Tattoos & Trademark
I had a wonderful time yesterday at Fordham Law School for the Fashion Law Institute's discussion entitled Art Attacks: Perspectives on the Use of Fashion Logos, where I chatted on their panel along with Ralph Lauren's in-house counsel Anna Dalla Val; brand consultant and former in-house counsel of Louis Vuitton, Michael Pantalony; and David De Buck, owner of the De Buck Gallery, whose roster includes prominent street artists. The panel -- and the Fashion Law Institute as a whole -- is the brainchild of Susan Scafidi, whom I've had a law nerd crush on for a long time after discovering her fantastic blog, Counterfeit Chic, many years ago. She's a pioneer in fashion law, which -- like tattoo law -- is constantly developing and is pretty exciting.
The focus of the discussion was fashion logos and their appropriation in art as well as commerce. Naturally, I gave the tattoo perspective. As requested in our Facebook group, I'll give y'all a taste of my talk.
But before we get to it ... What is a Trademark or Servicemark?
Ok, with that in mind, I started my talk off with the very first tattoo to be issued a registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Master piercer Elayne Angel's famous wings backpiece, tattooed by the infamous Bob Roberts in 1987 -- a tattoo that inspiring a myriad of copies throughout the world.
Those wings just didn't become easily identifiable with Elayne, but her piercing services and Rings of Desire studio in New Orleans (which closed post-Katrina). It was Elayne's brand.
In 2003, when I wrote "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy," I interviewed Elayne about her servicemarked tattoo, which had been registered the year before. She explained that a customer, who was a lawyer, told her that he felt her wings were recognizable enough -- in relation to her as a professional piercer -- that protection was warranted. The process took six years but, on November 5, 2002, her backpiece was registered. It was not just the first tattoo registered, but it is believed to be the first feature of the human body to be registered. Cool!
But then I turned my discussion to people who get the brands of others on their bodies. People like the Gucci face guy or the Louis Vuitton sleeve dude below.
I tried to get in touch with these logo lovers, but to no avail, so I put out a call on the Facebook group page asking people to tell me about their logo tattoos. I'm grateful for all the responses. Many of y'all have band tattoos and great stories behind them, but as the focus was fashion for the panel, I was particularly interested in the story of talented tattooist Ania Jalosinska, of Kolektiv Tattoo in Warsaw, Poland.
Ania wears the United Nude logo and shoe design, which you can see here. The work was designed and tattooed by JEF. Here's what she said about it:
It says nothing more then a total loyalty, love and appreciation of a brand. Their shoe design is brilliant, both from an aesthetics standpoint and engineering standpoint. Getting a logo wasn't an initial idea; I wanted a leg on a side of my leg, but since I love UN shoes and wear them all the time, it was a no brainer what shoe the leg will wear. Their logo is just one of the graphic elements, which I also put in there because, as a tattoo artist and a graphic designer, I do appreciate design of it as well.I also think the Coco Chanel quote, "Elegance is refusal," is a nice touch to the tattoo.
Naturally, I also had to talk about how some brands are banking on tattoo cool in their marketing, like Marc Ecko's Branded for Life promo, where those who get Ecko logo tattoos also get "20% off For Life" on Ecko merch. When I first heard about the promo, I really couldn't imagine anyone would buy into it. I was really, really wrong. The Ecko tattoo fan gallery goes on for pages, filled with thumbnails of the tattoos like those shown below.
In the Ecko case, the brand courts the tattooed masses.
But what about luxury brands?
Do they want the great tattooed unwashed repping their fashion houses?
And if they don't, what can they do about?
Simply wearing the logo will not necessarily get you in trouble as there's little "likelihood of confusion," whereby, one could believe that the brand sponsored or is associated the wearer of the logo tattoo. Do we really look at the Gucci face guy and think he really is the new face of the brand?
Then there's the argument of "trademark dilution," in which the brand believes that the tattoos would "tarnish" their identity by presenting it in an inferior light or associated with "unseemly services." It's a fun legal argument, but practically, I don't think we have to worry about Louis Vuitton going after our skins.
I ended my presentation by acknowledging the power of logo tattoos and the desire to brand oneself with a brand that speaks to them, which can be beautiful. Of course, I couldn't help but note that we should also honor our very own identities, and like a couture gown, get a work of art that is specifically tailored to our own bodies.
Like everything else on this blog, it's not intended as legal advice. Just my personal blah blah.