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June 30, 2007

The Rape of the Rafē Collection

With some well-known luxury brands, fashion-conscious consumers evaluate the label first and the style afterwards.  With Rafe, the opposite is true -- many people fall in love with the designs before they even figure out how to pronounce the designer's name (RAH-fee, short for Ramon Felix Totengco). 

Unfortunately, that combination of fabulous design with a lesser-known logo is exactly what the copyists who lurk in the dark alleys of the fashion world are seeking.  After all, it's legal in the US to copy the designs -- just not the trademarks.

Baghaus.com is one of the more blatant copyists online, stealing not only designs but even the legally protected logos and trade dress of better-known brands like Coach or Hermes, all the while advertising their work as "inspired by" various brands. 

Check out the Rafe "Sue" tote bag from Crosby collection, available on loan from BagBorroworSteal.com, and the Baghaus "Sue"

Rafe Sue and Baghaus copy

Or compare the Rafe "Molly" hobo, also available from BagBorroworSteal.com for as little as USD $13.00/week, with the Baghaus "Molly":

Rafe Molly and Baghaus copy

Baghaus even runs a blog, complete with celebrity photos and profiles of the designers whose work they've plundered.  As the entry on Rafe concludes:

Baghaus is proud to offer our very own line of handbags inspired by Rafe New York. We think you'll like them as much as Jessica Alba, Eva Longoria, and Sandra Oh love their authentic Rafe handbags. Actually, we think you'll like our Baghaus versions even more @ 49.99 and under :). [Emoticon definitely in original.]

Indeed, something to be proud of.

Of course, Baghaus isn't the only copyist to rip off Rafe.  All Women's Talk notes that Jessica Simpson, apparently yet another celebrity knockoff artist, has copied Rafe as well.  (Are these celebs so accustomed to receiving free stuff that they think the designs belong to them as well?)

Rafe Rivington and Jessica Simpson copy

Counterfeit Chic is all in favor of artists who are inspired by other artists.  Inspiration is a good thing.  But these copyists are about as "inspired" as a photocopy machine is by the original on the glass.

Many thanks to David Alexander for the tip -- sent far too long ago! 

P.S.  Interested in a real Rafe at a nice price?  Not only are many of his creations on sale right now, but he's also created a line for Target

June 28, 2007

The Fix is In

Manufacturers must be delighted and discounters devastated by today's 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. 

The much-awaited antitrust decision overturned 96 years of precedent that had treated as per se illegal vertical price restraints, such as an agreement between a manufacturer and retailers to set minimum retail prices.  Instead, courts must now apply a "rule of reason" on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not such price maintenance agreements constitute antitrust violations. 

Leegin Creative originated as a dispute between a manufacturer of leather goods and accessories and PSKS, which operates a women's clothing store in Lewisville, Texas, "Kay's Kloset."  Kay's Kloset began selling Leegin's "Brighton" line of merchandise in 1995.  Two years later, the manufacturer instituted a minimum pricing policy that claimed to bolster the brand's image and to promote competition on the basis of quality and service rather than price.  In 2002, Leegin discovered that Kay's Kloset had been marking down the entire Brighton line by 20%.  When the retailer refused to abandon this practice, Leegin terminated the relationship, and PSKS sued.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, cited a great deal of economic literature to the effect that price maintenance agreements between manufacturers and retailers can have either procompetitive or anticompetitive effects.  In other words, unlike certain classic horizontal combinations in restraint of trade, such as price fixing among various brands or geographical market division agreements, vertical price restraints do not necessarily harm the consumer.  In reversing and remanding the case, the Supreme Court directed the lower court to admit evidence regarding the effects of Leegin's policy.

Justice Breyer's dissent, joined by Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg, did not dispute the essence of the economic data.  Rather, the dissent noted that the relevant precedent has been in place since 1911 and that economic arguments on both sides have been part of the antitrust literature for over half a century.  In Breyer's view, if such data has not been sufficient to convince Congress of the need to alter the law and there has been no dramatic change in circumstances, then the Court should respect the principle of stare decisis and resist the temptation to overturn well-established precedent.

After announcing the decision this morning, the Court recessed until October 1 -- giving the soberly clad justices ample time to hit Fourth of July sales before the effects of their ruling become apparent.  (Not to say that judicial robes can't be quite striking on occasion....)

SCOTUS 2007

UPDATE:  More analysis is available on the Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog.

Awwwrest ME?

