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March 31, 2007

Bracelet Bandits?

When the blogosphere suspected Chanel of knocking off Jessica Kagan Cushman's witty scrimshaw bracelets, the response from her fans was swift and decisive.  In the words of one commenter, "It is such a blatant knockoff of such a cool bracelet. I own the real thing made of mammoth tusk NOT plastic. Girls, please don't wear these instead go to Barneys and get the real thing by Jessica Kagan Cushman!"

Of course, Fashionista.com, which first noticed the resemblance, had actually encouraged a bit of DIY knockoff action in a feature involving plastic bracelets, Sharpie pens, and clear nail polish.  Apparently personal copies are one thing, alleged commercial copies -- with a waiting list and a pricetag to match -- are another.

Despite the editorial support and the copyright protection available to jewelry, the designer has little legal recourse here.  The mere idea of inscribing words on a bracelet can't be protected, and Chanel's black plastic is unlikely to mistaken for ivory.  Jessica, however, still managed to get the last laugh:

HT:  Frillr

March 29, 2007

Seeing Double?

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you.  On the left, Diane von Furstenberg's "Cerisier" dress.  On the right, Forever 21's "Sabrina" dress.  And connecting the two, the lastest lawsuit filed by DVF in her comprehensive campaign against copying

DVF v Forever 21

But since dresses aren't subject to copyright protection, on what grounds does the designer make her claims?  The solution is in the details...of the fabric.  While the Copyright Office does not accept registrations for garments, it does register textile patterns.  In the case of the Cerisier dress, DVF holds not one but two copyrights, the first for the "Flower Lace Border" design and the second for the "Small Dentelle" design.  Together, they add up to a substantial claim for protection.  For good measure, the complaint also throws in federal and state unfair competition claims.

If these were little black dresses, this lawsuit would never have been filed.  The same goes for ordinary polka dots, gingham checks, or any other fabric design in the public domain -- even if the dress design had been extremely complex and original.  But ever since U.S. courts finally realized that the distinction between ink on paper and dye on fabric was untenable, textile patterns have been part of the subject matter of copyright. 

So while the current resurgence of prints in fashionable spring wardrobes may not be the direct result of intellectual property protection, the trend certainly has fans among legal types.  Who knows?  Perhaps paisley-print business suits are next. 

Kudos to the New York Post for its well-illustrated article, and to both Will Tennant and Debra Rivera for passing it on.

March 28, 2007

Just One Word: Plastic

Anya Hindmarch's environmental fashion statement, the "I'm Not a Plastic Bag" bag, is telling the truth.  It really is canvas, not plastic.  And at £5 for a good cause, the first run is completely sold out in Britain, although more are on the way.  Better still for those not headed to London anytime soon, Bag Snob reports that a US edition will be available in June.

So what is this authentic, sincere bit of green fashion doing on Counterfeit Chic?

It's been copied, of course -- or at least images of the bag and of Keira Knightly carrying one have been.  Not only are examples of the real thing available on eBay (with current bidding over US $150), but an opportunistic Scottish merchant is offering refrigerator magnets and key rings with the pirated images. 

Naturally, the unauthorized products are made of -- you guessed it -- plastic. 

March 27, 2007

Death in Venice

If you're in need of a Spring Break read with a counterfeit chic theme, check out Donna Leon's Blood from a Stone.  Her perennial protagonist, Venetian police detective Guido Brunetti, is called in to investigate the murder of an immigrant Senegalese street vendor.  Instead of finding little more than a cache of fake handbags among the dead man's few belongings, however, the search turns up a fortune in uncut conflict diamonds.  Complications ensue.

Welcome Tribune-Review Readers!

Reporter Jason Cato takes a look at the increasingly severe penalties meted out to counterfeit sellers who get caught.  Meanwhile, your humble blogger is spending the morning practicing her subject-verb agreement. 

March 25, 2007

Knockoff News 54

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And for those of you unclear on the difference between ersatz plastic friends and genuine plastic friends, enjoy this drama in which American Girl declines to invite knockoff dolls to the party, an outraged mummy flames the company, and Professor Christine Hurt reluctantly offers a retail world lesson. 

Generic doll meets American Girl exclusive

One can't help but feel sorry for the poor little girl  -- but what are the chances that our angry mummy carries a replica handbag and expects the original company to repair it?  (HT:  Trademark Blog)

March 24, 2007

Getting Under Their Skin

Viking berserkers wore bearskins into battle to channel the beasts' legendary ferocity.  Imagine, then, what slipping into David Beckham's skin would do for your weekend soccer game.  

