In his Spring/Summer 2014 line of Just Cavalli clothing, accessories, and shoes, Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli used direct designs of murals drawn in 2012 by street artists in the San Francisco Mission District, without the artist’s permission.
The artists, Jason Williams, Victor Chapa, and Jeffrey Rubin, known as Revok, Reyes & Steel, sued Cavalli for copyright infringement, unfair competition and violations of the Lanham Act (false designation claim of origin) by producing a “clothing and accessories collection in which every square inch of every piece (including clothing, bags, backpacks, and shoes) was adorned with graffiti art.”
The lawsuit, initiated in the Central District of California, also names retailers of the Just Cavalli line that include Nordstrom, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc. and Zappos.com, Inc. Arguably the most offensive element for the artists is the association between their original art works and the high-end fashion designer who’s T-shirts go from $395 to dresses for $930. Since underground street art or graffiti is completely counter to the culture of high fashion, the artists can be seen as sell-outs without having actually made a licensing deal with Cavalli by which they can reap the financial rewards. Not to say they would have gone for such a deal, unless persuaded by a very good attorney.
The street artists have asked Cavalli since June to stop using their murals in his clothing line, but he has refused. Cavalli took some of the artist’s actual signatures or their tags on the murals, and has in some instances superimposed his own signature and label “Just Cavalli” onto the artwork on the clothing and accessories.
The artist’s argue the Cavalli brand was boosted in sales and reputation in the fashion industry since the street art line came out. And they have a good arguments indeed.
Just in July of 2014, David Anasagasti sued American Eagle for using his droopy-eye motif on their website. American Eagle showcased the big, droopy eyes all over their stores, billboards, social media pages, and website recently – a marketing move that got them in trouble. And in 2013 photographer Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York won a lawsuit against DKNY for using his photos in their storefront display without permission.
So, given just these recent suits and the state of the law, it seems likely that the street artists will get at least some of the damages they’re seeking in the lawsuit from Cavalli.