Opinion

Did Karl Lagerfeld Steal a Sneaker Design?

Left: New Balance sneakers (via us.asos.com); right: Karl Lagerfeld sneakers (via net-a-porter.com)
Left: New Balance sneakers (via us.asos.com); right: Karl Lagerfeld sneakers (via net-a-porter.com)

As mass-market fashion continues its longstanding tradition of ripping off independent designers, a twist in the narrative emerges: is a high-end designer now ripping off a mass-market company? The New Balance sneaker company has brought a lawsuit against Karl Lagerfeld, TMZ has reported, for copying its trademark sneaker design. Whereas the New Balance sneakers we’ve all worn at one point have a large capital “N” on the side, Lagerfeld’s have a “K,” for Karl. (And whereas the New Balance sneakers retail from $60 upwards, Lagerfeld’s cost $360). To my untrained eye, the design looks extremely similar but not quite identical; New Balance, however, claims it is identical and that consequently, “this creates confusion.” In doing so, they offer a striking encapsulation of the contemporary late capitalist condition: am I buying a running shoe or am I buying a “shock styling tactic? One may never know.

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