Kim Kardashian and her KIMONO-branded lingerie collection: the social media population “rises” up against their icon.

Last 25th June 2019, Kim Kardashian broke the news on Instagram that her shapewear collection, selling under the brand name KIMONO and ranging from size XXS to 4XL, would be released in 9 different colours matching the wearer’s skin tone.

Clad into shorts, tank tops, contouring bodysuits giving the body an unnatural shape and concealing curves, Kim, oblivious of women’s empowerment and body-positive movements, crowns herself queen of inclusivity. Yet the crown slips, falls and produces a deafening thud echoing in the web flooded with objections and petitions endorsed by influential celebrities.

The reference to the iconic Japanese garment – namely the kimono – instantly triggers off a shower of negative reactions and in the matter of just five days people teach a lesson to their sovereign, carried away by the democratic surge she has tapped into for the sake of her rise.

Cultural appropriation.

Although her attempt at creating a brand with a manifest wordplay on her name may seem a smart marketing device, she has been accused of having neglected that the kimono is a cultural milestone by the Japanese community’s standards. According to web surfers, associating the term kimono with a lingerie brand compares to disrespecting the century-old history of the Nipponese garment.

In recent years cultural appropriation has been a much-debated topic in the US vis-à-vis which the population has gained extensive awareness. It goes without saying there has been a lot of buzz around the topic in the web as well. Accordingly, it comes as little surprise that the outrage which broke out in Asia was immediately endorsed by users from all over the world, ready to fight alleged appropriation.

The “web population” thus teaches the queen a hard lesson. It only took five days for more than 5.000 Instagram #KimOhNo posts and numberless tweets to sink an international business project. Even the mayor of Kyoto raised his voice and addressed a formal letter to Kim asking her to withdraw her application for the trademark registration featuring the word “kimono”.

On July 1st, Kardashian published a post hailed by several million likes whereby she communicated her decision to acknowledge the criticism she had been exposed to and to change the name of the upcoming lingerie collection.

While the official account “@Kimono” was timely removed official account ing lingerie collectionriticism she has been exposed to and to modify een given widespread coverage in the , withdrawal of the several trademark registration applications was still a couple of weeks away. The only brand still not having been withdrawn and granted is the EU trademark “kimono intimates”, which coincides with the name of the owner company.

In the meantime, the overseas TV icon had been working on her new brand and late in August she announced the launch of the new trademark SKIMS SOLUTIONSWEAR to her Instagram followers. “My fans and followers are a huge inspiration to me – I’m always listening to their feedbacks and opinions and am so grateful they shared their ideas for a new brand name. After much thought and consideration, I’m excited to announce the launch of @SKIMS Solutionwear™ coming September 10” Kim claimed, standing back to her feet after her fall.

Yet, the happy ending story provides some food for thought from the point of view of intellectual property.

Although to our current knowledge the trademarks featuring the word KIMONO, registered under the name Kimono Intimates Inc, were only in the US and in the
European Union, a media war broke out in Asia which, after reaching boundless scope, was enough for the registration application to be withdrawn. Could she ever have shrugged and withstood criticism? From a judicial point of view, cultural appropriation and disparagement to the detriment of an iconic Japanese garment wouldn’t seem inherently relevant. In fact, not only did EUIPO deem the two Japanese word marks “Kimono” registered in the European Union suitable of being registered, they were even opposed by a Spanish company owning the mark “Hakimono”, registered at a prior date in association with clothing and accessories.

Accordingly, we are faced with some new elements, not necessarily foreseeable, to be reckoned with when it comes to choosing the name for a new mark.

The non-territoriality of the web, today perfectly epitomized by social networks, deals a new blow on the principle of territoriality which the world of trademarks is based on. What could be judicially irrelevant on a territory, may impact a subject’s business choice. Such mediatic power obliges worldwide renowned celebrities and companies to freeze business projects in place and to lose part of their investments with a mind to pleasing their audience.

Nevertheless, it is wise noting that this not so abstract entity, this new mediatic nation, numbers mostly direct purchasers. Secondly, faced with the way digital advertising functions, the total number of people making up this crowd is the yardstick of the celebrity’s economic value which is measured against promotional campaigns.

There thus emerges that, in a not so far away future, also the judicial world will have to quickly conform while understanding that the relevant audience benchmarked when issuing evaluations in the field of marks, has been going growingly digital and building a global conscience getting beyond territorial boundaries.