Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Chris Aire Goes Toe to Toe with LVMH in L.A. Trial Slated for October 23


Next month marks a culmination in the trademark infringement case that pit celebrity jeweler Chris Aire against French multinational luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton. The story is a long and circuitous one, technically beginning in 1989, when Chris Aire, founder of the eponymous brand, began using the trademark, “Red Gold” for his watches and jewelry.

This mark demonstrated Aire’s intuitive understanding of his male clientele, whom he thought would resonate to the more masculine-sounding “Red Gold” in reference to his products rather than the traditional term “rose gold.” He was correct. His RED GOLD® collection of jewelry and watches was highly successful and exponentially expanded his business, while instigating a massive media buzz that helped propel sales through the roof.

It also broadened his celebrity base, which today includes such high-profile and eminently loyal followers as Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Ellen DeGeneres, Shaggy, Gary Paton, Liam Helmsworth, Lebron James. Damian Lilard, Miley Cyrus, Adrien Brody, Andre (Dr. Dre) Young, Regina King, Kevin Durant, Cindy Crawford, Courtney Cox, and many more.

So in 2003, Aire officially trademarked the term RED GOLD®, and charged ahead with business as usual, selling watches and jewelry under its new proprietary mark. Fast forward to 2005, when the Swiss watch industry took note and began using “Red Gold” in association with the sales of its watches. Specifically, Swiss watch brand Hublot, a subsidiary of LVMH, followed suit, causing confusion among clients, says Aire. 

And Hublot’s actions stepped on not only a trademark, but also on a professional achievement Aire had worked hard to realize. “It took decades for us to build up the RED GOLD® brand, and  spent the last eight years fighting to protect it from infringers like Hublot, owned by LVMH,” says the California-based Aire. “These folks understand the value of a brand and are constantly fighting to protect their own trademarks from infringers.” 

The designer filed suit against Hublot and parent LVMH in 2010. Needless to say, he met with vehement opposition from the luxury giant. Subsequently, after several years and various judicial proceedings, a ruling in Solid 21’s favor was granted in 2014. This was followed by a reversal of that ruling less than a year later—by the same judge—granting Hublot and motion for summary judgment.

"[U.S. District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California] Judge Dolly M. Gee’s reversal of her previous ruling in our favor was a disappointing surprise for our brand and supports our position that there are triable issues of fact in the case,” said Aire. “If the same judge can examine identical evidence on two different occasions and rule drastically differently, the case is not so clear-cut and therefore warrants a trial by jury.”

It bears mentioning that the Nigerian-born American designer built his company Solid 21, Inc., parent of Chris Aire, from the ground up, with equal amounts of heart and talent. Aire moved to California from Africa while still a teen to continue his education and discover his destiny, miles away from
the family oil haulage business his father assumed he’d join.

He seeded the company with his own hard-earned investment of just $5,000 he’d saved from his salary as a jewelry apprentice, after brief forays into acting and music. Aire’s first big break was the result of a fortuitous encounter with NBA superstar Gary Payton, who helped secure a substantial
order that literally allowed Aire to pay for his return ticket to California after
the meeting.

Another major break came in 2004, when Aire made history as the first jeweler to stage a runway show of his jewelry in New York City during fashion week, showcasing diamonds as fashion. It didn’t hurt that supermodel Naomi Campbell culminated the event wearing one of Aire’s over-the-top creations that helped earn him the nickname King of Bling: a diamond halter made of 18 karat amber hue gold and platinum from his RED GOLD® brand worth $10 million.

But there’s much more going on here than bling. With a focus on sourcing and selling conflict-free gems, many from mines in which he is personally invested, and a goal of eliminating child labor in the mining industry in his home country, Aire has clearly built his business on his own conscience. 
He also is involved in numerous charitable organizations both in the U.S. and abroad.

“We are a very socially conscious company,” he says. And more as a grateful aside than a pat on the back for a smart marketing maneuver, he continues, “A lot of our [high-profile] clients have taken notice. And you know what happens when they take notice? The rest of the world does, too.” Aire has remained confident throughout this long legal ordeal, with faith in the system and in the outcome of a trial by jury—should it be granted.

And it was. The case is set for trial in Los Angeles on October 23, 2018, and Aire will be represented by intellectual property powerhouses John Pierce and David L. Hecht of Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP. “This isn’t a normal competitor case,” says Hecht. “It’s a David v. Goliath case that will include third party witnesses, including some very notable people, who testify that Hublot’s use of the RED GOLD® mark caused confusion, including the misconception that Chris Aire and Solid 21 had some relationship with Hublot.”

The witnesses Solid 21 plans to call at trial include customers and celebrities, including the man responsible for Aire’s first notable jewelry order and American basketball Hall of Famer Gary Payton, Grammy- winning recording artist Shaggy, and NBA/WNBA super agent Aaron Goodwin. “I am extremely grateful that, despite the fact that Hublot has tried every trick in the litigation playbook to prevent a jury trial, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel,” Aire shared with some relief. “I trust the jury will right this wrong come trial.”

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