In preparation for Beckham's impending move to LA, Mighty Fine's Public Library label has created T-shirts mimicking his famous tattoos, including his "guardian angel" and the names of his two oldest sons.  The shirts, available from the trendy Hollywood boutique Kitson, are printed on the inside and come in both men's and women's sizes.

But is this 100% cotton homage legal?  Tattoo artist Louis Malloy has previously threatened to sue his sometime celebrity canvas for copyright infringement.  Assuming that Malloy hasn't since assigned his rights in the original artwork to Beckham, he might have no qualms about filing similar claims against a T-shirt designer.  Moreover, the soccer star himself might have a rights of publicity claim under the state law of his new domicile.  For analysis of the issue and advice on avoiding similar skin irritations, check out this recent law review article by Christopher A. Harkins.

Of course, the less athletically inclined could always forego wearing Becks' tattoos in favor of walking a mile in Victoria's shoes

March 23, 2007

Never Trust Anyone Over 30

Last year fashion's enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier celebrated 30 years of iconoclasm, ranging from Madonna's cone bra to men in skirts.  This spring, by contrast, his couture runway showcased his angelic side, with every model in a halo, and the classic house of Hermes has entrusted him with its ready-to-wear since 2003. 

But not to worry -- Gaultier hasn't reformed completely.  A retrospective of his costume collaboration with cutting-edge contemporary choreographer Regine Chopinot, now on view at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in Paris, includes a giant crocodile Hermes Kelly bag with a silk print scarf tied around it.  A WWD reporter previewing the show called attention to the connection:

"It's a knockoff," Gaultier noted, exploding into laughter. 

Photos, anyone?

March 22, 2007

Memo: Legal to Merge with Marketing

OK, it's not fashion per se -- but anything with ZERO calories is bound to develop an editorial following, even if a few lawyers are baffled

Of course, the Coca-Cola Company is no stranger to the quest for authenticity:

  • 1942 - The only thing like Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola itself.
  • 1969 - It's the real thing.
  • 1985 - America's Real Choice
  • 1989 - Can't beat the real thing.
  • 2003 - Real
  • 2005 - Make It Real.

Interesting social history lesson, no?  And what does the latest campaign say about American society in 2007?

Many thanks to Michael Li for sending the photos!

March 20, 2007

Today's Today Show Survey

The results so far (2:15 pm EDT):

Euro Trend Report

Anticounterfeiting efforts are on the agenda in the European Parliament today, with a scheduled commitee vote on creating an EU-wide criminal law to combat the flood of fakes.  Debate centers on the scope of the law, which could either focus exclusively on large-scale copyists or target consumers as well, as both France and Italy have. 

So if you're planning a shopping trip, think twice before buying a replica of that Bulgarian bag or Slovenian CD you've been coveting.  Like your weight in kilos instead of pounds, fines calculated in euros rather than US dollars only seem lower.

March 19, 2007

Oh, the Humanity

New Yorker cover 19 March 2007At the outset, Larissa MacFarquhar's New Yorker profile of anticounterfeiting attorney Harley Lewin is like listening to cocktail party braggadocio.  There are the anecdotes from the startup years, the war stories, a bit of namedropping (from both Lewin's days in "the rock-and-roll business" and his current client roster, including Diane von Furstenberg), and a snappy tagline or two:  "Counterfeiting is more profitable than narcotics, and your partners don't kill you."  In other words, exactly what you'd expect.

This being the New Yorker, however, there's also a bit of existential wistfulness:  "Surrounded as he is by fakes and fradulence, Harley pursues authenticity."  Cue the recollection of hiking the Appalachian Trail during college, and mention of the tallith that six or seven generations of Lewin boys have worn for their bar-mitzvahs. 

And by the end, the characters whom Lewin pursues seem to morph into extras from one of the magazine's bleak, postmodern short stories: 

The man's wife appeared on the landing.  She looked as though she hadn't slept in weeks.  Her hair, dyed a streaky blonde, was a mess, and her face was creased and ravaged.  Harley told her that his client had started a lawsuit.

***

Then she and her husband stood outside on the porch and each smoked a cigarette.  They didn't speak.  He bounced a Ping-Pong ball.  She stood in her bare feet in flip-flops despite the cold.

