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September 29, 2007

Coco is Dead -- Again

Maybe it's a monument to ego, and a pilgrimage site for couture-clad devotees.

Maybe it represents an ardent fan's determination to take her wardrobe with her.

Maybe it's another creative statement about an iconic brand. 

Or maybe it's artist Laura Keeble's meditation on branding and iconography -- or, in her words, "belief systems and idol worship." 

That's quite an analytical burden for a bit of polystyrene, plaster, and paint -- but then, Laura's work (scroll down) is nothing if not thought-provoking.  Of course, if she ever actually decided to go into the headstone business, it could also be trademark infringement suit-provoking, but happily the law gives some leeway to art.  While the graveyard's groundskeepers might not be amused,  Laura can rest in peace, at least from an intellectual property perspective.

P.S.  To pay a virtual visit to Mlle. Chanel's actual grave, click here -- you can even leave flowers.   

September 28, 2007

Pattern Recognition

Burned by the lack of protection for fashion designs under U.S. law?  Try slapping a giant logo on your creation (for trademark protection) or replacing solid color fabric with a print (copyrightable by the fabric designer). 

Or, if your vision calls for elaborate draping and complicated construction -- and your customers have deep pockets -- stay one step ahead of the copyists with designs that are simply too difficult or too expensive to replicate on the cheap. 

Of course, such technical sophistication doesn't come easy, especially when it comes time to put finely tuned figments of the design imagination into real life production.  That's why designers call upon expert patternmakers like Nicolas Caito, featured in the September issue of Elle, to realize their visions.  The article notes:

[W]hen Peter Som wanted to create a snail-like ripple in the center of a cocktail dress for fall, he, too, called upon Caito, this time to help grapple with the twisted seams.  "I realized we had to bias-cut the fabric to get the shape of the wave that Peter had in his sketches," Caito says, pointing out that in today's age of cheap copycat couture, the designer's commitment to such artisanal detail is rare. 

Luckily for designers who can afford Caito, patternmakers with his training and experience are also rare.  Copyists aren't known to invest in technical expertise or design innovation -- leaving Som's creation safe, for now.  

Despite the ubiquity of fast fashion, it's nice to know that there's still time for a "snail-like ripple." 

Peter Som - Fall 2007

P.S,  To see the work of another emerging designer whose elegant techniques have been described as too sophisticated for mass market copyists -- though she's had some suspicious visitors -- go to Kelima K's website or visit her Nolita boutique. 

September 26, 2007

Knockoff News 70

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, what's the story with caveman chic?  First there was the ad campaign for Geico (below inset), which became an ABC sitcom.  Are the characters now moonlighting as sportswear models, or is the Weatherproof ad below a licensed use?  And who owns the characters' images anyway -- the ad agency?  the insurance company who originally paid for the ads?  the TV network?  the actors?  Of course, the basic concept of a modern-day caveman isn't new, but must they all share the same stylist?  More here and here

    Authorized copy or not, someone should club this trend over the head before it spreads any further. 

September 25, 2007

Teach Your Children Well

If you've taught your children to read using brightly colored shopping bag logos or spent more on the latest diaper bag than on the babysitter's salary, there's a new developmental toy for your beloved accessories offspring.  Check out Atypyk's new wooden peg puzzle, featuring baby's first brands, a bargain at only USD $32.10.

Of course, the French company's luxury edition will no doubt replace American fashion, fast food, technology, and porn with continental counterparts -- priced accordingly. 

Via Core77

September 24, 2007

Mad(den) about Louboutin

Steve Madden's lawyers may have convinced him to stay away from Christian Louboutin's signature red soles, however reluctantly, but that apparently hasn't kept Steve from raiding Christian's closet in search of new designs.  Check out the Louboutin "Criss Cross Vamp Pump" (left) and the Steve Madden "Becki":

Perhaps the most amusing thing about the Steve Madden website is that the company actually boasts about its founder's alleged design prowess.  Consider the following statement: 

Steve Madden, the footwear fashion mogul of the 21st century, has immersed his company into virtually every aspect of the fashion industry. With his primary success and initial endeavor as a shoe designer, Mr. Madden has maintained the direct day-to-day responsibility for the design and marketing of the company's trend setting shoes for the past two decades.

