation of black culture. Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., which does business as Condé Nast and operates Vogue, sued Willis in September for infringement. The battle is still grinding along in New York federal court, and appears to pit the social phenomenon of reclaiming cultural identity against trademark law.
Last week, Advance argued that just because Willis had already been interviewed in Teen Vogue in May last year, it wasn’t too late when it sued her later in the year. Willis had argued in a motion in May that the coverage effectively signaled that Advance agreed to her using the “Black Vogue” name, but Advance disagreed.
In a filing Thursday, Advance said that it had sent its cease-and-desist letter to Willis in June 2018, just about a month after the Teen Vogue piece ran, which it argued doesn’t count as a delay that could preclude Advance from bringing the suit.
Willis’ argument “does nothing more than baldly contend that [Advance] is stopped from enforcing its ‘Vogue’ marks against defendants’ confusingly similar ‘Black Vogue’ marks because an article by a freelance writer discussing defendants’ business appeared in Teen Vogue magazine,” Advance wrote in its filing Thursday.
An attorney for Advance also wrote to the court Thursday that he had discussed resolving the case with an attorney for Ms. Willis, but that they hadn’t been able to reach an agreement.
Representatives for Advance Publications Inc. and an attorney for Ms. Willis could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Willis’ designs were the subject of a Teen Vogue story in May last year, after a picture of a sweatshirt she designed, which bore the statement “Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable,” captured media attention. She told the publication that she believed that fashion’s establishment wasn’t adequately including the work of black artists when incorporating elements of black culture into runway designs. For instance, black hairstyles such as cornrows and locs are now commonly seen on runways and often sported by non-black models, she told the magazine at the time.
In a filing last month to the New York federal court overseeing the case, Willis reiterated that argument.
“Plaintiff has been appropriating black culture for decades in an effort to commodify a community of historically marginalized people,” Willis argued in her filing in May. “Defendants’ use of the term ‘Black Vogue’ is an attempt to establish pride and ownership with a valuable community of artisans and influencers who rarely are allowed to truly benefit from their brilliance.”
Advance, which owns federal registrations for the Vogue trademarks, had argued that Willis was using the Vogue name without its permission and in a way that “brazenly mirrors the well-known appearance of plaintiff’s ‘Vogue’ trademark,” according to its first amended complaint in October.
The defendants Willis and her company Avenue N LLC, had filed a trademark application in February last year to use the “Black Vogue” mark for clothing, which was later rejected, according to court documents. Advance said it sent its cease-and-desist letter in June last year after that.