Little Mona may be criminally cute, but her artistically inclined mother, Mieko Bystedt, is the one who knitted the "Chanel" bag below.  Judging from the wish list on Mieko's blog -- and authentic details like the hot pink lining -- she's a fan of the real thing as well.

[PREVIOUS PICTURE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF PARENT; PARENT HAS ALSO REMOVED PICTURE FROM FLICKR.]

But will the branded baby become a career counterfeiter, a Chanel connoisseur, or a victim of consumer ennui?  Time will tell....

UPDATE:  Mieko wishes to assure all readers that she is "fully aware of the problem of counterfeiting in the world today" and that all of the designer items she personally owns are authentic.  The "Chanel" bag was knitted for her daughter's personal use only.

June 27, 2007

Big Bust

Ahem.

Federal officials announced one of the biggest counterfeit busts in years yesterday, charging 29 people with importing approximately USD $700 million worth of illicit luxury goods in over 950 separate shipments.  Unlike street raids, which target low-level retailers and hardly cause a ripple in the flow of counterfeits to consumers, this coordinated action targeted major suppliers who collaborated to circumvent customs inspections.

Three separate complaints detailed the alleged activities of the smashed smuggling rings, including:

  • Providing false descriptions of merchandise to crooked customs brokers, who act as the conduit between U.S. Customs & Border Protection and importers, in order to conceal counterfeits or avoid paying duties on expensive merchandise (e.g. labeling containers of counterfeits as children's toys or shower curtains);
  • Fraudulently obtaining permits to transfer merchandise between ports of entry and bonded facilities to await clearance -- and then delivering merchandise to their own or customers' warehouses instead;
  • Keeping "dummy" containers of innocuous merchandise (like those toys) ready for customs inspection;
  • Stealing the ID numbers of legitimate importers in order to disguise counterfeits;
  • Falsely avoiding inspection by claiming that merchandise was simply passing through the U.S. and was destined for Canada or Mexico;
  • Bribing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (who were working undercover) to file false paperwork or to release goods; and, of course,
  • Money laundering.

The entry points for illicit merchandise spanned the nation:  Newark, NJ; Houston, TX; Long Beach, CA; Staten Island, NY; and New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.  The list of luxury brands involved is even more extensive, including Coach, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Balenciaga, Nike, North Face, Gucci, Fendi, True Religion, Seven for All Mankind, Kate Spade, Timberland, and A Bathing Ape in categories ranging from shoes and sunglasses to watches and handbags.  (Any company left out should count its blessings -- and then worry that its brand is no longer "in.")

As apparent from the WWD photo, New York officials wasted no time in processing the first batch of defendants -- or parading them in front of the waiting press.  And no doubt some of the Homeland Security folks responsible for coordinating the investigations enjoyed a hard-earned beer after wrapping up the sting.  It's all up to the prosecutors and the courts now. 

Still, one wonders:  Why are there so many apparently simple ways of avoiding customs enforcement?  Just how porous are U.S. borders, anyway? 

Perp walk in New York

And, of course, will souvenir-seeking New York tourists who would otherwise buy counterfeits by the bag go home empty-handed this Fourth of July? 

Thanks to my sharply dressed and national security-minded Fordham law student, James Creedon, for forwarding the press release.

June 26, 2007

Pantsed!

In truth, I am no fan of most dry cleaners.  I have long suspected them of being in league with the less savory elements of the garment industry, losing or ruining favorite items simply so that they will have to be replaced more often.  Why else would buttons so often be lost or smashed despite explicit requests to protect them, leather items returned with pins stuck through them, or shirts pressed with so much extra starch and so many strange creases that they resemble a grammar school papier mache project?  And that's not even considering the strange triangle-shaped rips, peculiar purple spots, and all the manner of colorful lint periodically added to previously respectable garments.  Or the environmental effects of all of those chemicals and plastic covers.  (My current dry cleaner is usually conscientious, if expensive, but even that organzation has been known to err.  The test is, of course, whether an error is quickly and professionally corrected.)

Judge Roy L Pearson JrThat being said, suing one's dry cleaner for USD $54 million over one pair of pants goes too far.  Certainly Judge Judith Bartnoff thought so, tacitly ruling yesterday that Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr., was not so much saving the world from unscrupulous cleaners as making a mockery of the justice system with his extreme lawsuit.  Yes, his suit trousers were lost.  Perhaps they were also found -- unless the grey pair proffered by Custom Cleaners were merely a poor substitute, as Pearson claims.  Either way, settlement offers of $3,000, then $4,600, and finally $12,000 should have sufficed.

