CALVIN VS. RALPH
THE BATTLE OF THE BOTTLES
Byline: Vicki M. Young
NEW YORK — From the Bronx to Bloomingdale’s, their names have been linked for years. Season after season, they’ve competed civilly for status as top icon of American style — not to mention market share. Now, the rivalry has taken a more overt turn.
Calvin Klein is taking Ralph Lauren to court, charging his fragrance licensee with trademark infringement over the design of Klein’s Eternity perfume bottle.
Lauren is planning his biggest women’s fragrance launch to date for Romance in September in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
The suit, in Manhattan federal court, was filed by Conopco Inc., which does business as Calvin Klein Cosmetics Co., and Calvin Klein Cosmetic Corp. against Cosmair Inc., Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and PRL USA Holdings Inc.
Klein’s Eternity was launched in 1988 in the U.S., and the product line includes perfume, eau de parfum and other fragranced toiletry products. Eternity is distributed around the world and has 2,000 U.S. department store locations.
The dispute centers on a “distinctive” bottle design for Eternity perfume, for which Klein owns a registered trademark. Klein is also charging Lauren with false designation of origin and unfair competition.
A Polo Ralph Lauren spokesman said Thursday: “This lawsuit is ill-conceived. The bottles are different, the packaging is different and the advertising is different.”
Klein, according to the suit, is concerned that consumers “are likely to believe falsely” that Romance emanates from or is in some way associated with the Eternity line.
The complaint notes that the rectangular Eternity perfume bottle, made from heavy glass, has two pieces at the top: a silver-colored collar forming the bottle’s neck, and a removable cap. The top of the bottle’s collar is described in the complaint as shaped “like a wedding band.”
The suit also says that no writing or visible labels appear on the [perfume] bottle, collar or cap. Also, the “designer name Calvin Klein and the product mark Eternity nowhere appear on the bottle, collar or cap when ordinarily viewed by consumers.” (Besides the perfume, Klein’s other Eternity products, such as eau de toilette and eau de parfum, carry a prominent logo and are not part of the lawsuit.)
The Eternity perfume bottle itself consists of two bottles, one inside the other, according to the suit, which claims, “The inner bottle is shaped like an hourglass and emulates the curves of a woman’s body.”
The bottle for Romance, the suit says, has similarities to the Eternity bottle: a rectangular glass bottle with a silver-colored cap and collar; no visible designer name, product mark, or any other labeling or writing; a ring on the bottle’s collar which looks like a wedding band and “appears to contain an inner bottle shaped like an hourglass.”
But the Polo spokesman noted: “Ralph Lauren Romance is packaged in a classic, clear glass fragrance bottle with a silver top which follows Ralph Lauren’s historic use of silver in his fashion, fragrances, home furnishings and accessories.”
“Every element of Ralph Lauren Romance has been independently developed,” the spokesman continued. “In addition to the differences in the bottling cap, the packaging of the Calvin Klein product is white in contrast to the pink and silver of Ralph Lauren’s fragrance product, and each product prominently bears the name of the designer. There is no possibility of confusion,” he continued.
According to the suit, Klein has followed a marketing strategy using the Eternity perfume bottle as a brand icon for the entire line of Eternity products. Ads are placed in consumer publications using the bottle as the brand icon. The Eternity bottle is also used in point-of-sale displays at department stores.
Klein’s suit charges that the defendants plan to promote Romance by emphasizing marketing themes similar to that of Eternity’s, with promotions in the same consumer publications and distribution of Romance to the same retail channels that sell Eternity.
Court papers noted that the marketing theme for both fragrances deal with love: Klein’s emphasizing “eternal love, commitment and marriage,” and Lauren’s focusing on “true love” and the “timeless essence of romance.”
An affidavit filed by Sheila Cutner, Calvin Klein Cosmetics’ senior vice president for marketing and global communications, charges that Lauren has “devised a print advertising campaign that evokes the imagery of Eternity advertising.” According to Cutner, Lauren has hired photographers Irving Penn and Bruce Webber, who were “responsible for much of [Klein’s] Eternity brand’s creative imagery.”
Consumer confusion, noted Cutner, will “diminish the value of [Klein’s] Eternity bottle as a distinctive marketing symbol.”
According to court papers, Klein has sold more than $400 million of Eternity products to retailers in the U.S. alone since 1988, with sales climbing to over $750 million to retailers worldwide.
Advertising expenditures since Eternity’s launch have topped $175 million, with worldwide estimates of more than $256 million to promote the brand. The largest single group of Eternity’s consumers are women between the ages of 25 and 34.
Claiming that Lauren’s conduct “caused and will continue to cause irreparable harm,” Klein is seeking an injunction barring Lauren from using the alleged infringing bottle, or any other bottle design “confusingly similar” to Klein’s.
Klein also wants a recall and destruction of the Lauren bottles, plus either three times the amount of Lauren’s profits or any damages sustained by Klein.
Lauren has a lot at stake with Romance. Cosmair is reportedly sinking $5 million into national advertising for the first four months alone. And retail sales are projected to top $53 million, with Cosmair executives looking to rank in the top five in the women’s prestige fragrance arena.
Last year, Klein’s Eternity — with retail sales of $53 million — scored fifth among women’s prestige fragrances in the U.S. market, according to NPD BeautyTrends.