***

[Lewin] caught sight of a photograph of someone he was pretty sure was the wife on her wedding day, and was startled to see that she had been quite beautiful not so long ago.  He thanked the cops, got into his rental car, and headed for the airport.  [END]

Only a writer of New Yorker caliber and sentiments could wring such human pathos from a story about lawyers, cops, and fake handbags.  Film rights, anyone? 

March 17, 2007

The Dictates of Fashion

If one must suffer for fashion, then designer Rabia Ben Barka has certainly paid her dues. 

Born to a wealthy Libyan family, she lost both fortune and homeland when Muammar el-Qaddafi took over and nationalized her family's textile mills and other assets.  Although she remained in Europe and worked for other designers, she was unable to return home and develop her vision of combining North African and Western styles -- until the dictator's daughter took a fancy to her designs.  From daughter to mother and finally father, Rabia now enjoys an elite clientle as well as the benefits (and burdens) of success:

Though her work was a shock to some Libyan traditionalists, over the years, she said, she has won a following here, dressing foreign diplomats and their spouses, staging fashion shows for visiting delegations and, of course, continuing her work for the first family. 

Now, she said, she grapples with another problem:  bootleggers copying her designs.

Then again, at least "Brother Leader" hasn't nationalized them.

March 15, 2007

UnFURgiven

After last December's debacle over fur-trimmed jackets wrongly labeled as faux, and the additional sensation caused by headlines calling the fallacious fuzz "dog fur," the Humane Society has demanded that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission take action.  The petition, available here, requests that the FTC seize mislabled garments and levy fines against retailers ranging from Bergdorf's to Burlington Coat Factory.  In addition, the Human Society is backing federal legislation to further restrict the sale of fur. 

Whether or not you have a dog in this fight, ironically taking place during the warmest winter on record worldwide, the cultural debate is inescapable.  At a lecture at Parsons The New School for Design earlier this evening, Business Week editor Bruce Nussbaum challenged an audience of design students to challenge their assumptions about issues such as ethics and sustainability.  Is a mink coat somehow evil, or is it an example of a sustainable, organic, durable, reusable, biodegradable product that might be preferable to one fashioned from synthetic materials?  A shocking question to many, no doubt, but leading an examined life (or career, for that matter) calls for more than easy inquiries. 

Is wearing fur about fashion, cruelty, warmth, conspicuous consumption, the natural order, inhuman behavior towards non-humans, control, freedom, or all of the above?  The debate continues -- and this time, it's legal.

March 14, 2007

Knockoff News 53

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And finally, it seems that rampant commercial copying has sparked a bit of do-it-yourself imitation as well:

A shopper-style bag with a gold chain handle, the Tribute Patchwork is made up of samples of 15 bags from the Louis Vuitton spring/summer and cruise collections.

However, it is the most counterfeited brand in the world - just one per cent of all products claiming to be made by Louis Vuitton are genuine. With this in mind, the Tribute Patchwork was created not just for aesthetic effect but in conjunction with the company's anti-counterfeiting unit, which is confident that this may be the first Louis Vuitton product that cannot be faked.

A Louis Vuitton insider said: "It takes all the best parts of the season's creations and rolls them into one. We are confident that the bag is utterly exclusive and that it will remain so."

Well, I've got bad news for Louis Vuitton - I've made my own.

Not only does Brooklyn designer Kate Cusack have to contend with alleged copying by The Gap, but enterprising crafters are working on -- and publicizing -- their own versions.

Cusack v Gap exhibit 3

Simple Joys DIY copy

Nosy Customs Inspectors

Some savvy discount shoppers examine handbags the way that picky produce buyers select ripe melons, using their olfactory expertise.  Real leather or fake pleather?  The nose knows.

Now the MPAA has found a way of sniffing out counterfeit DVDs as they pass through customs, using canine rather than human detectives.  Lucky and Flo, two black Labradors, have been trained to detect the smell of polycarbonates used in the disc manufacturing process.  While the dogs can't distinguish between original and copied movies, a test run in Malaysia showed that they can quickly identify shipments of pirated discs labeled as other merchandise. 

Can more little doggie noses, wrinkled in disgust at the smell of processed plastic purses or counterfeit cologne, be far behind?  Obviously the range of possible faux odors makes this a complicated proposition, but the idea is an intriguing one.

March 12, 2007

Analogical Reasoning

A key element of legal education is the skill of creating analogies, likening one set of facts to another in order to make a point or promote a desired outcome. 