Perhaps Mr. Madden doesn't think that continuing to design shoes is an "aspect of the fashion industry"?  Or maybe that "initial endeavor as a shoe designer" has been replaced by an easier exercise?  At least Madden doesn't blame an uninspired design assistant for the shoes' suspicious similiarity, but takes "direct day-to-day responsibility" for his products.

One does wonder, though:  Who is this "Becki"?  And is she flattered?

Once again, many thanks to keen-eyed reader Lara, who deserves to be named a Counterfeit Chic deputy -- though I'm sure she would never add spurs to her fabulous footwear.  Gold star! 

P.S.  More on the Louboutin red sole watch here

September 23, 2007

Tommy Hilfiger's New Line?

Has Tommy Hilfiger established a Korean joint venture with the late diet doctor's brand?  And would the "Tommy Atkin" line be for stylish consumers on a diet, or those who need to be? 

Thanks to JasonJT for posting the photo on Flickr!

September 22, 2007

Is fashion art?  The U.S. legal system doesn't think so, but the Wall Street Journal may beg to differ. 

An article on whether a bursting housing bubble will be followed by a popped art bubble opens with a description of recent sales: 

London diamond dealer Laurence Graff is putting 30 works of art on the auction block, including some important contemporary pieces. Collector and philanthropist Louise Blouin MacBain just auctioned off $4.6 million worth of Hermès handbags, Manolo Blahnik shoes and furniture from two of her homes. And an anonymous European seller is parting with 29 pieces, including works by Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha and furniture designer Marc Newson.

These sales -- and a host of other prominent works headed for the auction block in London in a few weeks -- are sending a ripple through the art market.

Are Blahniks and Birkins now officially wearable sculptures, the equal of contemporary art?  Have the little seamstresses and tailors of history and the celebrity couturiers and designers of today joined the ranks of their "fine art" peers?  Or is reporter Lauren Schuker simply concerned to hear that a noted collector is selling her shoes? 

Either way, the article offers a whole new perspective on investment dressing. 

September 21, 2007

Vendetta against VO5?

"V" is an anarchist revolutionary created by graphic artist Alan Moore and also the title character in a Warner Brothers film (logo, left).  Now, it would seem, he's selling hair products

Hey, it's a living.  But why, exactly, would you want to encourage the anarchic tendencies of your tresses?

Via Newsarama and Kung Fu Rodeo.

September 20, 2007

Zadig & Voltaire Tee'd Off at Gap

Within global fashion community, the U.S. is notorious for permitting design piracy.  Has one of America's most recognizable brands now attempted a daring raid in foreign waters?

French label Zadig & Voltaire has sued Gap, Inc., for allegedly copying Z&V's "Tunisien" T-shirt -- and selling it in Z&V's home market, where imitation is actionable.  The French style costs 79 euros (approx. USD $110) and the American version 29 euros (approx. USD $40). 

While a number of sources have reported the dispute, perhaps the most interesting is this one.  It reads like an internal memo from Gap, with headings including "situation," "objectives," "audience," and "tactics."  The "strategy" is to argue that "[n]ot once has Gap been in a legal copyright situation like this and we will use that in the press."  Hmmm.  The "timetable" is 3 days -- so look for a publicity blitz any minute now.

Pirate ship or battleship, has Gap sprung a leak? 

Many thanks to both the gracious Frederic Glaize of Le petit Musee des Marques and fashionable law student C. Pearson McGee for alerting me to the case! 

September 19, 2007

Why Protect Fashion? A Conversation with Felix Salmon

Nostalgic for your days on the debate team?  Head over to Felix Salmon's finance blog, Market Movers, at Conde Nast Portfolio for our discussion of fashion and copying -- and find out why I believe the New Yorker should stick to fiction actually labeled as such.  Many thanks to Felix for his great questions, and to Gerald for suggesting the conversation. 

