U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 32 mins

Versace’s famed J.Lo Grammy dress is at the center of a new lawsuit

Marc Bain
A replica of the Donatella Versace dress worn by Jennifer Lopez at the 2000 Grammy Awards show is displayed at the Grammy Museum Experience at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Nearly two decades after Jennifer Lopez wore Versace’s verdant, plunging “Jungle Pattern” dress to the 2000 Grammy Awards, creating a frenzy that led Google to create image search, the garment is still inspiring imitations, according to a new lawsuit by Versace.

On Nov. 25, the Italian luxury company—now owned by Michael Kors—filed a complaint in US district court in California against Fashion Nova, the online fast-fashion label known for sexy imagery and lightning-fast replicas of celebrity looks. Versace alleges Fashion Nova copied its “most famous and recognizable” designs, including the Jungle Pattern dress, its black-and-gold “Barocco – 57” design, and its colorful “Pop Hearts” design.

According to Versace, Fashion Nova’s versions are likely to confuse shoppers into thinking they have some affiliation with Versace, and represent a pattern of behavior for the company. The lawsuit includes images of Versace’s originals and the Fashion Nova items it says are infringing. Here are Versace’s clothes:

Three Versace designs as pictured in its lawsuit

Versace.

And here are the Fashion Nova designs:

Fashion Nova's three dresses

Fashion Nova.

In the court filing, Versace accuses Los Angeles-based Fashion Nova of violating its copyrights, trademarks, and trade dresses. Copyright protects original creative works, while trademarks protect elements that distinguish a brand, such as its logo. Trade dress protects a product’s overall look if it’s distinct enough to identify its source.

Historically, under copyright law, the courts have offered scant protection for fashion designs. The cut and three-dimensional shape of a garment cannot be copyrighted, for instance. But two-dimensional designs can be. The distinction was at the center of a case involving cheerleader uniforms that came before the US Supreme Court in 2016. The court held the designs in question, including chevron patterns and other colorful shapes in the cheerleader uniforms, were eligible for copyright, since even though they were technically three-dimensional, you could still view them as two-dimensional works separate from the uniforms.

In its lawsuit, Versace calls out instances where it says the overall look of a Fashion Nova dress imitated its original, comparing for example the neckline, high-cut leg slit, and circular brooch where those elements meet on its Jungle Pattern dress and Fashion Nova’s alleged copy. It also takes care to highlight specific instances where it believes Fashion Nova replicated its copyrights and trademarks.

Side-by-side images show Versace's two-dimensional elements from its Barocco - 57 design and Fashion Nova's alleged copies

Versace’s two-dimensional designs.

It calls Fashion Nova’s clothing “plainly a deliberate effort to exploit the popularity and renown of Versace’s signature designs, and to trade on Versace’s valuable goodwill and business reputation in order to drive profits and sales to line Fashion Nova’s pockets.” We have reached out to Fashion Nova for comment and will update this story with any reply.

The dresses aren’t the only way Versace says Fashion Nova is misbehaving. It claims the company uses meta tags on its website as well as other “search engine optimization tactics and/or social media spamming” to get Fashion Nova’s pages to rank high on relevant searches and “misdirect consumers searching for Versace Apparel.”

While it no longer sells all the dresses in question, Versace is still using versions of its prints on other dresses and items that routinely cost well over $1,000. Fashion Nova, whose dresses are typically under $100, tends to specialize in using a design and quickly moving on. The green dress Versace says copied its jungle pattern, for instance, was part of a celebrity collection for Halloween. It cost $69.99.

Versace is seeking an injunction to bar Fashion Nova from designing, selling, or promoting any products that violate its copyrights, trademarks, or trade dresses, or that bear any other mark substantially or confusingly similar to Versace’s. It also wants Fashion Nova to pay Versace a sum to be determined at trial.

 

Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news.

More stories from Quartz: