Graffiti artists say that they’ve noticed the fashion brand Guess putting some of their tags directly onto a new line of “graffiti-inspired” clothing — and they’re taking the company to court.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles by Bates, a Danish street artist of moderate renown, and Patrick Griffin, brother of Sean Griffin, whose work under the name Nekst achieved a kind of remarkable underground ubiquity among followers of street art before he died in 2012. He was celebrated as one of the most successful graffiti artists to come out of the Houston scene, using street art to maximize what he called the bold “scale and visibility” of his work.
Now, his name as he has signed it on many of his artworks appears squished on a shirt amid a college of black and white graffiti signifiers, juxtaposed with the name of the Guess brand.
“It’s just mechanical, verbatim reproductions of the actual tags, the actual artist signatures,” Jeff Gluck, a lawyer for the artists told Hyperallergic. Representatives for Guess did not respond to a request for comment.
While Guess and the retailer Macy’s, which is also named in the lawsuit, appeared to stop selling the offending items after the filing, t-shirts allegedly depicting Nekst’s signature can still be found on some streetwear reselling websites. (Macy’s declined to comment.)
The lawsuit is full of charged language that alleges Guess “prominently splashed [their] work across their apparel in a transparent effort to lend credibility and an air of urban cool to their apparel by coopting [their] special combination of graffiti style and street art bona fides.”
“When this collection was released, they started to receive dozens and dozens of messages and inquiries from people on social media asking them if this was an official collaboration with Guess,” said Gluck.
It isn’t the first time the Guess brand has been attacked by street artists who have accused the fashion company of using their work. Back in 2022, in a since-deleted Instagram post, Banksy reportedly urged his followers to shoplift from one of Guess’ stores in London after the brand advertised a new collection “with graffiti by Banksy,” featuring his 2003 “Flower Thrower.”
As it turned out, Guess had not inked a deal with Banksy, but had launched an official, since taken-down collaboration with a company called Brandalised, run by the same outfit that also sells greeting cards using Banksy’s “Flower Thrower.” Run by a once-rave organizer named Andrew Gallagher, it was the same company that used the cards to successfully convince the European Union Intellectual Property Office that Banksy could not be identified as the unquestionable owner of that work in the first place.
Gallagher’s company has since gone to court against Banksy and accused the artist of breaking libel laws by lying to his followers about who truly owned the piece, in a dispute that has already launched widespread speculation that it could reveal the real identity of the elusive artist.
In their case against Guess, Nekst and Bates cite “the ‘call-out’ by Banksy” for why they say they would never collaborate with the fashion brand, in an effort to make the use of their work read as more egregious. Gluck, their lawyer, told Hyperallergic that this lawsuit could just be the start of a larger legal campaign against the clothing company from street artists.
“Several other artists have come forward since this lawsuit was filed saying that they have some graffiti and some tags on Guess shirts as well,” he said.