The issue of intellectual property in fashion is a sticky one, because fashion by its nature is about setting trends that trickle down, and designers must weave a dream that's inspired by the past, the present and the future. That makes copyright litigation particularly difficult.
On Monday, Hutton Wilkinson, keeper of the legacy of the late Los Angeles tastemaker and interior, home furnishings and jewelry designer Tony Duquette, filed a trademark infringement suit in U.S. District Court against Michael Kors. He's alleging that the New York designer and "Project Runway" judge used the Duquette name to market his resort collection of tie-dyed caftans and sweaters, malachite print sheath dresses and off-the-shoulder tops in stores now.
Known for his naturalistic exoticism, Duquette created a signature malachite print, which he often used in his designs. He's still an influential figure in design, having inspired Tom Ford, Kelly Wearstler and others. But the lawsuit claims that this instance was more than inspiration.
It states that Kors used the Duquette name in conjunction with the collection (which he publicly stated was inspired by Tony Duquette and Babe Paley) without permission or license. It also claims that Kors used photos, images and patterns from the 2007 Abrams book "Tony Duquette" in advertising and promotions without permission.
Unspecified damages are sought.
Kors' spokesman Billy Daley said the company "does not comment on pending litigation."
Duquette, who died in 1999, was the first American to be honored with a one-man exhibition at Paris' Louvre, which celebrated his work for clients such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Elizabeth Arden. He won a Tony award for costume design for the original Broadway production of "Camelot." His Dawnridge estate in Beverly Hills is a local treasure of pagodas and lush gardens, and is often used in fashion spreads. Longtime business partner Wilkinson has continued to design, market and license textiles, jewelry and home furnishings under the Duquette name.
Kors has often used sunny Southern California as a touchstone for his collections. A few years back, he designed a skirt in a banana leaf print reminiscent of the Beverly Hills Hotel's trademark wallpaper.