(Photo: Courtesy of CMG Worldwide)
By Jeff Swiatek
The Indianapolis Star.
Over the past six years, 1950s pinup queen Bettie Page once again posed in public in risque fashion. In vintage photos and under her name, Page was the face of an upscale women’s boutique called Bettie Page Clothing.
Owned by flashy Russian-born model and clothing designer Tatyana Khomyakova and her husband, the chain grew to 17 stores in the U.S. and Canada.
Page won’t be their virtual partner any longer.
The Indianapolis celebrity-licensing company CMG Worldwide has yanked the right to use Page’s name and image from the high-end boutique, now doing business as Tatyana Designs with nary a Bettie Page swimsuit photo brightening its walls.
The legal tug-of-war over Page’s intellectual property — she died in 2008, leaving her vast collection of iconic pinups in the hands of her estate — is hardly new for CMG.
At any given time, it has around 20 lawsuits ongoing, and past foes in court include Major League Baseball and Warner Bros., says CEO and founder Mark Roesler.
Typically, CMG’s lawsuits are filed against those who use its 300-plus celebrities’ names or likenesses (and even made-up Twitter handles) without permission.
The Bettie Page lawsuits (there are three legal actions) are different. This time CMG is suing one of its longtime and significant licensees.
Khomyakova and her entrepreneur husband, Jan Glaser, paid CMG starting in 2006 to resurrect Bettie Page in all her silk-stockinged glory to serve as the namesake for their boutiques.
The high-end shops cater to 18- to 35-year-old women who want chic, contemporary fashion inspired by the fashions of the 1940s and ’50s, when Page rose to prominence.
The Nevada-based chain opened shops on the Las Vegas Strip, the Bowery in New York, and Ashbury in San Francisco, not to mention shopping centers such as Mall of America.
Then the relationship with CMG began to fray.
As the retail chain tells it, CMG in 2011 began trying to dictate operational standards, like store layout, and Glaser and his wife didn’t like it. The couple said CMG even tried to keep them from selling non-Bettie Page-branded lingerie or hosiery in their stores. Both sides argued for months over the issue of control.
The disagreement came to a head this past winter. Severe cold and heavy snow hit many of the cities where the chain has stores and caused a “precipitous decline” in sales, it said.
In February, Glaser pleaded with CMG’s Roesler for a delay in paying his Bettie Page licensing royalties, which are set at 4 percent of sales.
Roesler wasn’t in a charitable mood. CMG cut off the chain’s licensing rights as of March and sued to get a court to back it up with a temporary restraining order.
CMG also filed an arbitration action against Tatyana Designs and another lawsuit over legal fees CMG says are owed in a separate matter.
“We’ve been fairly aggressive in litigating against them,” Roesler said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he works half the time. “It perhaps could have been worked out, but it’s past that now.”
Roesler estimates that Tatyana Designs now owes CMG as much as $1 million.
The Nevada clothing store chain has counter-sued CMG in the lawsuit playing out in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. The chain said its relationship with CMG began on a lie, when Roesler told Glaser in 2006 that Page was the most popular celebrity CMG had, with an astounding 100 million hits a month to its bettiepage.com website.
That estimate was exaggerated by “approximately 99 percent,” the counterclaim against CMG says. Besides fraud and breach of contract, the counterclaim charges CMG with violating the rules of franchising by trying to control the retail chain’s operations as if it were a franchise.
The counterclaim also charges CMG with not properly registering the trademarks covering Bettie Page.
Adding to the falling-out was Tatyana Designs’ move in late 2012 to go public, selling penny stock under the ticker TATD.
One of CMG’s lawsuits says that the chain’s failure to pay the disputed legal bills “is partially due to the fact (Glaser) was taking (Tatyana Designs) public and did not want to disclose a significant outstanding debt on their company’s balance sheet.”
The chain has never publicly disclosed that it no longer has the authority to use Bettie Page’s name and likeness, according to the CMS lawsuit.
The Nevada company has “used the Page (name and likeness) …to build the value of the defendants’ business for the purpose of placing defendants in a position where their initial public offering would realize maximum per-share value,” says the lawsuit.
A Washington, D.C., attorney for Tatyana Designs, Mario Herman, said he couldn’t comment on the litigation. He estimated that CMG owes Tatyana Designs several hundred thousand dollars.
The chain also wants punitive damages against CMG.
Page, meanwhile, remains as marketable a celebrity as ever. CMG has another 65 or so licensees who pay to use the pinup queen’s name or likeness.
And one has returned Page back to the boutiques with the opening of two Bettie Page retail stores selling women’s shoes, swimwear and lingerie.