COSTA MESA – At least 100 protesters lined up on Bristol Street outside South Coast Plaza on Saturday afternoon holding signs and chanting slogans against Roberto Cavalli, an Italian fashion designer who they say is using an ancient and sacred Islamic symbol to sell his “Just Cavalli” perfume.
Nasim Bahodorani, a spokeswoman for the Take Off the Just Logo campaign, said Cavalli’s inappropriate use of the Sufi symbol for commercial gain is offending hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide.
Similar protests have been staged in London and in several cities in the United States outside Roberto Cavalli stores. On May 31, about 200 people protested outside the Cavalli store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
“This is a symbol that is so meaningful to me and so many others,” Bahadorani said. “Roberto Cavalli has sexualized a sacred symbol that stands for the name of Allah and represents verses from the holy Quran.”
The protest, which she says is gaining traction through social media, aims to persuade Cavalli to remove the Just Cavalli logo. But so far, Bahadorani said, there has been no response from Cavalli or his representatives.
“They are completely ignoring us,” she said.
Store employees at South Coast Plaza declined comment Saturday, referring all inquiries to the company’s human resources department, which was closed for the weekend.
Curious passers-by said they had no idea what the protesters were chanting. Costa Mesa residents Tamara Ward and Annette Obracaj said they live in the neighborhood and had just learned why the protesters had gathered.
“I believe in their right to protest,” Ward said. “I understand the symbol is sacred to them. But it’s not to (Cavalli). So, what’s the big deal? Let him use it. It’s called freedom of expression.”
Obracaj likened it to the use of the cross, which is sacred to Christians, but is widely used on a variety of merchandise.
“I’m a Christian and I don’t care if they put a cross on a perfume bottle,” she said. “I think there are so many more issues in the world that are more important.”
But Cavalli continues to offend Islamic Sufi followers, a majority of whom are from Iran. Many say they are followers of an international Islamic sufi school called Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi, known as MTO.
Bahadorani said the symbol Cavalli is using has been associated with 1,400 years of Islamic Sufi heritage, has been documented for 150 years and trademarked for 27 years by MTO.
Khatereh Alavi of Los Angeles stood with a few others outside the store in the mall Saturday.
“This holy symbol has the name of Allah,” she said. “It is about purity and heart. His perfume ads portray the symbol as a snake bite representing carnal desires with tattoos and naked people. It’s extremely offensive.”