King Cnut clothing is a UK based apparel company selling t-shirts, hats, hoodies, and pants, under the slogan “King Cnut, clothing for the fearless”. Not only is King Cnut a clever play on the famous French Connection slogan, King Cnut was in fact the name of a real king more commonly known as King Canute, who ruled Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden from 1016–1035. This is the man responsible for the phrase ‘in like a lion out like a lamb’, which rather aptly can be used to describe French Connection’s legal modus operandi on Cnut Clothing.
We caught up with Dave Griffiths, the man behind King Cnut to hear all about the brand and how French Connection lost £3 million in its futile attempts to stop the cnut…
Wigsandgowns - How did the brand idea come about?
King Cnut - Well I was driving over the Vauxhall Bridge one evening way back in 1998, it must have been the first day of the advertisements for French Connection’s ‘FCUK’ t-shirts. I turned to my mate driving the car and said ‘that would be so much better if it said CNUT’ We both laughed for about five minutes. Then he turned to me and said ‘You know, that’s actually a brilliant idea! You should do it’.
Wigsandgowns When did you first hear from French Connection that they had a problem with Cnut?
King Cnut - Before I’d even started selling them! I’d started producing t-shirts with the slogan ‘CNUT’ printed on the front and ‘French Correction’ on the back. I also secured the UK trademarks for the slogans CNUT and WNAK. I work as a stand up comedian and a French Connection employee had spotted me wearing one of the t-shirts at a comedy club before I’d even sold one! I then received a threatening letter from French Connection’s solicitors claiming that the use of the term ‘French Correction’ coupled with the term ‘CNUT’ would lead consumers to believe the t-shirts were associated with the French Connection brand. They also claimed the use of the web domain ‘www.frenchcorrection.co.uk’ would add to that confusion.
Wigsandgowns – What did you think when you received the letter?
King Cnut - At first I was scared. Then I thought, “hold on, if they’re trying to shut me down before I begin, I must be on to something good!” I got annoyed then – I failed to understand how the website could cause confusion – ‘r’ and ‘n’ being at the opposite ends of a keyboard! And they can’t have a monopoly on swear words! I had a bit of money from a redundancy so I decided to contact some solicitors and fight back.
Wigsandgowns – Tell us a bit about what happened after that.
King Cnut - Ha ha, you know the phrase people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Well it turned out French Connection was in fact altering the trademarks of several large corporations including Pepsi, Ford Motors, and Mars to include the letters FCUK on its t-shirt designs. I was a subscriber to the FC catalogue and decided to bring this outrageous trademark infringement to the attention of those corporations. I had some very amusing telephone calls with the legal departments of Pepsi and Ford Motors. At first Ford didn’t care. Then I pointed out that what French Connection were essentially saying was ‘fuck Ford, by a Toyota’. The upshot was the corporations demanded that French Connection stop selling the offending apparel, and insisted that all catalogues, posters, and advertising material that included pictures of the offending items be removed from circulation. My lawyers estimated that it cost French Connection in the region of £3 million!
Wigsandgowns - How has the response been?
King Cnut - Brilliant – the media attention from my legal battle got us loads of publicity! People really enjoy the whole story and the battle, the whole David vs. Goliath thing. And we have a huge following in Scandinavia were Cnut is a common surname. One chap has the Christian name Cnut and has bought loads. The play ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ordered 2000 t-shirts too and they wear them on stage.
Wigsandgowns – Did you think about giving up at any stage?
King Cnut - If anything, it spurred me on more. I never felt like giving up. I wouldn’t have. At the time, I couldn’t stop. Trying to stop my brand when they were doing exactly the same thing… I was just so disgusted with them. In the end after getting my own back with French Connection I decided not to waste any more money and wanted to separate myself away from French Connection all together so I changed the website to King Cnut. If I had gone to court it would have cost me in the region of £20,000 and I would no longer have had a company! I did cause them further grief when French Connection produced t-shirts with the words ‘W.N.A.K’ though. My solicitors sent an identical letter to the one I had received accusing me of trademark infringement, back to French Connection, demanding that they remove the t-shirts from the website and shop floor – I had trademarked WNAK and its use of the slogan was infringing my trademark!
Wigsandgowns – Is there anyone in the public eye that you’d love to see wearing King Cnut?
King Cnut - Damien Lewis from Homeland, he’s actually my cousin. Or Prince Harry, he’d be a good one!
Wigsandgowns – Any tips for aspiring fashion brand owners?
King Cnut - Regularly back up your computer! I lost a whole load of work and designs once and it was one of the toughest things to come back from!
We wish Dave and King Cnut all the best and congratulate him on not giving up on his fight for Cnut!
For more information and to purchase King Cnut clothing press here