Nothing comes between Calvin Klein and his trademark.
That message was delivered yesterday not by the New York designer's sultry teen-age model Brooke Shields but by the businesslike U.S. marshal and four of his deputies who raided a downtown Washington clothing store in pursuit of counterfeit Calvins.
U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell ordered the surprise seizure after Klein's attorneys filed suit in court here early yesterday and accused the store, Wholesale Merchandise Inc. at 639 D St. NW, of trying to "palm off" the Calvin Klein name and deceiving their customers into believing they were buying the genuine article.
U.S. Marshal J. Jerome Bullock, who said he's a Jordache man himself, supervised the mid-afternoon raid, which consisted of collecting all garments in the store with the words "CALVIN KLEIN" stamped or embroidered on them. After an hour, the search netted 111 T-shirts, one jogging suit and a folder of store records.
Clearly the clothing was not authentic, court papers said, because Calvin Klein would never emblazon his name across the front of his garments, like the Wholesale Merchandise items, preferring tiny labels inside a collar or or on a shirt sleeve that say, discreetly, "Calvin Klein." Such items present the Calvin Klein trademark "in a totally unacceptable manner," appealing to a "nondiscriminating buyer" and not the choosey Calvin Klein customer, court papers said.
"Let's call it a replica," said store owner Joseph H. Tashof of the "CALVIN KLEIN" goods taken from his store. Tashof insisted tht he had been told by his supplier that the shirts and jogging suit were legal.
Calvin Klein's lawyers, who have been tracking down alleged Calvin counterfeiters around the country, contend that they lost $15 to $20 million last year to fake Calvins. A "CALVIN KLEIN" T-shirt at Wholesale Merchandise cost $4, while a real Calvin costs $19 at Garfinckel's.
"Two to three washes and it goes down the tubes" leaving Klein to take the blame, said private investigator Carlos R. Romero whose undercover purchase last month at Wholesale Merchandise prompted yesterday's raid.
Last year, Puritan Fashions Corp., which manufactures the real Calvins, spent more than $1 million chasing after fake designer merchandise, an illegal trade that has flourished as the consuming public learned to love the labels but not the price tags.
"I don't buy anything original, I can't afford it," said Michelle Dempsey, 20, who wandered by the store as Marshal Bullock and his men were inside. Dempsey was carrying a copy of a Gucci handbag and was wearing genuine "Sasson" jeans, with the authentic "Oo La La!" label, and a $3.99 yellow T-shirt with "CALVIN KLEIN" across the front in big black letters.
"I kind of figured it was [a fake] because it was going so cheap, but the name, you know, is catchy," Dempsey said of her T-shirt, which she bought at a local department store.
The display windows at Ashof's store are filled with garments bearing famous labels from "Saks Fifth Avenue" to "Jonathan Logan" and "Gloria Vanderbilt." Tashof says he stocks his store with garments from manufacturers' close-out sales, where he buys surplus items, some of which are produced -- and labeled -- for a particular store, such as Saks. He likes to call his shop a "miniature Filene's" after the Boston department store were designer bargains have been made legend.
"I'm just a small little merchant buying from pretty big manufacturers," Tashof said. "This isn't done sneaky or through a side door," he said.
Meanwhile, the allegedly fraudulent Calvin Klein T-shirts and the jogging suit were packed up in a brown cardboard box and put in the marshal's property room at the federal courthouse pending further notice from Judge Gesell on the Calvin Klein lawsuit.
A court hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. today. While Calvin Klein's lawyers say they intend to seek money damages from Tashof, their private investigations are focused on the manufacturers who the lawyers contend are abusing the Calvin Klein name.
"They assured us they have the right" to use to the Calvin Klein name, said Tashof of his suppliers. "And it appears that they don't."