MILAN (Reuters) - Clothing company Belstaff has hit back at Steve McQueen's heirs with a damages claim against them over use of the film star's Trailmaster black biker jacket.
Belstaff, which made the original waxed jacket worn by McQueen and bought it at auction from his widow, said in a statement on Monday his heirs "had authorized other companies to claim that the jacket produced by them was the original one."
The company paid $35,000 for the jacket in November 2006 and has put it on display at its showroom in Milan, which also serves as a museum for other Belstaff jackets owned by famous names.
Belstaff said the McQueen heirs were "fully aware that the only original was a Belstaff and had been purchased at the auction by the Clothing Company," which owns the Belstaff brand.
A spokesman for the McQueen estate, Dan Perlet, said he had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but said that Belstaff had never entered into a formal agreement with McQueen or his heirs.
"There was no partnership between Belstaff and (McQueen). He just liked to wear a jacket that they made," he said.
Steve McQueen's estate took action against Belstaff this month, alleging unauthorized use of the late film star's name and image as part of its "Steve McQueen Celebration" line.
The jacket under dispute is in a classic black waxed belted style favored by motorcycle enthusiasts.
Belstaff said on Monday it "intended producing some garments ... for keen collectors, not for profit."
Belstaff said several companies were selling jackets through advertisements on the Internet that they claimed were originals.
"Action by the heirs has seriously damaged Clothing Company due to the loss of credibility and consequent confusion of customers," the statement said.
Belstaff, originally a British company whose trademark biker jackets were a favorite of soldier and writer T.E. Lawrence, is owned by Italy's Malenotti family through the Clothing Company.
The McQueen heirs' lawsuit against Belstaff says the company began producing a line using the star's image without permission.
The actor, who died at the age of 50 in 1980, starred in "Bullitt," "Papillon" and "The Great Escape," in which he played an American prisoner of war who attempts to reach neutral Switzerland by jumping a barbed wire fence on a motorbike.
Reporting by Jo Winterbottom in Milan and Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Gary Hill