We'll have to take the court's word on whether the pants that Pearson refused to accept were his original pair or a not-so-clever copy.  But one thing is clear, with all due respect to defendants Soo and Jin Chung:  No reasonable consumer would ever believe that a sign reading, "Satisfaction Guaranteed," in a dry cleaning establishment is the real thing. 

Soo and Jin Chung

June 25, 2007

Fake Chocolate?

Say it isn't so!  An industry petition allowing chocolate to be adulterated with less expensive cocoa butter substitutes would wreak havoc on an entire food group -- not to mention eliminate the last hope of preventing size zero models from sliding into negative numbers.  This is possibily the worst idea since carob began masquerading as chocolate.  Counterfeit, yes; chic, no. 

It must be Monday.

June 24, 2007

A Discerning Consumer

From Overheard in New York:

White chick to black chick: That's a cute bag. It would be, if it were real.
Black chick: Bitch, it ain't fake, it's stolen!

June 23, 2007

Lovin' Lanvin -- Too Much

Jeanne Lanvin was one of the great designers of the early 20th century, and her label has been revived in the early 21st under the creative direction of the extremely talented and charming Alber Elbaz.  Editors and critics can't get enough of Lanvin -- and neither, it seems, can 9 West.

While these 9 West handbags (top) aren't particularly close copies of the Lanvin originals (bottom), 9 West doesn't want you to miss the resemblance.  To this end, 9 West has actually named both of its bags "Lanvin," despite the fact that the name is a registered trademark.  In other words, the unprotected design wasn't copied exactly, but the protected trademark was.  Fairly ironic, given that 9 West's parent company claims to have "a distinct culture:  one that emphasizes product innovation...."

9 West (top) and real Lanvin

But wait -- isn't there something else particularly distinctive about all of these bags?  Reminiscent of, say, Hermes?  Check out the croc Birkin on display at the new Hermes Wall Street boutique.  (Yes, the opening events on Thursday were exceptional, and not a knockoff in sight.) 

Hermes Birkin

The belt across the top of the bag isn't just any design element -- it's actually protected trade dress.  Two separate registrations in the U.S. Trademark Office, 1806107 and 2447392, protect similar Hermes designs; this drawing was submitted with the earlier registration (solid lines indicate the protected portion). 

Hermes trade dress registration

So how is it that similar belts appear on so many other bags, both 9 West and Lanvin included?  The answer is in the fine print.  The protected mark consists of "a rectangular design attached to the flap of a handbag" -- and the other bags do not include flaps.  Limited, true, but any trade dress protection associated with product design is a bit of a coup, given the current need to demonstrate secondary meaning (proof that consumers view the design not just as cool but as a sign of who made the item).  Hermes could try to challenge the other designs, but absent a flap it would be an uphill battle. 

In other words, legal protection of a design has as many holes in it as a pair of fishnets, but protection of a name is much more of a sure thing -- a lesson that 9 West may learn the hard way. 

HT:  Fashionista

June 22, 2007

Knockoff News 62

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

Fendi Fox

And this just in the oven:  The latest complaint in the long-standing New York City saga of Ray's Pizza has been filed.  Famous Original Ray's Licensing Corp. v. World Famous Ray's Pizza & Restaurant et al., docket #1:07-cv-05833-LTS, should be served up shortly.  In the meantime, here's another take on what it means to be a real pizza in a marketing-driven world. 

June 21, 2007

Leading by Example

Kate HoeyLast year when the Daily Telegraph described British MP Kate Hoey as wearing a Gucci watch, a string of pearls, and a jacket trimmed in faux fur, the independent-minded Labour politician and champion of fox hunting was quick to demand a correction.  The fur, apparently, was real; it was the Gucci that was a fake.

Retired British defense analyst W.F. Hogarth (no, not that William Hogarth) was not particularly amused.  Taking a break from his more common focus on counter-insurgency and threats in the Middle East, he recently trained his formidable analytical skills on the question of counterfeits.  After creating a taxonomy that divides "cheap and nasty" fakes from higher quality "replicas," and further subdividing replicas into acknowledged fakes and intentionally misleading forgeries, Hogarth blasted willing buyers for their financial support of criminal activities that include child labor, laundering of drug money, and terrorism.  (Come to think of it, the counterfeiting issue really isn't that far from his usual beat.) 

