It was an instance of David versus Goliath. In a legal case that has dragged on for over two years, French fashion group Molly Bracken has finally won the dispute with Chanel concerning plus-size label Gabrielle, which Molly Bracken created in 2016. On April 27, the appeal tribunal of the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) dismissed the case brought by Chanel, which argued it owned the trademark rights to ‘Gabrielle’, through its Chanel’s Gabrielle brand, registered in December 2017.
The story started four years ago, when the small ready-to-wear group founded by Catherine and Julian Sidonio in southern France in 2008, which employs 240 people, decided to broaden its range. To a portfolio that includes womenswear label Molly Bracken, childrenswear line Mini Molly and urban line Lili Sidonio, Molly Bracken decided to add a new label, Gabrielle, a reference to the muse of French painter Auguste Renoir. The brand name ‘Gabrielle’ was registered by Molly Bracken in the world’s most important markets in October 2016.
Gabrielle is of course the first name of the legendary Coco Chanel, founder of the iconic luxury group, currently with some 20,000 employees worldwide and a revenue just shy of €10 billion. In 2017, Chanel launched the Gabrielle fragrance and, in December the same year, it registered the name ‘Chanel’s Gabrielle’ for handbags and a series of other products. The Gabrielle de Chanel handbag line debuted the following year, a way to appeal to a younger clientèle with a new line whose name was clearly identified with Chanel.
But Molly Bracken was already using the Gabrielle brand name, having registered it ahead of Chanel. A first legal dispute, in Switzerland, ended in victory for Molly Bracken. Chanel mounted another attack, this time in a British court, since the group’s holding company Chanel Ltd is based in the UK.
“In November 2019, the counsel for the Trademark Registry deemed that ‘Chanel's Gabrielle’ was visually, phonetically and conceptually very similar to the Gabrielle brand name, and it risked causing confusion in the minds of consumers. The UK’s IPO turned down Chanel’s application to register the Chanel’s Gabrielle brand name, for handbags and other products,” said Molly Bracken in a press release. The French luxury giant appealed against the decision, but in April it lost the appeal and was ordered to reimburse the other party’s legal fees.
“It's great news for our company,” said the CEO of Molly Bracken, Julian Sidonio. “The saga has come to an end. We can continue to develop our business undisturbed, and specifically to expand Gabrielle, without having to fear new attacks by such a gigantic group,” Sidonio told FashionNetwork.com.
Molly Bracken originally forecasts revenue growth of 20% in 2020, considering the orders it had already received, especially from the USA, where sales volumes were expected to soon be twice the volumes generated in Europe. The group did not disclose the exact forecast, a figure which is likely to be revised downwards however, following the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
Molly Bracken's labels are currently distributed via 7,000 retailers worldwide, of which 3,500 for the Gabrielle line alone, which is said to be “growing strongly.” “It's going so well that customers are asking [for Gabrielle products] in all sizes. We are repositioning Gabrielle by extending the range to cater to smaller sizes, and to a more upmarket clientèle,” said Sidonio.