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Lookalike Designs at Heart of LVMH Lawsuit

Fashion designer Paula Hian is coming after LVMH on accusations that the fashion conglomerate has stolen her designs.

Hian is suing the owner of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy and Sephora on two counts of copyright infringement, and additional counts of violating unfair competition laws and unjust enrichment, in a U.S. district court in Pennsylvania.

Hian’s complaint said she interacted with multiple LVMH executives via email from early 2020 through 2021, and shared her original fabric and apparel designs, materials, intellectual property (IP) and copyrights with the French luxury giant. Despite discussing a potential phone call, the parties never struck a partnership.

Hian alleges that in early 2022, she observed that LVMH was marketing its brand, apparel and accessories using her IP and designs without her permission, attribution or payment.

In response, Hian and her luxury women’s wear fashion label PHC demanded LVMH cease and desist from using and commercializing her original designs, materials, intellectual property, and copyrights. In particular, she said her Plaque D’egout, Ombre and Green Raffia designs were used without her permission.

Despite Hian’s notice, LVMH continues to make and sell garments with those designs.

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LVMH didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hian’s lawsuit included several side-by-side photos to state her case, such as this photo comparing and contrasting LVMH’s alleged use of her Plaque D’egout design.

A side-by-side of Hian's design and the alleged infringed design from LVMH.

“LVMH’s designs are substantially similar to Hian’s designs, including Hian’s creative work and specific elements, and used without Hian’s permission,” the suit said. “The LVMH designs are substantially similar to Hian’s registered Plaque D’egout copyright design in material, motif, size of motif, coloration, fabrication, texture, stretch and weight as well as the shape/style/zipper placement design, all of which bears substantial similarity to Hian’s Chantal jacket. The similarity is so substantial that the LVMH photo/designs appear to be a continuation of the Hian collection, going so far as to use the same angles and perspective toward the sky as used in the Hian collection. Prior to this, LVMH’s ‘damier’ check design had been exclusively rendered in brown and white, never in black and white.”

A side-by-side of Hian's design and the alleged infringed design from LVMH.
An alleged infringement from Hian’s “Ombre” design
A side-by-side of Hian's design and the alleged infringed design from LVMH.
An alleged infringement from Hian’s “Green Raffia” design

Hian’s claims went beyond the clothing that LVMH released, alleging that the “exaggerated check look,” “specifically shaped motif/pattern” and black and white color scheme on one location’s storefront windows ripped off the Plaque D’egout design. She made the same accusations related to an Off-White checkered bag and scarf, both sold on Farfetch.

Alongside an injunction from selling, promoting and marketing the designs, Hian is requesting $150,000 per “willful infringement,” plus interest, costs, attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the plaintiffs, according to the complaint.

Court documents said Hian was “personally responsible” for her creative process, including envisioning, designing, creating and producing all her original ideas. The designer, who has created looks for Carrie Underwood, Brooke Shields and more recently First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, said she works with a programmer to execute material design, test and decide among various materials and yarns, determine dimensions and program the rendering on a software platform.

After further materials testing, Hian engages a factory to knit a variety of swatches of the original fabric design, before matching the design to specific, original patterns. From there, the factory manufactures the pattern designs and fits the pieces to models for photographing. Upon compiling the modeled pieces into line sheets, Hian creates look books for wholesale, retail and other buyers.

Lawsuits like this that pit a smaller player against a global fashion giant aren’t uncommon, especially when it comes to the use of designs, patterns and additional IP.

A high-profile case between design firm Unicolors and H&M started in 2016, when the former sued the Swedish fashion giant for copyright infringement. A California jury decided in Unicolors’ favor in 2017, awarding it damages of nearly $850,000. But upon H&M’s appeal, a higher court reversed the decision in 2020, ruling that Unicolors included inaccurate information “with knowledge that it was inaccurate” in its application for the copyright.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the appellate court decision, holding that an inadvertent mistake of law in a copyright registration application does not render the application, and the corresponding registration, invalid. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts.

And Shein, the world’s fastest-growing fast fashion firm, is on the hot seat from a freelance artist in a $100 million copyright infringement lawsuit. The case surrounds the sale of the freelancer’s artwork that Shein allegedly copied and sold on its website.