Some designers attribute their inspiration to nature, others to history, and still others to fellow artists. All of which is fine and dandy, until someone files a lawsuit.
Take Tony Duquette, one of the great American designers of the twentieth century, whose work ranged from theatre sets and costumes to interior design to jewelry. Duquette was inspired by, among other things, malachite; even the endpapers of his longtime business partner's book about Duquette are patterned after the stone's deep green striations.
Now take designer Michael Kors, who may or may not be particularly inspired by malachite, but was definitely inspired by Duquette -- so much so that Kors cited the late designer as the inspiration for his 2008-09 resort collection. Hence the Michael Kors "Duquette print shantung shift dress" (left) and a series of similarly named items.
Where Michael Kors sees inspiration, however, Tony Duquette, Inc., sees trademark and copyright infringement, unfair competition, and violation of California's right of publicity statute. And while some claims in the complaint are probably of the kitchen sink variety -- arguing trade dress in malachite could be a stretch, given other appearances as diverse as a Ralph Rucci evening gown and a Banana Republic perfume, not to mention the stones themselves -- others may end up costing Michael his next resort vacation. Yes, the repeated use of Duquette's name may have been intended as an homage rather than a suggestion of affiliation. No, it's not always that easy to shrug off trademark claims.
Ironically, if Kors had remained silent about his inspiration, there wouldn't be a case. Hence the quick removal of Duquette's name from what is now termed simply a "Malachite print dress" on Net-a-Porter, though Nordstrom retains the original descriptor. (Good eye, UnBeige!)
Perhaps it's certain designers who should be seen and not heard -- at least until they've cleared their comments with their attorneys.