Steve McQueen the Subject of Fierce Lawsuit Between his Son and Famed Designer

Nancy Bilyeau
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Chadwick McQueen, the son of movie legend Steve McQueen, is suing luxury designer Tom Ford over McQueen’s name on several expensive cardigans being sold.

“Steve McQueen made cardigans cool,” says the Hollywood Reporter. “Chadwick McQueen controls his father’s rights of publicity and trademark rights, along with City National Bank, and claims Tom Ford’s line of ‘McQueen’ sweaters are infringing them.”

Born in 1960, Chadwick McQueen is the son of McQueen and his first wife, Neile Adams.

Tom Ford. Photo by nicolas genin CC BY-SA 2.0

“Certain sartorial items in fact became synonymous with McQueen,” writes attorney Keith Wesley in the complaint, according to the magazine. “One such garment was a wool cardigan sweater with a shawl collar. … McQueen made that sweater cool — so much so that James Bond wore one forty years later.”

Tom Ford is selling a “McQueen Cardigan” for $2,390 and a “Merino McQueen Cardigan” for $1,690 through its website, according to the complaint. Neiman Marcus is selling Ford’s line and uses the actor’s full name in the item monikers. Bergdorf Goodman describes them as “inspired by the iconic Steve McQueen.”

Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt next to a Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback in the thriller movie ‘Bullitt’, San Francisco, 1968. Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Steve McQueen was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, with his most successful films including The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, and The Great Escape. When he died of cancer in 1980, he was in debt. However, his image today as a cool, tough, sexy anti-hero far outshines most other actors popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

As The Fashion Law put it, “The estate of Steve McQueen is far from flattered that $1,600-plus cardigans from Tom Ford bear the ‘McQueen’ name and has slapped the fashion brand with a trademark infringement, right of publicity violation, and unfair competition lawsuit, as a result, seeking to immediately and permanently prevent any further usage of the late actor’s name and an array of monetary damages, including all of the profits that Tom Ford made from its sale of the sweaters, plus statutory damages of at least $2 million.”

Las Vegas, USA – September 7, 2012: Tom Ford storefront sign at the Crystals shopping center in CityCenter on Las Vegas strip. The Crystals is a luxury shopping, dining and entertainment center.

By selling the sweater with the McQueen name attached to it, Tom Ford could cause confusion among consumers as to whether the McQueen estate is connected with or has authorized such usage (the core of a trademark infringement claim), according to the estate.

Related Video: Things you may not know about Steve McQueen

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Chadwick is seeking disgorgement of all profits plus at least $2 million in statutory damages for each registered trademark and punitive damages — plus an injunction barring the companies from using his trademark, name, persona or likeness or implying an association with the family and an order that all marketing and promotional materials bearing McQueen’s name or likeness be destroyed.”

Photo of Steve McQueen as Josh Randall from an episode of the television program ‘Wanted:Dead or Alive,’ August 21, 1959

McQueen was nominated for an Academy Award for The Sand Pebbles and nominated for Golden Globes for four films, including Papillon, but he never won a major acting award despite his box-office stature and his insistence on pushing himself to the limits in his films.

McQueen was rebellious his entire life, competitive with other actors, and challenging to his directors. He gave Yul Brynner a hard time throughout the shooting of The Magnificent Seven and considered Paul Newman his chief rival. McQueen passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because he and Newman couldn’t agree on who would receive top billing.

McQueen’s mug shot booking photographs for DWI in Alaska (1972, age 42)

He divorced his first wife to marry his co-star on The Getaway, Ali McGraw. That marriage ended in divorce as well. Steve McQueen was passionate about motorcycles and race cars, and his clothing choices often reflected those interests.

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One fashion site explained it thus: “Steve McQueen made everything he wore cool. Whether it was a polo shirt and khakis or a lounge suit, everything he wore looked better.”

Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers set in the Tudor era for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to