Nike scored a victory Thursday in its legal battle against the “Satan Shoes” that put its brand through hell this week.
A Brooklyn federal judge granted the sportswear giant’s request to block the self-described art collective MSCHF from fulfilling any orders for the demonic sneakers it released with hip-hop superstar Lil Nas X.
But that ship has already sailed down the proverbial River Styx because all but one of the pairs MSCHF produced are already on the way to their new owners, according to the studio’s attorney.
In fact, the Brooklyn-based firm had sent out at least 200 pairs by the time Nike formally requested a temporary restraining order to block further shipments on Tuesday, MSCHF lawyer Megan K. Bannigan said.
“All of the shoes that were sold and that have been sold in this limited edition have already gone out,” she said during a Thursday telephone hearing.
The studio’s quick shipping prompted Nike to ask US District Judge Eric Komitee to order a recall of the customized Air Max 97 sneakers, which prominently feature the company’s iconic swoosh logo and purportedly contain a drop of human blood.
Judge Komitee didn’t go that far, however, saying he was issuing the restraining order “simply to maintain the status quo” while Nike’s lawsuit proceeds.
His decision will prevent MSCHF from giving away the final pair of Satan Shoes that it wanted to raffle off this week as the sneakers sparked a religious panic and boycott threats against Nike. The firm put those plans on hold amid the legal battle, Bannigan said.
Judge Komitee also ruled that Nike was likely to succeed in a case that appears poised to pit the Oregon-based company’s right to protect its famous trademarks against MSCHF’s claims to artistic license.
MSCHF says the Satan Shoes are a commentary on the “collab culture” that’s led major brands like Nike to partner with anyone willing to “make a splash,” as Bannigan put it.
They’re meant as a companion piece to the holy water-infused “Jesus Shoes” the studio released in 2019 — both collectors’ items that buyers put on display and don’t actually wear, she said.
“MSCHF is a conceptual art collective known for interventions that engage fashion, art, tech, and capitalism,” the group said in a statement Thursday. “Satan is as much part of the art historical canon as Jesus, from Renaissance Hellmouths to Milton. Satan exists as the challenger to the ultimate authority.”
But Nike lawyer Michael J. Harris called that a manufactured explanation that didn’t prevent consumers from incorrectly thinking the brand was endorsing Satanism.
He also pointed out that MSCHF apparently sent a pair of Satan Shoes to pop star Miley Cyrus, who tweeted photos of herself wearing them on her feet.
MSCHF is “not free to materially alter sneakers with Nike’s famous marks,” Harris said during Thursday’s hearing. “None of the promotional materials refer to or suggest that these shoes are meant to be an expressive work of art.”
The artistic expression argument is the only one that could give MSCHF a fighting chance, but the studio will “really have to tease that out for the judge” in order to make it convincing, according to Sunderji.
“The law that governs this has been around for a long time and it’s really about deciding, how are we protecting the consumer?” Sunderji said. “Are we saying that the likelihood of confusion is the greater risk, or are we saying that the First Amendment here is more important and the artistic expression?”
Even though Nike can’t take the shoes off the market, it can still fire a “warning shot” at MSCHF and anyone else looking to gin up publicity with a similar stunt, according to Fara Sunderji, a trademark attorney who’s not involved in the case.
“I think it’s probably less about the money, frankly, and it’s probably more about sending a message to MSCHF … to say, ‘Hey, you guys can’t do this,’” said Sunderji, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, adding that the case will likely be settled.