Vogue Magazine’s parent company, Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., wants to take Black Vogue founder Nareasha Willis to court.

On September 28, Advance filed a claim at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against 26 year-old Willis, claiming that Willis’ Black Vogue design of the word “Vogue” uses Vogue’s “well-known font and stylization.”  Advance alleges that Willis “intend[ed] to create a link between herself and [Vogue], creating the appearance that [Vogue] is affiliated with [Willis’] products.”  Advance argued that this would create confusion and an assumption of authorization, which is not the case.

Willis created Black Vogue in response to the lack of diversity in the fashion industry.  With shirts boldly claiming “Can’t Have the Culture Without the Struggle,” “Black Owned,” and “Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable,” Willis’ line drew attention to a kind of cultural appropriation pervasive in fashion, where styles that originate in black culture are criticized as “ghetto,” only to later be accepted when adopted by non-black individuals.  Black Vogue urges designers and the fashion industry “to acknowledge the true inspiration/creators of the many styles portrayed on a runway.”

Ironically, Willis’ styles have been featured in both Teen Vogue and Vogue.  In April, Vogue published a photo of fashion stylist Melody Trend wearing the “Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable” sweatshirt at Paris Fashion Week that quickly went viral.  In May, Teen Vogue published an in-depth interview praising Willis and her company.

But it wasn’t until May 23, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) denied Willis’ trademark registration, that Advance took action.  Willis’ trademark was denied due to its similarities with Advance’s own Vogue trademark.  The Vogue name has been owned by Condé Nast and Advance (which bought Condé Nast in 1955) since 1892. In response to USPTO’s denial of the trademark, Advance sent Willis a cease-and-desist.  When Willis refused to stop using Black Vogue, Advance filed this suit.

As of October 9, all Black Vogue sweatshirts and shirts have been pulled from Willis’ online store, though photos of the item in question can still be found.

Image: Michele Ursino, magazinesCC BY-SA 2.0.

Jess Hui is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).

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