A line of fine, starchy men’s dress shirts might be mistaken for Big Ten booty shorts, at least according to a British judge who ruled in a branding dispute between Victoria’s Secret and Thomas Pink.
The problem, according to the ruling, is that Victoria’s Secret Pink brand for college women treads too closely to the name of the London-based retailer known for $350 men’s shirts. The outcome gives a boost to homegrown business at the expense of L Brands (LB), an Ohio-based retail giant. Conspiracy theorists might even label it a bit of intellectual-property protectionism and a nice jolt of publicity for Thomas Pink.
But the judge, Colin Birss, has an established flair for controversial trademark rulings. He famously decided Samsung wasn’t copying Apple’s iPad because the Korean company’s tablets weren’t nearly as “cool.” (If “cool” were grounds enough for legal protection, half the retailers in the world would still be flooding money into Steve McQueen’s estate.)
Birss had an explanation ready for his pink preference. “Consumers are likely to enter one of the claimant’s shops looking for lingerie,” he wrote, “and be surprised and disappointed when they find they have made a mistake.”
First of all, Birss has an incorrect interpretation of what a woman can do with a man’s shirt. But we can see where the confusion may lie. Here are some skivvies from Thomas Pink along with a pair from Victoria’s Secret Pink:
Courtesy Pink and Victoria's Secret
Here’s the British retailer’s floral arrangement and a version from the other pink:
Perhaps more confusing to Birss, Thomas Pink also makes women’s clothes these days. There’s this saucy number on the left dubbed the Amelia Dress. Easily confused with the L Brands version of business wear, which is to say yoga wear.
Of course, there’s a little bit more to the legal catfight than frilly ties and business panties. Thomas Pink is owned by LVMH, a giant fashion house with a bevy of womenswear labels that would love to pick up some market share from L Brands.