Perhaps the most interesting element of Hogarth's analysis is his challenge to luxury brands, whose own celebrity-driven advertising creates demand for counterfeits as well as for the real thing -- among politicians and ordinary folk alike. 

There may be no simple solution to this conundrum, but at least Hogarth is watching the watchmakers.  And the lawmakers.

June 19, 2007

A Heideggerian Lament

Or, if knockoffs could speak.

Source:  New Yorker, June 25, 2007.

June 18, 2007

Don't Cut that Cake!

Is there any part of a wedding that can't be faked?

Between amateur knockoff artists sneaking forbidden cameras into their appointments at bridal boutiques and deceived brides lamenting the gift of faux engagement rings or wedding bands posing as pure platinum, it's enough to turn the most starry-eyed romantic into a counterfeit-spotting cynic.

Still, there's something amusing about the latest entry in the imitation bridal market:  fake cakes.  Covered in icing and decorated to look like the real thing, these tiers of Styrofoam are intended for display at the reception.  After the happy couple cuts into a secret spot containing a slice of real cake, the fake is removed to the kitchen -- preferably with some dramatic staggering by the waitstaff -- and slices of an ordinary sheetcake are served to unsuspecting guests.  Then, in the case of CakeRental.com, the stand-in is returned to its specially designed shipping crate and sent back for the next time.  Sort of like your great-aunt's porcelain monstrosity of a wedding present, destined to be re-gifted over and over again. 

Tune in next time for the blow-up groom....

Many thanks to Karen Quartuccio for the tip!

P.S.  A public service announcement for budget-minded brides:  You may have missed last year's fast fashion feeding frenzy involving Victor & Rolf's wedding gowns for H&M, but other cheap chic chains are getting into the act.  This weekend's WSJ gave top marks to Isaac Mizrahi's "Trapunto Bell" design for Target, USD $159.99.  Why settle for a knockoff when the real designer will provide one for you? 

June 16, 2007

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Given the amount of time that well-heeled teens -- and even tweens -- spend online and at the mall, it's no shock that they've discovered luxury brands.  Nor is it particularly surprising that luxury brands have taken notice of the after-school set, offering pricey mini-indulgences like logoed barrettes. 

It is a bit strange, however, that some of their ostensibly brand-friendly elders sound suddenly moralistic when asked by WWD about the trend.

Portnoy's Complaint

Consider a comment by J. Elias Portnoy, chief brand strategist of the Portnoy Group:

It's like cigarette smoking.  [Luxury brands] are getting them hooked at a young age and have them as customers for a lifetime.

Nice analogy, especially from an organization that boasts, "We teach companies how to bond emotionally with their current and prospective customers and employees by creating the strategic platforms for great, compelling, and effective communications."

Nils' Nihilism

And how about this statement from Nils Montan, president of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition:

Marijuana is called a gateway drug; that is what counterfeiting can be looked at as.

Montan goes on:

Kids, especially, are under the radar, but my gut reaction is that counterfeits are an entry point for teens to luxury brands.

Well, that must be a relief to Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Tiffany, etc., anyway.  Now they can forget all of that high-priced trademark enforcement and even eliminate their marketing departments, secure in the knowledge that counterfeiters are luring children to try their addictive wares -- after which they'll move on to the harder (i.e. genuine, more expensive) stuff. 

One wonders whether Montan, formerly VP and senior IP counsel for Warner Bros., also believes that poor quality, fake DVDs are a "gateway" to giant HDTVs and home theatres. 

With friends like these, luxury brands need no enemies. 

June 14, 2007

Happy Belated World Anti-Counterfeiting Day!

Oops.  It was yesterday -- but at least the greeting cards will be on sale by now.

UPDATE:  Wait!  Don't put the party hats and crepe paper streamers away yet -- WAC Day this year has been postponed 'til June 26.  (Yes, that's the acronym.  No, I didn't make it up.)  Many thanks to Ruth Orchard, Director-General of The Anti-Counterfeiting Group, for sending the news. 

Knockoff News 61

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

Mirror image wolf mascots

And finally, a toast to a winemaker whose signature red lipstick has done more than smudge the rim of her glass:

While Counterfeit Chic understands Ms. Colgin's decision to change her method of fighting fakes -- 2,500 cases of wine annually adds up to a lot of lipstick -- we hope that she'll blow us a kiss anyway.  And, of course, we'll pass it on. 