September 17, 2007

Couture in Court 3

For those who prefer briefs to boxers, a periodic collection of fashionable events in the judicial system:

Hochman (left) v Forever 21

Weidman Anthropologie canvas bag

September 16, 2007

One Man's Trash

The sight of a counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag isn't particular inspiring -- particularly when it's been torn apart and discarded on a street corner in New York's Chinatown.  But Linda Wary and John Meyers, the designers behind Wary Meyers, have a somewhat different perspective.

Every other week, the pair transforms found objects from the streets of the city into art, publishing their results in Time Out New York.  This time a bit of inspiration and $20 in additional materials have transformed the lucky "Louis" into a pet pig

Wary Meyers

Before/After

Just imagine what Wary Meyers could do with the real thing.  Marc Jacobs, are you listening?

Critical Mass 3

Once again, as the dust settles in New York and the fashion scene shifts to London, Milan, and Paris, Counterfeit Chic features the fashion editors and critics whose prose upholds the social norms against creative designers copying one another too obviously.  In other words, here's a look at how the press does the work that U.S. law will not -- so far. 

For the Spring 2008 season, the New York Times' Cathy Horyn offered a "demerit" to the Proenza Schouler boys, who despite their "talent and charm" suffered in her opinion from "a detectable Balenciaga influence" that "cast a degree of doubt over the designers' ability to establish a clear brand identity."  (Then again, who hasn't been influenced by Balenciaga over the past couple of seasons?)

The most vituperative comments were reserved for Marc Jacobs, whom both the International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes and the Washington Post's Robin Givhan took to task for making them wait over 2 hours -- until after 11pm -- for a derivative show. 

In Givhan's words, "Most disappointing was that Jacobs spent a significant amount of time merely repeating or paraphrasing what designers such as [Rei] Kawakubo [of Comme des Garçons], [Martin] Margiela and the Dutch team of Viktor & Rolf have already said aesthetically." 

Menkes concurred, adding that the "magpie collection was vaguely comprehensive to fashion buffs because it was an echo chamber of existing ideas from John Galliano's haute romantic 1920s ladies to Jacobs's own foraging in the vintage closet." 

So incensed was Jacobs by the criticism that he fought back with a call to WWD, in which he not only addressed rumors regarding the reason for the late start but also defended himself against charges of copying.  In his words:

I've never denied how influenced I am by Margiela, by Rei Kawakubo, those are people that inspire my work; I don't hide that.  For her [Menkes] to turn this into this hate fest for me and my collection I think is ridiculous....I expect people, whether we're two hours late or two hours early or we don't show at all, to look at what they see:  the clothes.  Of course there are comparisons to other things.  I'm a designer living in this world who loves fashion...I'm attentive to what's going on in fashion, I'm influenced by fashion, that's the way it is.  I have never ever hidden it.  I have never insisted on my own creativity, as Chanel would say.  I have my interpretation of ideas I find very strong.  Jil Sander is influenced by Comme des Garçons, Miuccia Prada is influenced by Comme des Garçons, everyone is influenced by Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela.  Anybody who's aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by those designers.

Jacobs has a point:  influence is one thing, imitation is another.  On the other hand, writers like Menkes and Givhan have significant experience at telling the difference -- and when it comes to upholding fashion's creative standards, they're not afraid to wield some influence of their own.

Related entries:  Critical Mass, Critical Mass 2

September 15, 2007

Shades of Confusion

At the annual Feast of San Gennaro in New York's Little Italy, stands selling traditional sausage & peppers or zeppole mingle with carnival barkers and other standard street fair fare.  There's even a bit of Italian style, in the form of sunglasses by Dolce & Gabbana and Prada...or is there?

