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Marc Jacobs and Nirvana Fight It out in Court Over a Smiley Face, But It’s More Complicated Than It Seems

When we speak of the ‘80s music scene, the name, Nirvana, almost always pops to mind first. The iconic musical group is a classic in the rock genre, still widely popular despite having disbanded years ago. If your memory needs some jogging, this was the same rock band that popularized the smiley logo with Xs as eyes.

One look at that yellow squiggly drawing and you’ll immediately recognize it as the band’s iconic symbol. So when Marc Jacobs released a grudge collection last year with a similarly looking design, everybody raised their eyebrows, including the musicians themselves.

Marc Jacobs’ T-Shirt

Marc Jacobs released the design last year

Marc Jacobs debuted the collection Bootleg Grunge Redux lineup in commemoration of its 25th anniversary, which included a black shirt that had a yellow squiggly smiley face with M and J instead of eyes and the word HEAVEN emblazoned above the illustration. T-shirts bearing the design were sold in its outlets, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue shops.


Any fan of Nirvana would immediately see the resemblance between Marc Jacobs’ design and the band’s logo, which was born in September 1991 when DGC Records and the group celebrated Nevermind, their first major album.

The launch party invitations featured the iconic smiley face that we all know today and it had since been tied with the legendary musicians.

Before 2018 ends, Nirvana LLC, composed of Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl plus frontman Kurt Cobain’s estate filed a lawsuit against Marc Jacobs and the retailers for copyright infringement, unfair competition, false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, and trademark infringement.

The logo was in an invitation for the release party of Nevermind

Even though it is obvious that the designer illustrations looked like that of the band, the plaintiff must prove that they own the X-Eye Smiley Face design, which was allegedly made by the late Kurt around 1991. Nirvana is asking for damages and to stop the sale of the design.

Motion to Dismiss

In retaliation, Marc Jacobs tried to dismiss the case but admitted that the design was inspired by Nirvana’s logo. However, the fashion guru argued he reinterpreted and added his touch to such an already commonplace picture.

The brand further debated that the design is not exactly the same because the Xs were replaced by the letters M and J. The band name was also nowhere in sight, replaced by the word HEAVEN, printed in the same typeface.

Kurt Cobain allegedly created the logo

Plus, Marc Jacobs said the lawsuit didn’t provide evidence that Kurt passed his rights to his estate. But, Nirvana contested that the registration certificate signed on July 29, 1998 is already proof that the logo was the band’s intellectual property. The court denied the fashion house’s request to dissolve the lawsuit giving the band a green light to push the case forward.


In a surprising turn of events, Marc Jacobs is countersuing the band, saying the lack of a person who knows about the creation of the design and the 166 Registration deficiencies used by Nirvana in its lawsuit are enough to give the band a taste of their own medicine.

In the deposition, both Krist and Dave revealed they didn’t know who made the design. Now, the brand is asking to remove the copyright on the logo in question.

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