Bags in Brief: Extrasensory perceptions
Friday, September 08, 2017
Fabulous and (almost) 50, celebrity singer Celine Dion has launched her first line of handbags this month. Interviewed in The New York Times, Dion spoke of offering handbags to her fans to "cradle." Her selection of the word "cradle" evokes the magical warmth and sound of her voice, revered by countless fans in her native Montreal and beyond.
For Dion, the medium (the newly launched bag line) is the message of warmth. The designer is new to bags, but known for her communication in the universal language of music — which is all about feeling.
Branding by name is a complicated process. More than one living person may legitimately bear the same name (e.g., Celine) or a name that is similar (e.g., Dior). Designers strive to be unique, to distinguish themselves as the source of their branded goods.
Fashionistas are sometimes exposed to different brands bearing the same name or surname, however, when the brand name is the name of a celebrity. More than one person goes by the name Celine, for example. Research photos are shown below, in which the maroon Celine Dion tote bag is juxtaposed beside the Celine brand and the Dior brands (respectively on sale this fall) simply for purposes of review in the context of this article.
Celine Dion tote bag is juxtaposed beside the Celine brand.
Celine Dion tote bag is juxtaposed beside the Dior brand.
In law, it is challenging for a celebrity to brand a new product through the trademark registration process at the product launch stage by proposing registration of a mark that is primarily merely a name or surname. Registration as a trademark has commercial value to brand owners, denoting exclusivity and simplifying enforcement.
And so, Dion's branding strategy appears to draw for support on multiple points of attachment to what she is known for: her voice and musical style. In addition to her name, a logo comprising her initials appears on bag and tag. On the inside of the tote bag, a visual representation of a sound mark is displayed.
Sub-brands reminiscent of music, such as Octave and Interval further connect her identity to the new CD bags. The Octave bag also comes with a black branded cloth bag (which, to the author's regret, does not contain a CD).
The Octave bag also comes with a black branded cloth bag.
Expressions that describe feelings may sometimes interchange vocabulary associated with the different senses. We might describe a fine wine as having "fruity or oak" notes or a musical performance as "dark and cold," mixing the senses. Notoriety of a word mark (e.g., Sleep Country for mattresses) may be reinforced by recognition of a famous jingle played on the radio to advertise the product, improving the mark owner's potential for enforcement against a competitor using a similar word mark.
Unless the Trademarks Office examiner is persuaded that the name of a living person has been subsumed by his/her brand message, registrablility as a trademark is not assured. This legal requirement is useful to protect the public from confusion between one designer and another bearing the same or similar name. Over time, a name may grow larger than life and become a brand — at which point odds or registrability and enforceability as a trademark increase.
At the outset of a product launch, however, a designer typically turns to supplementary elements, beyond his/her name, to solidify brand recognition. The designer may draw upon striking elements of a product — or other products within a line produced by the designer — that appeal to one or more of the senses.
For example, use of same distinctive colour or texture may carry forward, from a bag through to another branded product of a designer by the same name. Some examples include Chanel knit texture on bag and suits, fur trimming on bag and sweaters of Bruno Cuccinelli ("king of cashmere").
When design features are pulled with consistency and continuity from one product category to another, a multiplier effect takes off:
A handbag is transformed into a memory prompt for Chanel of the classic knit suit.
A soft cashmere sweater by Cuccinelli is topped with a fur collar that carries into the front flap of a handbag in the same colour.
These aspects of style — visual, aural, tactile, etc. — may be registrable as trademarks, or protectable under copyright law as graphic reproductions that are applied to the face of an article.
A bag stuffed with essentials may be characterized as a functional object. But anyone who has "cradled" a bag — to borrow Dion's expression — has engaged in a multisensual aesthetic experience. Those elements of a brand that are individually memorable — words, logos, sound, touch, scent — may be protectable individually as trademarks.
The aggregation of elements further enhances differentiation between the products of one designer and another. Identification and protection of the stylistic elements are critical to ensuring that a brand remains striking, long-lasting and inimitable.
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