Approaching the the NYS Collection stand on Mulberry Street, the sun-dazzled consumer sees neat rows of sunglasses at bargain prices, all labeled with impressive designer names in large, bold print.  These aren't your usual cluttered trays of counterfeits; each pair has its own holder, and mirrors hang at a convenient height to reflect customer desire. 

A closer look at the displays, however, reveals that the boldface designer names aren't really what they seem.  Instead, NYS Collection's small print invites browsers to "compare our prices to" those of designer labels.

Below the brand names, there's a disclaimer in even smaller print: 

We have no association or relationship with the above named company whatsoever.  The consumer may compare our price and product to the above.  However, our product is unique and different than the above mentioned product.  We do not represent our sunglasses to be the originals nor are they copies to the above. 

In other words, the brand names are used as bait to lure in potential buyers, who are then informed that they aren't really being offered $10 Prada shades -- but hey, these look pretty good for the price.  And did you really want the label, anyway?

NYS Collection prides itself on its chain of shopping mall kiosks and especially on its displays, which have apparently been copied by competitors.  But is its use of designer brand names in proximity to generic sunglasses legal, even with a disclaimer?

Perhaps not, according to the doctrine of "initial interest confusion."  In trademark law, the standard test for infringement is one of "consumer confusion."  If the defendant's use misleads the consumer as to the origin of goods or services, then it infringes the plaintiff's mark.  The special case of initial interest confusion arises when the consumer is attracted in the first place by the use of someone else's trademark, even though no sale is completed as a result of the confusion. 

So you may wander over to the NYS Collection display because the idea of $10 Prada shades sounds good, but by the time you buy them you've realized that they're not really Prada, and you don't care.  Under the law, that can be just as much an infringement as if you really thought you were getting Prada. 

It would seem that whoever wrote NYS Collection's disclaimer isn't just wearing shades, but blinders -- or is looking at the law through seriously rose-colored glasses.

For further discussion of the doctrine of initial interest confusion, check out this article from Professor Jennifer Rothman. 

And next up:  Is the snake girl in the sideshow tent at San Gennaro really a reptile, or just more snake oil? 

September 13, 2007

Counterfeit Chic on Tyra

On September 14, Tyra Banks offers a televised guide to "How to Spot a Fake" -- with your favorite law prof as her trusted guide to legal issues and fake handbags. Check out the preview (yes, that's me with the false eyelashes and giant scissors), and then check the website for local air times.

In New York, it's on at cocktail hour (5pm) -- a good thing, since I'm just realizing that I agreed to appear on TV next to a fabulous former swimsuit model. Hopefully the camera will be kind with regard to exactly where it adds that 10 pounds.

UPDATE:  Did you catch all of Tyra's tips on how to spot a fake handbag?  If you need a quick review, continue reading below.  You can also click here to watch Tyra's and my discussion of fake handbags -- including a few pointers on international law that didn't make it to prime time. 

How to Spot a Fake Handbag:

*Consider the sourceThat hot new handbag you’re thinking about buying may be fake if you find it

  • On the street
  • Behind a locked door in a back alley
  • Online, if
    • the price is too good to be true
    • the seller has very few previous customers
    • the seller has went into business very recently
    • the seller posts limited pictures and refuses to offer additional views
    • the seller claims the item was a gift or from an estate and does not guarantee authenticity
    • the seller is from a country that produces many fakes
    • the bag is sold out – but somehow the seller has several
    • returns are accepted, but with a high “restocking fee”

*Check out the details – Signs that a bag may be fake include:

  • Misspelled labels
  • Loose or uneven stitching
  • Puckered seams
  • Crooked labels or logos
  • Coarse rather than smooth canvas
  • Lightweight, hollow, or generic hardware
  • Flimsy, often plastic zippers
  • Blurred or sloppy printing
  • “Off” colors
  • Uncentered logo canvas or stamped leather
  • Glue rather than stitching
  • Low-quality hangtag
  • Cheap materials used for lining or sleeper bag
  • Lack of a control number
  • Fake leather when the brand uses the real thing
    • Feels “oily” rather than dry
    • Doesn’t smell genuine
  • Incorrect design details – do your brand homework!
    • Wrong lining color
    • Design that doesn’t match the brand
    • No logos where there should be, and vice versa
    • Inaccurate dimensions
  • Made in the wrong country – again, homework time!