June 13, 2007

C & D

With prints back in fashion and knockoffs in the news, the fashion community has begun to keep an eye out for suspicious sartorial similarities.  Check out these contributions from nitro.licious, Fashionista, and Fashion Theory, respectively:

Anna Sui v Forever 21

Tibi v Mandee

Marc by Marc Jacobs v Forever 21

And now the legal question:  If the original dresses (left) were subject to design protection in the U.S., as they are in Europe and Japan and as proposed in the recently reintroduced Design Piracy Prohibition Act, would the copies infringe that protection?

Answer:  No.  The dress designs as a whole weren't copied; only the fabric patterns are the same.

Q:  So these copies are legitimate?

A:  No, I didn't say that.  If they're actually copies, they may very well violate the U.S. law as well as that of other countries.  The question is, which type of law?

copyrightEach of these fabric prints may qualify for copyright protection, in the U.S. and pretty much everywhere else.  That's how DVF could bring her much-discussed lawsuit against Forever 21.  New legislation won't change that in any way.  Just like images created with ink on paper or paint on canvas, prints created with dye on fabric are subject to copyright protection -- and have been under U.S. law for over half a century.

Much of the time, however, this copyright is held by the company that created the fabric, not the designer who created the garment.  Some designers sell a large enough volume and are successful enough to design their own prints on a regular basis, in which case the designer holds the copyright, but most designers simply purchase material from fabric mills.  If the order isn't large enough to be exclusive, this can result in 2 designers using the same fabric -- just as if 2 individuals went to the same store and bought a few yards each from the same bolt of fabric.  This isn't noticeable if the fabric is, say, black wool crepe, but printed cotton is another matter. 

If the prints on the left were created by the designers of the original dresses (presumably Anna Sui's claim, since she's brought a lawsuit against Forever 21), then the copies may very well infringe copyright.  If, however, the printed fabrics were simply bought from the same source, no problem.   Another possibility is that the fabric prints were copied but are in the public domain, like older vintage works -- again, no problem. 

Whatever the story with these particulalr fabric prints, the original garment designs cannot be protected in the U.S.  Of course, in these examples the garment designs weren't copied, so the question of infringment would in any case be limited to copyright in the fabric prints (or possibly patent, but that's another matter). 

designWhat design protection offers is the ability to protect not just the print, but the overall design of the garment.  The idea is to give fashion designers rights to protect their designs.  At the moment, fabric designers get protection in the U.S., while fashion designers don't. 

In other words, if our intrepid fashion bloggers are correct, then the copyists responsible for the images on the right aren't exactly legal luminaries.  They engaged in unauthorized duplication of the only protected part of the original dresses -- the fabric prints -- while ignoring the unprotected garment designs. 

Call in the lawyers -- it's time to send out the C&Ds. 

June 11, 2007

Another Look at the Initial Issue

Speaking of the YSL trademark (see yesterday's post), what about the stylish logo of the band Yeasayer, sent courtesy of Professor Rebecca Tushnet

Yeasayer

Do we have an infringement issue here?  Likelihood of confusion might be argued, although the band's mark is more elaborate, and it isn't necessarily hawking clothing, jewelry, perfume, accessories, etc. (yet), or targeting the same customer as YSL.  The YSL mark, however, may very well qualify as famous, obviating the issue of categories of goods or services and leading to a claim of dilution

Still, Yeasayer's YSR may be sufficiently distinguishable enough from YSL to make naysayers of the legal doomsayers. 

June 10, 2007

Initial Interest Confusion

If name is destiny, are initials almost as important?  Fashion house Yves Saint Laurent and Steven Lee of jewelry company Goldfinger Hawaii, Inc., seem to think so. 

The detailed and informative TTABlog reports that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the appellate body within the U.S. Trademark Office, recently affirmed a refusal to register the SL mark on the left for jewelry, finding it confusingly similar to the YSL mark on the right. 

Need you ask Y?

Steven Lee's failed attempt to register his initials for jewelry is similar to another dispute over initials that was recently called to my attention by Professor Tony Sebok.  Chef-owner Daniel Boulud of, inter alia, db bistro moderne in Manhattan, objects to the name chef-owner Danny Brown's more recently opened restaurant in Queens, db Wine Bar & Restaurant.  While the dining scenes in the 2 New York City boroughs are worlds apart, that's not quite far enough to escape Boulud's vigilant legal team.