A common side effect is fabulously nonsensical connections like this one from David Lat of Above the Law, quoted in a Slate article about the $200,000+ signing bonuses that some law firms are now willing to pay to Supreme Court clerks.  As an alternative, Lat notes that some firms are recruiting somewhat less pedigreed law graduates instead:

"For every one of the 36 smartest law kids," he says, "there is another equally smart law kid who just had a bad interview [for a Court clerkship]." And if law firms make the economic decision to give bonuses to them, "they get all the benefits of a knock-off Prada purse: They perform the same function, they look great, and you know they'll do a great job."

Now I understand why so many legal services are sold on street corners. 

No, wait -- wrong analogy.

Presidential Power

CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg has declared war on counterfeiters and copyists of her signature wrap dresses and other designs, according to WWD:

"I want to say, 'Beware,'" von Furstenberg said, her voice firm, in an exclusive interview.  "There is no money, there is nothing that will stop me from going after you."

The designer's intelligence operatives in this campaign include would-be DVF customers who are tricked into buying fakes (mainly by online sellers) and who first alerted her to the problem.  She has since created an email address for such reports, stop@dvf.com.  In addition, the company allows customers to send in dresses to ascertain whether or not they are genuine, a particular problem with mid-priced merchandise like DVF's.

Although the commander-in-chief did not reveal the cost of the campaign, it's safe to say that her resources exceed that of many other designers.  Still, from DVF's perspective, a rising tide lifts all boats.  "I am doing it as myself and as the CFDA president and representative of my fellow designers."

Of course, going into battle requires a proper uniform -- perhaps the military-inspired DVF Utility (left) or Clive dresses?

March 09, 2007

Seeing Red

Christian Louboutin's exquisite and expensive footwear has spawned a legion of knockoffs, in some cases right down to the signature red soles.  Oh...Deer! is particularly dedicated to copying the master's styles, like the Bruges pump below.

Christian Louboutin Bruges pump

Oh Deer rounded toe wood platform

From expertly rendered classic shapes to complex and original flights of fancy, none of M. Louboutin's styles is likely to qualify for protection under U.S. law.  The red soles, however, are a most effective form of trade dress, immediately signifying to those in the know -- and now to pretty much everyone remotely attuned to celebrity culture or to fashion -- the pumps' provenance.  Even better from a strategic perspective, the tantalizing flash of red is often visibile in photographs as well as up close and in person.  To a lawyer, copying the red soles is a bit like flashing a red cape in front of a bull -- but the designer has largely refrained from charging his imitators, at least publicly.

According to an article in the British magazine Grazia, the Louboutin look has led not only to mere imitation but also to creative inspiration in the form of the "Louboutin manicure."  Zoe Pocock, of London's Charles Worthington salon, will paint your fingernails in the color of your choice, with a familiar shade of red on the underside.  At £36, it's a far less expensive indulgence than a new pair of Loubies -- or, for the woman who has everything, an opportunity to take matching the shoes with the handbag to a whole new level. 

And as long as the salon goes easy on use of the Louboutin name in its advertising, it's a look that even an intellectual property lawyer can love.

Thanks to Fifitrix for posting the photo on Salon Geek!

March 08, 2007

Social Norms in Action

Leo Cullum, The New Yorker, February 23, 1998.

You can't pay for advertising -- or law enforcement -- like this.  (And no, wearing a counterfeit isn't illegal in the U.S.  You can put your watch/sunglasses/scarf/etcetera back on.  For now.)

March 07, 2007

Requiescat in Pace: Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard, the social theorist and philosopher who wrote Simulacra and Simulation, died yesterday -- or did he?  In his own words, "Death is never an absolulte criterion...."  Perhaps, like the powerful metaphor he constructed from Borges' map, the passing of the man and the survival of the geography of his mind in the revealed form of his writings is a superceding reality.  Or, perhaps the challenge of following his thoughts is so daunting that what remains is only a simulacrum that we generate without true source.

Even were this the case, however, Baudrillard will be missed for both his insights and his provocations. A fierce critic, he paid the U.S. the questionable compliment of being the original version of modernity, a blurring of the real and the unreal.  His native France, by contrast, was merely "a copy with subtitles."

Counterfeit Chic salutes the passing of a true original, who believed in neither concept.

Canine Couture

Apparently our stylish canine companions aren't satisfied with copycat accessories anymore.  Now they're demanding couture knockoffs -- and Little Lilly is ready to oblige, with a "Red Carpet Collection" for polished and pampered pets. 