Basically, be suspicious, be picky, and do your homework – according to one estimate, over $600 billion in counterfeit goods are sold annually.  That adds up to quite a shopping spree!

Knock Knock

Need you really ask who's there?  It's Forever 21, this time copying a dress by Kate Moss for Topshop.  Of course, Kate herself was widely panned by fashion cognoscenti for copying this dress -- and a number of others in her line -- from her own closet. 

Kate in 1998(left), Kate for Topshop (£60), Forever 21 ($24.80)

Whatever Ms. Moss may think of "her" frock's still cheaper American cousin, neither she nor Topshop has much of a case.  Even if U.S. law did protect dress designs, as in the U.K. and many other countries, Forever 21 could simply claim that its version was based on the same original as Kate's -- and take its chances against the actual designer.  Assuming, of course, that the original isn't a vintage gown already in the public domain. 

Is it actually likely that Forever 21 just happened to be "inspired" by the same dress at the same time, rather than by the dupliKate?  Given the flimsiness of any claim that Kate might bring, and the fact that she wouldn't exactly be going to court with clean hands herself, we'll probably never have a legal answer.  Then again, we hardly need one.

Thanks to Counterfeit Chic reader LiliAna, who considers fakespotting "a true sport" -- which makes her a world-class athlete. 

September 12, 2007

Counterfeit Coffee Break 5

It's been a while since our last counterfeit coffee break, but if you -- or any of the under-12 set in your general vicinity -- need refreshment, this one's for you.

Advertising Age reports that Burger King, in a response to health concerns regarding fast food, has introduced apples cut to resemble french fries and served in a paper container.  So far, so good.  The catch?  Burger King has named its new apple offering the "Frypod."

Open your mouth and download soon, before one badly labeled apple spoils the whole barrel.  I'd guess that unless Burger King's use is authorized, Apple won't consider the name's resemblance to "iPod" particularly salutary. 

September 11, 2007

Not-So-Fine Jewelry

In the novel Confessions of a Shopaholic, the title character has a revelation while assisting in the search for the perfect suitcase.  She wonders, "How can I have overlooked luggage for so long?  How can I have just blithely led my life ignoring an entire retail sector?" 

While counterfeiters have never truly ignored any luxury goods sector, they seem to be having a similar revelatory moment with respect to fine jewelry.  Sure, there's money to be made in fake handbags and DVDs -- but what about bling?

WWD's Liza Casabona and Sophia Chabbott report on the gathering hoard (sorry, couldn't resist) of counterfeit Tiffany, Cartier, David Yurman, Van Cleef & Arpel, Chanel, Gucci, Bulgari, and Hermes pieces, and how these brands are responding.  Jewelry, unlike apparel, has had copyright protection in the U.S. for over 50 years, so even unmarked copies can be challenged.  On the other hand, the goods are small and easy to conceal.  Just try stuffing a dozen fake handbags in your pocket and strolling nonchalantly through customs.

And yes, those quotes are from your humble blogger -- at Fordham, not NYU (though maybe I'll drop by and say "hello").  Many thanks to Liza for not only a very pleasant conversation in the midst of Fashion Week but also her consistently insightful coverage of the fashion law "beat"! 

Frontier Justice: Anna Sui takes aim at Forever 21

Watch out, Forever 21.  There's a new sheriff in town. 

Anna Sui, one of many designers lining up to accuse the fast fashion chain of copyright infringement (complaint here), has moved the fight onto her own territory -- creativity.  Guests at her Spring 2008 runway show received parchment-colored T-shirts with "Wanted" posters depicting Forever 21 founders Don and Jin Chang, a.k.a. "Don Cassidy and the Sundance Jin." 