Does this signal a rapid depletion of initials available as trademarks within particular industries?  Will the 2- or 3-initial logo soon go the way of the 2- or 3-letter dot com domain names, long since snapped up by quick-thinking registrants and now generally unavailable?  Perhaps not, in world where interlocking Cartier CC's (left, but you knew that already) and Chanel CC's seem to co-exist peacefully.  (One does wonder if that were always the case, or if the same result would occur if a new CC logo for jewelry were introduced today.  Counterfeit Chic hastens to assure all concerned that this site does not have any plans to enter the business.) 

In each of the current disputes, the similar marks rise and fall not only on the selected letters but also their arrangement and appearance.  The YSL and SL marks are both vertically overlapped, and db marks both use lower-case letters.  While Cartier and Chanel both consist of back-to-back C's, they typefaces are quite different -- and again, long established. 

While it seems that initials will continue to be a fertile source of new marks, entrepreneurial parents might nevertheless be wise to choose unusual names and unpopular initials for their offspring. 

Attention Fashion Addicts

It's official:  Here's the link to the OECD report concluding that, in some instances, counterfeiting and piracy are more profitable than trade in illegal drugs.  In terms of volume, the rough estimate is USD $200 billion in international trade alone; fakes produced and consumed domestically or traded via the internet could add up to several hundred billion dollars more. 

Quite a shopping spree, no?

From a classic Counterfeit Chic perspective, perhaps the most interesting part of the report is the nuanced discussion of consumer utility, particularly with regard to consumers who knowingly purchase fakes at low prices.  In other words, what about Canal Street?

The report concludes that, assuming consumer utility to be a function of product quality and/or performance taking into account price, some consumers who deliberately buy fakes win and some lose.  The problem is that it's hard to assess the quality of, say, a fake Rolex at the time of purchase.  It may keep time for years, or it may fall apart at the first wearing.  In the later case, the consumer loses -- and counterfeits don't usually come with warranties. 

In addition, the report notes that there may be more generalized effects of the voluntary purchase of fakes on consumer utility, including less investment in innovation or abandonment of the market by some creators. 

Consumers who are tricked into believing that they've bought the real thing, of course, nearly always lose. 

The OECD's definition of consumer utility, at least in its executive summary (full report to be released later this month), doesn't necessarily comprehend the full scope of consumer motivation, however.  Consumers who knowingly buy fake luxury goods -- as opposed to fake batteries or pharmaceuticals -- are often not merely acquiring a product; they're acquiring an experience.  The tourist who carries her fake Gucci/Fendi/Chanel/Burberry/D&G handbag back to Timbuktu has a souvenir of her trip, a story to tell, and the thrill of having gotten away with something.  She may try to fool her friends, she may show off the bag as a fake, or she may never carry it at all. 

Advertisers and retailers have long understood the importance of selling an image or, more recently, an experience, rather than just a product.  The OECD and design-based companies allied in the fight against counterfeiters must recognize the same thing if they are to understand the real nature of consumer utility -- and find ways to alter the consumer's calculus. 

Covetous consumer on Canal Street

Many thanks to fabulous designer Emmett McCarthy for forwarding an article on the report -- and may you avoid being hit by counterfeiters for as long as possible.

June 09, 2007

Wal-Mart Blinks

A year ago today, Counterfeit Chic noted that Fendi had sued Wal-Mart for allegedly selling fakes.  Wal-Mart denied the claims, and spectators took sides.  Was the world's largest retailer offering counterfeit merchandise, or was LVMH simply trying to protect the exclusive aura of its Fendi brand by keeping grey market goods (legit trademarked items intended for one market but diverted elsewhere) off of decidedly lower rent shelves? 

Two days ago, WWD reported that the discount behemoth and the luxury titan had settled the case.  Alas, the settlement is sealed, but it is acknowledged that Wal-Mart agreed to pay Fendi a confidential sum as part of the agreement.  Given the size of the parties and the sales volume at issue, the amount presumably wasn't sofa change.   

While the payment doesn't necessarily indicate wrongdoing on Wal-Mart's part -- sometimes it's cheaper to settle than to litigate -- other aspects of the parties' agreement point in the direction of the Fendis having been fake.  The bags are long gone from the shelves.  Moreover, Sam's Club, the Wal-Mart division that carried the bags, will send letters instructing customers how to return Fendi merchandise.  A Wal-Mart official even apologized to the company's customers (though not to LVMH):

Susan Koehler, a spokeswoman for Sam's Club, said Wednesday that its statement about Fendi products not being counterfeits "was made early on.  As the case evolved, we were provided additional information.  We want to try to communicate to our members our apologies.  We want to make this right." 

