It may seem obvious that we should not give up our name ever, for any reason. But when a designer, with no proper legal advice, is struggling to make it big in the fashion industry and is offered a dream deal, the name aspect may pass as a minor detail.
The New York Times has recently posted a history about the shoe designers Kari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison who lost their brand "Sigerson Morrison" to Marc Fisher Footwear (shoes producer for Guess, Tommy Hilfinger and J.C. Penny).
Marc Fisher Footwear paid US$2.6 million to acquire Sigerson Morrison and the intellectual-property rights to its name. But after the designers started to believe their creations were being knocked off for Marc Fisher's discount line [not the first time the company was accused of copying (remember the Gucci v. Guess case, and last year Derek Lam, as well]; were imposed to move the production from Italy to China; and were even being sexually harassed, it all fell apart and turned into a court fight.
Another similar story happened to fashion designer Sigrid Olsen, who we had to pleasure to meet in New York. Her company and brand "Sigrid Olsen" were bought by Liz Claiborne, Inc. After a while she also experienced having to move the production from the US to China and the low-end brands of the group inspiring themselves a little too much over her creations. The result was no different from Sigerson Morrison, she also was "fired from her company" and lost her brand name. However, in her case, she told us that her the night before she signed the contract, her lawyer did actually advice her that it was not a good contract...
Menswear fashion designer Joseph Abboud is another example. He sold his name for US$ 65 million to JA Apparel Corp. and had a three-year non compete clause in the contract. Just before the end of the three-year term, he created the line “Jazz, a new composition by the designer Joseph Abboud” and was sued by JA Apparel for misappropriation of trademarks, trade names, brand names and designations. As a result, he will be able to use his name in promotional materials for his merchandise, but only in a very limited manner, that is, "only inside of a sentence in relatively fine print that's paired with a disclaimer indicating he doesn't own his trademark" and "will be barred from putting his name on the clothing itself, or on tags or any packaging for products he designs".
Because trademarks are normally registered under the company's name and not of the individual, it is easier to "loose" the brand when selling the company. So, a good advice would be not naming your brand your own name or registering the trademark under the designer's name or another company's name (like in the DKNY case, who registered all her trademarks under her daughter's company).