Anna Sui also took the opportunity to remind the Bible-quoting defendants, who print the phrase "John 3:16" on their shopping bags, that Christianity actually comes with its own legal code.

But I'd like to think that Anna took particular pleasure in drawing mustaches on her alleged copyists.  Waiting for the legal system to respond is all well and good, particularly when there's a strong cause of action and a notorious wrongdoer on the stand.  In the meantime, a bit of humor hits the mark.

Nice shooting, Ms. Sui.

P.S.  For another designer's Fall 2006 Fashion Week commentary on copying , click here.  If you can't beat  'em, mock 'em. 

September 10, 2007

Cradle Robbers: Rock Your Baby v. b squared

Motherhood is about sacrifice.  No, I don't mean giving up cigarettes or alcohol as soon as that extra blue line appears, the pains of labor, or the burdens of childcare. 

I'm talking about color.

If Dorothy's technicolor transition from Kansas to Oz represents a world of brand new perceptions and possibilities, then the first vial of pink-and-blue prenatal vitamins handed over by a smiling pharmacist is an aesthetic regression to the safe and insipid.  Sure, developmental psychologists have confirmed that babies love bright  colors, but that doesn't keep traditional designers from swaddling them in pallid pastels.

The Aussie designers behind Rock Your Baby, a pair of sisters who also happen to be "young, inner city, rock-n-roll loving mothers," set out to change all that.  As of late 2000, cuddly bears and princesses were "out" and skulls and crossbones were "in," with striking results: 

Rock Your Baby T-shirt - Australian $26 (USD $20)

As Caroline and Johanne set their sights on expansion within the U.S. market, however, they learned that one of their designs had preceded them.  Hip L.A. boutique Kitson was already carrying a "Bad Girls Rock" infant tank top by the label b squared -- at nearly twice the price. 

b squared tank - USD $38

Rock Your Baby reports that its design has been available online since 2002 and has also received press coverage in the U.S.  While skulls have been a favorite symbol for the last few years, moreover, these are virtually identical, down to the love heart on one tooth. 

Presumably Rock Your Baby's copyright lawyer has a few colorful phrases ready to describe the b squared design -- and "amazing coincidence" isn't one of them.

September 09, 2007

Knockoff News 69

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, a recent Radar online guide to counterfeits offers this dubious homage to the Lacoste alligator:

While the unfortunate reptile struck me as strangely familiar, it hasn't previously appeared on Counterfeit Chic.  After some reflection, I realized that this particular dead 'gator is actually a ghost from my childhood -- the subject of a case brought in 1982, to be exact, and settled a couple of years later.  Apparently Mad Dog, the onetime parodist of preppiedom who drew the ire of first Izod Lacoste and then Ralph Lauren, is still around.  And either I have better recall than I suspected or I've been studying the legal implications of imitation fashion for far too long -- or both.  Thanks to my Fordham law student James Creedon for an unexpected trip down memory lane.

September 07, 2007

In Hot Pursuit: Paris Hilton Sues Hallmark

For modern celebrities, talent is optional.  Having a catchphrase is not.

This phenomenon has let to the trademarking of any number of short phrases, including Paris Hilton's, "That's hot!"  She holds or has applied for registration of the phrase in several categories of goods, including clothing, electronic devices such as cell phones, and alcoholic beverages -- in other words, everything a girl needs for a night out.  (Readers will be relieved to know that the scope of the clothing registration includes underwear.) 

Today the Smoking Gun reports that Ms. Hilton has sued Hallmark, alleging that one of its greeting card designs not only misappropriates her image for commercial purposes in violation of her rights of publicity but also infringes her trademark. 

Not so hot for Hallmark.

September 05, 2007

Hat Trick: Did Gap Copy Wildhagen?

Somewhere up in Canada (head north; can't miss it), a small company called Wildhagen is making charming little hats.  It gets cold up there.

Down here in the U.S., hats are back in style as well.  It may be the unpredictable weather, it may be the influence of Prada's turbans and Marc Jacobs' wide-brimmed beauties, or it may be that celebrities need to cover bad hair extensions. 

