Ariana Grande’s lawyers say Forever 21 stole her image as a “desperate attempt to stay relevant”

The original Ariana Grande.
The original Ariana Grande.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Pop star Ariana Grande is suing Forever 21 and its beauty brand, Riley Rose, over what her legal team claims is “a desperate attempt to stay relevant and profitable.”

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in US District Court in California, contends that the fast-fashion retailer hired a model with an “uncanny” resemblance to Grande and in promotional social media posts replicated Grande’s “7 Rings” music-video look, down to the clothes, pose, and “distinctive hair accessory.” In some instances, the suit states, Forever 21 mixed in pictures of Grande herself, as well as captions with lyrics from “7 Rings.”

Ariana Grande and her alleged look-a-like
An exhibit from the lawsuit.
Image: Screenshot from Ariana Grande-Butera v. Forever 21, Inc., and Riley Rose LLC

The allegation is that Forever 21’s campaign created the misleading impression that Grande herself endorsed Forever 21, when in fact Grande had turned down an offer to do so. According to the court filing, Forever 21 reached out to Grande after the release of her album Thank U, Next last November about an endorsement deal, but the deal never happened because the amount it offered to use her name and image wasn’t enough.

Instead, Grande’s side charges that Forever 21 piggybacked on the success of her fame and new album without paying for the right by posting at least 30 images that appropriated her name, image, likeness, and music in order to renew interest in its brands and spark sales. The suit even offers a reason: Forever 21’s recent financial woes.

Posts from Forever 21 beside images of Ariana Grande
Another exhibit from the suit.
Image: Screenshot from Ariana Grande-Butera v. Forever 21, Inc., and Riley Rose LLC

Forever 21 has been struggling for some time. In recent months, the company has explored restructuring options and is expected to seek bankruptcy protection as it fends off a host of problems. “First off, they lost their way on fashion—used to be really quick in copying higher end brands. They became over assorted—less impactful on fashion, while quality declined,” Janet Kloppenburg, a retail analyst at JJK Research Associates, told Yahoo Finance. “Also the store footprint just kept getting larger and they have some huge 20,000-square-foot stores.”

Foot traffic to malls, wherever Forever 21 has many of its stores, has also been declining. And not least of all, the retailer is facing competition from ultra-fast online fashion labels such as Boohoo and Fashion Nova.

The lawsuit offers a bit of analysis on that last point, stating: “Recently, however, Forever 21 has faced competition from new online fast fashion companies which do not have the practical limitations and financial burdens that come with brick-and-mortar stores. As a result of Forever 21’s online competition, Defendant Forever 21 is reportedly experiencing a financial downturn and has been looking for ways to develop its business.”

To give itself a boost, the suit claims, Forever 21 misappropriated Grande’s star power in Instagram and Twitter posts spanning roughly 14 weeks. For that it seeks damages of “no less than $10 million.”

In a statement to press, Forever 21 said as policy it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. “That said, while we dispute the allegations, we are huge supporters of Ariana Grande and have worked with her licensing company over the past two years,” it added. “We are hopeful that we will find a mutually agreeable resolution and can continue to work together in the future.”