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.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

6 replies on “Did Karl Lagerfeld Steal a Sneaker Design?”

  1. this is ridiculous the shoes dont even resemble one another and since when does someone own a letter of the alphabet – not only they are both ugly

    1. Amy New Balance owns the trademark N, but only in a stylized way. McDonald’s owns an M, but again a very stylized M. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to protect their intellectual property. New Balance’s lawsuit is probably about setting a precedent, Adidas does this A LOT. I’m sure any amount of digging will turn up results like ‘Capital letter with an outline, at 15 degree angle, on the shoes quarter.’ Or something similar, in which case Karl’s K fits that description and would need to be modified.

      Regarding the pattern of the shoe’s themselves, good luck. Some companies like Jimmy Choo patent or trademark almost every single one of their designs. I’m sure Karl’s attorneys would point out that New Balance’s claim is aburd and there should be zero confusion since New Balance and Karl’s shoes would almost never be sold in the same building.

  2. I could Only if someone was not actually looking at the item in question would they confuse an N with a K.

  3. It’s a sneaker, nothing revolutionary and there are only a few ways to design a sneaker…

    Too many parts are different between them to even think that one is a copy of another.

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