Whatever the reason, hats have gotten so popular that Wildhagen belives theirs have been copied -- by Gap.   

The design duo behind Wildhagen, Sheri Wildhagen and David Greig, note that they introduced the Krys Cap for Fall 2006 and sold over 150 in Canada and several dozen at Barneys in New York, while Gap began selling its Jockey Hat this season.  They add:

We are not flattered. The Gap is an enormous company with limitless resources. We are a small business with a child to feed and rent to pay.

Sheri and David presumably already know that U.S. law does not protect their design, since their website initially threatened legal action and now instead indicates that they will "pursue every means to gain fair compensation."  In other words, they will have to go to Gap's door and knock, hat in hand.

Perhaps bringing along the adorable little moppet pictured on their website will help.

Many thanks to discerning Counterfeit Chic reader Mimi Fautley, who confirms that Gap's hat resembles Wildhaven's in every respect -- "except quality of execution." 

P.S.  Stylish heads will also enjoy the collection of another milliner who's been fighting fakes, Tracy Watts.  Coincidentally, she's Canadian, too -- but based in New York.   

More Name Games: Joseph Abboud

In July, lawyers for JA Apparel fired a warning shot:  designer Joseph Abboud's noncompetition agreement had expired, and the company wanted to remind him that it owns his name.  Today's Wall Street Journal reports that JA Apparel is now taking direct aim, with a lawsuit charging both trademark infringement and breach of contract.  At issue is the designer's new line, "jaz," which he plans to promote with the tagline, "a new composition by Joseph Abboud."  Apparently this plan has struck a discordant note with JA Apparel.

Earlier post with more detail here; complaint to follow. 

September 04, 2007

Power Dressing

Remember when Condoleezza Rice was the most powerful woman in the world -- and dressed the part?  In a memorable column, Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan described Condi in her stiletto-heeled boots and long, military-style coat as "draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness." 

Photo Michael Probst - AP

Alas, 2 1/2 years later it seems that Condi's strong, independent voice isn't what many had hoped -- and neither is her wardrobe.  Did Air Force One lose her luggage on the way to Iraq, forcing her to borrow one of her boss's suits, or has she become our fearless leader's mini-me

Photo Jason Reed - Reuters 

Copying Clothes Over a High-Speed Connection

What would life be like without the mixed blessings of the internet?

In today's New York Times, Eric Wilson goes behind the scenes at Simonia Fashions, one of many companies waiting for the first photos from New York Fashion Week to appear online.  Not because the proprietors are interested in fashion's new creative direction, mind you, but so that they can pick out the most popular designs and get cheap copies into stores -- often before the originals are available for sale. 

Naturally, the retailers selling the knockoffs disclaim any actual knowledge of copying, pointing back to their suppliers as the source of the controversial clothing. 

In the U.S. all of this occurs without interference from any of those inconvenient intellectual property laws that might actually protect creative fashion designers.  Interestingly, the company featured in the article outsources its manufacturing to India, where design protection does exist.

It's enough to make one long for the good old days days of rough pencil sketches and descriptions sent via telegraph.

Tory Burch (left) and Simonia Fashion's Blue Plate special (right)

Bonus point:  Who is the "expert working with the designers’ trade group" who in the article offered a rock-bottom, minimum estimate of the percentage of knockoffs in the apparel and accessories market?  You guessed it.  And just for the record, since some of you have asked, I do not now nor have I ever represented the CFDA; all of my opinions are my own and are the product of my academic research.  All of my work on this issue, moreover, has been pro bono -- both in the literal sense of "for the good" and in the more colloquial sense of "free of charge." 

September 03, 2007

Labor Day Reflections

For most Americans and Canadians, myself included, Labor Day is less a holiday than an indication that summer is really over -- and perhaps a chance to squeeze in one last trip to the beach.