Rumor has it that teams of Wal-Mart employees will also be dispatched to wash the Fendi CEO's car and mow his lawn(s) for a year.

Seems that F really was for Fake at Wal-Mart!

June 08, 2007

Cross-Species Copycats

Has celebrity blogger Perez Hilton caught Victoria Beckham wearing a knockoff?

Reese and Posh

And does the the cute little b*tch have a rights of publicity claim?  (Well, no, in the case of either one -- but it's amusing to speculate.)

Many thanks to my fantastic Fordham law student -- make that graduate -- Brit Payne for the tip.  Who said studying for the bar wasn't fun? 

June 07, 2007

Knockoff News 60

 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, joining the annals of careless copyright infringers is ex-jewelry company Real Imposters.  Not only was the company name something less than a sign of a good faith creative enterprise, but its president admitted copying 26 John Hardy jewelry designs -- presumably skipping the step of creating hand-carved models. 

John Hardy Kali cuff

Worse still, among the infringing objects was a cuff bracelet from John Hardy's Kali collection.  Never mess with the jewelry of a goddess whose signature adornment is a necklace made of human skulls.

Hacker Attack

Gather 'round readers while ye may, 
  Old Time is still a-flying: 
And this same post that smiles to-day 
  To-morrow may be dying.

(With apologies to Robert Herrick.)

Some people lament that what's on the internet is out there forever.  After yesterday's hacker attack on my web host, however, I have a whole new appreciation of the the fragility of the medium.  Happily, everything seems to be back in order -- but read while you can!

Welcome back.

June 06, 2007

Fashion Roadkill

Pucci prints are often imitated, but never duplicated -- not legally, anyway.  Not only are the designs subject to copyright protection, but each one also incorporates the company founder's first name, Emilio, scattered throughout.  According to the Pucci website, this trademark-savvy move marked "the debut of a designer's name as an external logo." 

Legions of lesser lights have nevertheless been "inspired" by the Prince of Prints' color-mad designs, but apparently creating a successful swirl of vibrant hues is harder than it looks.  Consider the latest entry, from NASCAR no less, which shall henceforth be known as "the Pucci knock-off so blatant that the Manolo gasped when he saw it." 

NASCAR shoe -- really.

Even given that one wouldn't expect much from a NASCAR line of high-fashion shoes, what is it about Pucci style that's so hard to imitate successfully? 

Counterfeit Chic is tempted to call upon the distinguished team of scientists who have demonstrated that no, Jackson Pollock wasn't just dripping paint at random, and no, your child couldn't have done the same thing with a squeeze bottle of Hershey's syrup.  Surely if Pollock paintings have turned out to incorporate fractals, "the fingerprint of nature," some fashionable grad student should be hard at work measuring the trajectories of Pucci's swirls as well. 

Fashion may be an art form, but why not a science too?

Many thanks to His Superfabulousness for saving the world from ill-considered shoes, one foot at a time.

June 04, 2007

Knockoff Moment at the CFDA Fashion Awards

Derek LamAt the Swarovski crystal-studded and carbon-neutral CFDA Fashion Awards this evening, the fashion was real -- even if one of the celebrities was fake. 

Your humble blogger almost spilled her champagne laughing when, in a nod to the organization's continuing legislative efforts to fight knockoffs, an Ellen DeGeneres impersonator took the stage to present the Accessories Award.  MADtv's Nicole Parker wore a white pantsuit reminiscent of Ellen's Oscar attire and draped authentic handbags designed by nominees Derek Lam, Marc Jacobs, and Michael Kors around her neck and over her arms.  Happily for winner Derek Lam, the statuette was genuine as well. 

Congratulations to Derek and all of the other honorees -- and to the CFDA on the 25th anniversary of the Fashion Awards.  (Just don't call them the fashion Oscars -- unless you're speaking Italian.)

June 03, 2007

Turning a Cold Shoulder to Knockoffs

Someday, academia will finally take fashion seriously.  This will result in a great deal of valuable social and cultural history, along with dissertation titles like, "On Her Shoulders:  Silhouette and the Re-Construction of Western Women's Economic and Political Power."  

Balenciaga S'07, Lanvin F'07, Margiela F'07

Until then, we must be content with well-researched newspaper articles like the one by Rachel Dodes and Teri Agins in this weekend's WSJ, which notes the return of the "strong" shoulder to women's fashion after nearly 20 years on the "out" list. 

