CHICAGO — A Chicago company is considering suing fashion behemoth Jean Paul Gaultier after it says the designer released a nearly-identical nipple bikini — later worn by celebrity Kylie Jenner.
Linze Rice, a local journalist and owner of The TaTa Top, holds a design patent for bikinis that look the same on top as they do underneath: like nipples. The top was first created in 2014, with a percentage of its proceeds going to charities for women.
On Monday, Kylie Jenner, who has been vacationing in the Utah desert, posted a selfie with the caption, “free the nipple.” She was wearing a bikini top that gave the illusion of nudity. It was designed by famed French designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s brand.
The “Naked Bikini Top” retails for about $150 on the Jean Paul Gaultier website and has sold out.
Rice has been selling the “TaTa Top” for $34.99 since 2018. She said she’s never taken a paycheck from the business.
“If Kylie had worn my top, it would have blasted us into another stratosphere,” Rice said. “But here’s a major design label, and they get the billionaire endorsing it. And here’s me in my living room in Berwyn trying to run my business.”
On Monday, Rice said her phone started blowing up with notifications from loyal customers who were messaging her and tagging The TaTa Top in the comments of Jenner’s Instagram post.
Rice said she tapped the post, saw Jenner had tagged Jean Paul Gaultier and “went cold.”
Filing a lawsuit against Jean Paul Gaultier has been “on my mind, I’m trying to explore my options,” Rice said.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s company did not respond to a request for comment. The designer did release a nude illusion dress in the 1980s, according to Vogue.
“I don’t know if they saw it, but it’s a very similar top to the point of confusion to customers. This product already exists,” Rice said. “It’s extremely frustrating and demoralizing, because I put my heart and soul into this.”
The TaTa Top’s founding slogan is “Free The Nipple” and the brand was started to promote body positivity and advocate for women to be freely topless in public just like men, Rice said.
Three dollars from every TaTa Top sold goes to Chicago Women’s Health Center or Keep A Breast Foundation, Rice said. The brand has forged a community with breast cancer survivors, breastfeeding advocates and people challenging notions of gender, Rice said.
“We use humor to advance conversations about breast health and gender equality and how the laws are discriminatory and antiquated when it comes to those things,” Rice said. “I’m not profiting off it at this point. It’s not about that.”
Rice said she bought the business and the patent with “a big portion of savings” in 2018 from founding Chicago couple Michelle and Robyn Lytle, who started it in 2014 with the question, “Why can’t both men and women be topless at the beach in Chicago?”
Rice wrote about TaTa Tops as a former reporter for DNAinfo, and took it on as her next move after leaving full-time journalism.
Rice said the business did see a “spike” in sales from the Jenner post. She said the original founders had reached out to Kylie and Kendall Jenner’s teams in 2015 to ask if they would wear the top in support of “one of the first waves of the Free The Nipple movement.”
“Somebody wrote us back and was like ‘That’s really unique and clever, but it’s not right for the girls at this time,’” Rice said. “I’m not saying they saw it then, but it’s kind of funny how it comes full-circle in its own way.”
Rice said she’s proud that The TaTa Top has raised over $46,000 to date for its charities.
She hopes Jenner and Jean Paul Gaultier throw in a “significant donation” to make up for the knockoff.
“That’s the win for everybody,” Rice said. “It’s a David and Goliath. Who actually wants to take on America’s version of the royal family?”
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