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Has Virgil Abloh registered the trademark of his own name?

A designer's name is always their most valuable asset

Has Virgil Abloh registered the trademark of his own name? A designer's name is always their most valuable asset

A few days ago, Virgil Abloh and Mercedes-Benz announced the renewal of their collaboration for the production of a new show car. The collaboration featured a double logo: that of Mercedes-Maybach on the one hand and the name of Abloh himself on the other – which was accompanied by a wording "TM" that made many suspect that the Rockford designer had registered a trademark of his own name. The idea may not be entirely airborne: there have been many designers who, in the past, have used their name as a trademark of a brand ending up losing the rights to it after selling it – for a designer-star like Abloh to keep his name, even registering it, means preserving the ownership of his signature and his work. Especially now that LVMH has acquired a majority stake in 60% of Off-White™, registering the trademark of its name provides Abloh with a way out that is always ready. Here's how, interviewed by Complex, lawyer Susan Scafidi explained the situation:

«It’s not his name, but a color and a concept. It’s his design theory embodied in a name. So if he ever did walk away from it, he can start over fresh […].If [he] were to walk away from Off-White tomorrow […] he could still walk away as Virgil Abloh and start a company in his own name or in some other name».

A choice, to protect their name, which will have been inspired by the numerous cases that have seen designers lose the rights to their name in the past: Jil Sander, Thierry Mugler, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Helmut Lang, Halston, John Galliano and Donna Karan. All these designers have sold the trademarks linked to their name, but lost the rights to use it. When, for example, the designer Jil Sander returned to collaborate with Uniqlo in 2020, the name of the collection was J+ as the wording Uniqlo x Jil Sander would have implied that it was the brand and not its designer to collaborate with the Japanese retailer since, as specified to nss magazine a representative of the brand «the brand bears her name, but Mrs. Sander is no longer linked to the activities of the maison». A somewhat ambiguous and confusing situation that, in the recent fashion month, has also come back to the surface with Ann Demeulemeester, a brand now disconnected from the eponymous founder, purchased by Claudio Antonioli who has, in turn, reintroduced the designer within it as an advisor – creating a short circuit of meaning for which, at the Ann Demeulemeester fashion show, the designer was present and attended the show of a brand that bears her name and for which she works but which is not even hers. 

All the designers just mentioned, however, belong to a generation prior to that of the current celebrity designers of which Abloh is the leader but which also include Alessandro Michele, Hedi Slimane, Kim Jones, Matthew Williams or Phoebe Philo to name a few. A generation of new creative directors who have tied their name to legendary brands without ever superimposing their own on that of the brand – if tomorrow they want to sell everything they will still have the rights over their name. Two examples of this breakthrough in the awareness of the designers themselves are those of Matthew Williams who signed with his name the collaborations with Nike and Stussy and also Kim Jones who collaborated with Converse in a personal capacity - all ways of reaffirming the value of their name beyond the brands they direct.

A phenomenon that will be confirmed once and for all when, next year, the debut of the eponymous brand of Phoebe Philo will take place, which is surrounded by incredible hype thanks to the cult that surrounds the English designer. The name of all these designers is, in short, bankable, it has an intrisecous value only of its own – their intelligence, and that of all future great designers, will be to protect this asset with all the weapons at their disposal.