Technically, though, it's about giving workers a day off and recognizing the labor movement.  It's thus particularly appropriate that I found myself standing at the site of one of the worst tragedies in the history of the U.S. fashion industry, the Triangle fire, reading a plaque posted by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company factory near Washington Square in New York.  By the time it was extinguished, 146 workers -- mostly young immigrant women -- had died.  Some were asphyxiated, some incinerated, and some lost their lives jumping from the 10-story building in an attempt to escape the flames.  The door that would have allowed many of the victims to escape was apparently locked, in violation of the law, to prevent employees from taking unauthorized breaks or stealing. 

It is an interesting footnote to history that the Triangle factory owners were actually design pirates, one of whom is described by author David Von Drehle as "more copyist than creator."  Although the owners were acquitted after a murder trial presided over by a biased judge who believed that he himself had been unfairly held responsible for a tenement fire while he was a city housing official, their company never fully recovered.  By Von Drehle's account this was no great loss to the industry, since only three years after the tragedy "the company was caught sewing counterfeit Consumers' League labels into its garments -- faking the official seal of decent workplace conditions." 

The tragedy's denouement continues the Labor Day theme on a more positive note:  New York and ultimately the nation were galvanized by the horrifying story, and sweeping workplace safety reforms followed.  Today the site of the fire is an NYU building, and the events of 1911 have been largely forgotten in the shadow of more recent tragedies like our own 9/11.  But if you're in New York some Labor Day, walk by the northwest corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, and pause for a moment in history.

September 01, 2007

BMW Driving Shoes

If you're going to make an omelette, you've got to break a few eggs. 

And if you're going to make a TV commercial in which a determinedly stylish woman saws off the right heel of a brand-new, red-soled pair of pumps in order to wear them while driving her BMW, you've got to ruin a few Louboutins.  Or do you?

Louboutin BMW ad
 

Take a look at the commercial, then examine the frame above.  As satisfied as our ruthless fashionista looks with her new purchase, the shopping bag is a knockoff.  Real Christian Louboutin bags are indeed a color close to grocery bag brown (remember paper bags?  the evil tree killers that were replaced by more virtuous plastic bags, before they too became public enemies?), with a subtle tone-on-tone horizontal stripe.  However, Louboutin bags have the designer's logo printed in white on both sides.  Moreover, the real things have white rope handles, not ribbons. 

The shoes themselves are a tougher call.  The logo on the insole is unreadable, even magnified and sharpened (hi-def, anyone?).  Its shadowy form doesn't match the printing that would appear on a real Louboutin insole, in most cases consisting of the designer's name and the word "Paris" in gold.  It's possible that the logos in the ad were deliberately obscured, either manually or digitally.  The insole of the shoe in the model's left hand, in particular, is suspiciously dark in the middle where the logo should be. 

That leaves us with the signature red soles, an immediate indicator of the master's work -- except when they're not

So, real or fake?  At a visceral level, I'd like to think that the shoe in the ad is a knockoff, and that the horrified reaction of shoe-loving viewers is mere media manipulation.  After all, the bag is fake, and destroying a few copies while filming would be much less expensive than sawing through heel after heel of the real thing.

On the other hand, one estimate sets the average cost of producing a 30-second commercial at USD $350,000.  In addition, the price of air time during the last Superbowl reportedly topped $2.5 million.  With that kind of budget, why not go for the expensive thrill rather than the cheap one?

If actual Louboutin pumps were harmed in the making of this commercial, however, why would BMW change the bag and obscure the logos?  One possibility is to focus viewer attention on only the most relevant details, namely the red soles and the BMW logo.  A more likely reason, however, would be that Louboutin didn't give permission for his logo to appear in the ad, which essentially elevates the car over the shoes as an object of desire -- not exactly an intelligent designer endorsement. 

As for the red soles, they're not registered trademarks.  Yet.   

Postscript to ad folks:  OK, you've succeded in getting at least one woman to notice a car commercial.  However, the action is so eyebrow-raising (yes, really) that I watched the ad several times before remembering what make of car was involved, and even now I couldn't name the model.  Just in case you were wondering.