Designer Brothers Feud Over 'Ballin' T-Shirts
LOS ANGELES (CN) - Fashion designer Brian Lichtenberg says in Federal Court his brother at Alex & Chloe stole his "Ballin" design and then began a public campaign to pass it off as his own.
Brian Lichtenberg and his business, Brian Lichtenberg LLC, sued his brother, Christopher Walter Lichtenberg, and his business, Alex & Chloe, Inc., for trademark infringement, unfair competition, defamation and other claims.
Brian Lichtenberg says he began designing fashion apparel in 2000 and was put "on the preverbal 'map' in the fashion industry" within a month when singer Gwen Stefani's stylist purchased several of his creations for her world concert tour and television appearances.
"Since 2000, celebrities and pop stars such as Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gag, Ciara, Jennifer Lopez, Kanya West, and Shakira have worn Brian Lichtenberg Designs and Brian Lichtenberg, LLC Products," the complaint states. "Throughout plaintiff Brian Lichtenberg's career, he has had numerous prestigious newspaper and magazine articles (online and in print) written about him and his company."
Brian Lichtenberg's designs have included "designer parodies," which mimic the font and other aspects of the fashion logo being parodied. The parody logos are then placed on "uniquely designed" shirts, sweatshirts and beanie caps. For example, Brian Lichtenberg's "Homiès" is a parody of "Hermès," and "Bucci" is a parody of "Gucci," the complaint states.
Brian Lichtenberg says while his career was taking off, his brother's business in the fashion industry was failing. To help, Brian Lichtenberg allegedly arranged for Alex & Chloe's website to list some of his products for sale by consignment.
Alex & Chloe breached the agreement, however, by not paying for the products it sold, according to the complaint.
"By the spring of 2012, CWL was a failed fashion and jewelry designer overshadowed by the financial and creative success of Brian Lichtenberg, his older brother, in the same industry," the complaint, abbreviating Christopher Walter Lichtenberg's initials.
Brian Lichtenberg says a conversation with Kanye West about the word "Ballin" inspired him to parody the designer Balmain with the slang phrase "Ballin" or "Ballin Paris." He allegedly hand-sketched the design in his day planner notebook on Jan. 30, 2013.
CWL, who was knowledgeable in computer design and was working as a part-time contractor for his brother Brian Lichtenberg's business, worked on the "Ballin with My Homies" project, according to the complaint. Brian Lichtenberg says he provided CWL with a sketch of the design concept for "Ballin," and that CWL took the concept and created an electronic version of the design.
While working for Brian Lichtenberg LLC, CWL copied his brother's design for "Ballin and "Ballin Paris," and copied the characteristics of his designer parodies, including the unique stitching, placement of the labels, and fabric, the complaint states.
"CWL then proceeded to use such purloined information to enable his company, A&C, to take T-shirts and sweatshirts using the 'Ballin' and 'Ballin Paris' parody name to the market before BL, LLC," Brian Lichtenberg claims, abbreviating his company's name.
"Over the course of CWL's employment by BL, LLC, CWL purposefully and with the intent to defraud, slowed down the launch of the clothing line, 'BALLIN PARIS', by claiming to be sick and not able to finish his assignments when in fact he was stealing Brian Lichtenberg's designs the entire time he was employed by BL, LLC."
CWL then allegedly began telling those in the fashion industry that he had come up with the original "Ballin" design. CWL copied his brother's confidential customer list to sell his counterfeit "Ballin Paris" products, according to the complaint.
To further his venture, CWL contacted Lichtenberg's manufacturer and requested that he manufacture products that would look exactly like Brian Lichtenberg products, according to the complaint.
Believing CWL was acting with the permission of Lichtenberg, the manufacturer allegedly provided the requested identical products.
Alex & Chloe said in an email that it had not yet heard of Brian Lichtenberg's federal lawsuit, and that the infringement claims are without merit.
"As we have always stated, the Ballin and Ballin Paris design is an original design made by and for Alex & Chloe," the company said in an email.
Indeed, Alex & Chloe says it has developed the record on these issues in a separate case involving the some of the same parties. Back in March, Brian Lichtenberg sued Alex & Chloe and his brother Christopher for breach of contract, unfair competition and conversion. There is a hearing on the case scheduled for Monday morning.
Brian Lichtenberg says CWL began listing and selling his imitation Ballin products for sale on the Alex & Chloe website, and contacted retail buyers and customers, offering them the products for retail sale. CWL allegedly interfered with Brian Lichtenberg's ongoing business relationships and contracts with at least 10 different companies.
The complaint also accuses CWL of using social media networks such as Instagram to claim that he was the owner of the Ballin design, and that Brian Lichtenberg was trying to steal the design from him. He also claimed credit to at least two of Brian Lichtenberg's other designs, according to the complaint.
For example, in one post on the public Alex & Chloe Instagram page, CWL stated, "The Ballin design was designed by and for @AlexandChloe NOT @brianlichtenberg.com - The Feline design was designed Chris Lichtenberg, Brian Lichtenberg's younger brother, NOT Brian Lichtenberg. The Homes Design by @reasonClothing NOT Brian Lichtenberg. Shame on Brian Lichtenberg. Old brother's should know better," according to the complaint.
CWL and his business, "emboldened by their theft of the Ballin products and design," have "transformed their entire business into making imitations of virtually all Brian Lichtenberg, LLC products and Brian Lichtenberg Designs," Brian Lichtenberg claims.
Alex & Chloe allegedly uses press pictures and videos of celebrities wearing Brian Lichtenberg Ballin merchandise on its website as a promotional tool, causing consumer confusion, according to the complaint.
Lichtenberg seeks punitive damages and an injunction stopping CWL and Alex & Chloe from using his designs and marks on their products.
Also named as defendants are Marked Showroom LLC, Jacqueline Yi, Tu Tran, Kyle Mockett and Kaytee Enright.
Lichtenberg is represented by David Graziani.