Does your dog fancy herself a JLo type in bejeweled "Marchesa"?  If not, how about a version of Nicole's Balenciaga, Penelope's Versace, or Reese's Nina Ricci?  And your little stud will surely make an impression at the dog park in "The Leo," an elegant tuxedo sans bow tie.  One wonders, naturally, about the gowns that didn't make the cut -- presumably the real dogs here.

Is all of this legal?  The outfits, certainly.  If the designers can't prevent the creation of knockoffs for two-legged fans, they won't be able to control the four-legged versions.  The use of celebrity photographs?  Probably not, unless the photos are licensed and their subjects have agreed to the use of their images to sell doggie duds.  And the golden image of Oscar himself?  Once again, not likely.

Still, the costumes alone are a revealing monument to capitalist culture -- and a whole new way of worshiping the "bitch-goddess, success."

March 04, 2007

Knockoff News 52

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And for certain exotic purchases, the Economist reports that DNA testing can now be used to separate real from fake.  For some, this must be quite a relief.

Vivienne Westwood seal penis earrings

Frankly, though, we prefer our authenticated aphrodisiacs in more familiar form, say gemstones or precious metals -- and with all due respect to Dame Vivienne, perhaps in more discreet shapes as well.

More Baked Fakes

Among the creative pastry chefs tempted by tasty trademarks, Elisa Strauss' c.v. is particularly impressive.  She is an alumna of Vassar, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Institute of Culinary Education -- and Ralph Lauren. 

Are such intense concentrations of calories permitted within the rarefied confines of the fashion world?  Apparently so, at least on special occasions.  The baker got her big break when she created a birthday cake for Ralph in the shape of his favorite sports car, a Bugatti.  Designer Elisa thus became Chef Elisa, and Confetti Cakes was born. 

The company's stylish history is apparent in some of its most elaborate confections, like this "Coach" handbag cake...

...or the sweet recreation of a shoe shopping spree, right down to the logo on the bag. 

Did Elisa perhaps pick up more than styling tips during her time at Ralph Lauren?  The designer himself was the losing party in a notorious French lawsuit filed by Yves Saint Laurent, who accused Lauren of stealing one of YSL's signature looks.  Of course, when it comes to copying, logos and clothing designs are subject to different legal regimes -- and Coach doesn't bake cakes.  Still, one wonders the copycat culture that led to Ralph receiving his just deserts hasn't also flavored Elisa's desserts. 

Of course, Confetti Cakes bakes everything from elegant wedding cakes to iced toys.  And with custom cake prices starting at $800, a true fashionista would probably skip dessert and go for the shoes anyway.

March 03, 2007

And the Winners Are...

The Hollywood awards season ended last week with profuse thanks to the Academy, but the Oscar gown knockoff season is just beginning. 

Red carpet scavenger-in-chief Allen Schwartz has deemed Nicole Kidman (in Balenciaga), Reese Witherspoon (in Nina Ricci), Jennifer Lopez (in less-than-flattering Marchesa), Cameron Diaz (in Valentino), and Penelope Cruz (in Versace Atelier) to be the 5 most knockoff-worthy models. 

Of course, ABS isn't the only copyist out there -- just the loudest.  For example, retail website edressme.com has given the nod to gowns worn by Jennifer Hudson and Jessica Biel (both Oscar de la Renta, although Ms. Hudson's peculiar space age jacket didn't make the cut), as well as that of Helen Mirren (Lacroix) and a few others you'll no doubt recognize. 

Bringing up the rear are new websites like SeenON! and StarStyle, which attempt to link TV viewers with everything from Oscar gowns to appropriate underpinnings.  Perhaps they're the new people's choice awards -- or maybe they fall into the category of "too much information." 

March 01, 2007

Gucci Perfume Ad Smells Fishy

When it comes to advertising, don't believe the hype -- especially when the source is a prankster posing as a Gucci model.

A Swiss paper, SonntagsZeitung, was tricked into running the ad below after being contacted by its creator.  The cost of the 2-page spread, approx. U.S. $50,000, was to be billed directly to Gucci. 

The "model" is apparently under investigation for fraud, but the ad poses something of a counterfeit conundrum for Gucci.  Like all luxury goods companies, its image and advertising are carefully planned and controlled -- but then again, this guy isn't exactly hard on the eyes.

HT:  BoingBoing