Ms. President?Although it's possible to overread the social significance of any individual fashion statement, the return of the exaggerated shoulder seems appropriate at a moment when for the first time there have been serious woman presidential candidates in both France and the U.S., Germany has a woman chancellor, a woman leads the U.S. House of Representatives, etc.  At the same time, the rights of women around the world are under close scrutiny and dress is at the heart of global cultural warfare

Gibson GirlAs Dodes and Agins point out, wide shoulders have been fashionable in the late 1890s and early 1900s (first-wave feminism and suffrage), the 1940s (women working while men were at war), and the 1980s (women entering the workplace en masse, this time to stay).  (The sartorial echoes of this exercise of economic and political muscle are, of course, quite different from dressing to express sexual liberation through raised hemlines, low waistlines, and still lower necklines.) 

Lest this year's broadening of the female shape to more masculine proportions raise the spectre of assertive "power dressing" from two decades ago, however, the designers and retailers interviewed for the article hastened to explain away any direct connection.  Not only are the new shoulders actually "less severe and aggressive than in the past" and more "modern," they also are justified as an exercise in fine tailoring, a natural counterpoint to emphasizing the waist, and, Counterfeit Chic's favorite, a deterrent to design pirates:

One potential side benefit: The shoulders' complicated constructions make them harder for fast-fashion chains to copy.

And yes, they do make the hips look smaller. 

June 02, 2007

Summer Reading

Danielle Ganek's novel, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, has repeatedly been described as a Devil Wears Prada for the New York art world.  If that's not enough to secure it a place in your beach tote, consider the following excerpt:

One of the new collectors -- no, not hedge fund money, her husband made his cash inventing some kind of toilet-paper dispenser -- Connie in five-inch heels is a moving sight gag as she makes her way down the center aisle, although her seat too would be more easily reached from the side closest to the door. 

She waves and kisses, kisses and waves, acknowledging anyone she happens to know.  My shoulders hunch reflexively, although I know she won't even glance in the direction of the standing section.  Her eyes dart this way and that with the acquisitive gleam of a collector in heat.

Hers is a lumpy body no amount of money can dress up, although she's trying, in what appears to be a mink sweatshirt with a hood.  She has lank hair even the man known as the magician with the blow-dryer can't volumize and little eyes made smaller with too much makeup.  She wears diamonds by the yard [Lawyer-type query to author:  Would that be Elsa Peretti's Diamonds by the Yard, a registered trademark?] roped several times around her neck and a much larger one dangling from her ring finger.  Off her arm swings an enormous Hermes Birkin bag in bright blue crocodile.  That's one of those bags that cost ten grand at least, if you can get your name on the top of the wait list.  The croc is more.  This one is so big it looks fake, but Connie doesn't have the confidence to carry a fake.

Quite the literary title for chick lit!

It seems that a counterfeit handbag is a sign of good character...description.

June 01, 2007

She's Got a Secret

When I was a girl, older and ostensibly wiser relatives used to warn, "You don't just marry a person, you marry the whole family."  If that's the case, then this woman really picked a winner:

Postsecret fake engagement ring

Source:  The Secret Lives of Men and Women, the latest Postsecret book.

Of course, a true romantic would argue that if the husband really didn't know that the ring was phony when he proposed, it doesn't matter. 

Even the family might be excused, depending on the circumstances.  Did they know the stone wasn't a real diamond?  Or was there more sinister motive, such as an attempt to avoid passing a valuable gem to a less-than-valued daughter-in-law?  Then again, perhaps the artificial bauble once had genuine sentimental value -- who wouldn't want to inherit great-grandma's version of the CrackerJack ring from Breakfast at Tiffany's?  (Not to mention the one used in the movie, which Sotheby's could probably auction off for considerably more than an actual gold band.)

Whatever the true story here, a bride can't be too careful, given the state of modern gemology -- as Counterfeit Chic warned last June 1. 

And a would-be groom who proffers a knockoff engagement ring is engaging in very risky behavior -- which may be why our disillusioned spouse labeled her symbolic shackle "plastique." 

P.S.  For a discussion of the law governing engagement rings (although not what happens if, years later, a ring is discovered to be fake), see Professor Rebecca Tushnet's interesting and insightful note, Rules of Engagement, 107 Yale L.J. 2583 (1998).