(CN) – The widow and daughter of the late designer Paolo Gucci usurped the family name to launch their own lines of products in violation of trademark laws, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled.
Jennifer, the wife of the former chief designer for Guccio Gucci, and her 26-year-old daughter, Gemma, infringed on and diluted the Gucci mark by slapping their names on products not associated with the Italian fashion house. The women used marks identical or similar to Gucci’s repeating “GG” symbol, its green-red-green stripe and the Gucci mark, according to the ruling.
After Paolo’s death in 1995, Jennifer and Gemma hired Edward Litwak to act as Paolo’s licensing agent after the designer left Gucci to create his own products.
Litwak became the “licensing ringleader” for the two women, negotiating contracts with cosmetics, bedding and even coffee companies to sell Jennifer and Gemma’s names, in defiance of 1988 court orders.
“Litwak masterminded an extensive unlawful licensing scheme” on behalf of Jennifer and Gemma, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman wrote.
Paolo Gucci had been barred from using the Gucci name when he branched off as a solo designer. He was ordered to put his full name on products and include a disclaimer that his new designs were not associated with Gucci. Jennifer and Gemma had to comply with the same orders if they sold their names to third parties, the court ruled.
“Defendants have flouted, rather than abided by, the legal restrictions placed upon Paolo Gucci,” Berman wrote.
Jennifer and Gemma tried to register trademarks for “Jennifer Gucci” and “Gemma Gucci,” but their applications were denied in 2003. The two women then sought to “trade upon the ‘Big Gucci’ name,” according to Berman. Jennifer, who calls herself “little Gucci,” gave Litwak permission to distribute goods with “Jennifer by Jennifer Gucci” marks. In an article in Home Textiles Today, Litwak called Jennifer’s new line of bedding “Gucci-esque,” and Jennifer said the bedding had “great-looking packaging,” referring to the green and red striped design and the “JG” in a diamond pattern that mirrored Gucci’s repeating “GG” mark.
Judge Berman ruled that Jennifer and Gemma-endorsed products would compete with the Gucci line of handbags, luggage, clothing, sunglasses, shoes, jewelry, watches, fragrances, home products and cars. Even products not made by Gucci, such as wine, coffee, gelato and water bottles, will appear to be part of the original Gucci enterprise if they carry the women’s names, the ruling states.
The judge cited the “Gemma by Gemma Gucci” wine labels, which read: “The Gucci Family have hosted lavish dinners and parties for heads of state, queens, kings and celebrities worldwide.” Berman said this “exploited” the family name to sell a product that Gemma had not even approved. Litwak repeatedly failed to collaborate with Gemma on product decisions, the ruling states, and forged her signature on a licensing document.
Jennifer and Gemma’s actions showed a “reckless disregard” for the marks and were in bad faith, the court ruled.
The two women had no expertise in the product areas and admitted they were not designers. Jennifer is an opera singer in the U.K. and Italy, and Gemma works at an investment firm, according to the ruling. In court hearings, Jennifer acknowledged that in the United States she was primarily thought of as “Paolo Gucci’s wife.” Berman added that the women had “little or no quality control” over the products that carried their names.
He blocked them from using their names on the contested goods and registering their names as trademarks for any other product that competes with the Gucci line.
Litwak faces punitive damages for disobeying court orders.