June 2009 Archives

Needled

U.S. Supreme Court justices have a sweet deal.  Rather than decide every case that comes before them, they get to select the ones they consider important -- and could in theory decide to simply take the entire year off (rather than just their usual July-September).  Imagine that kind of freedom in any other job. 

American_Needle_v_NFL.jpgApart from departing Justice Souter, though, the black-robed brethren like to keep busy -- and, among other cases for next term, will hear arguments in a dispute over whether the National Football League violated antitrust law by negotiating an exclusive apparel licensing deal on behalf of its member teams.  American Needle Inc., one of a number of a former licensees, objected to the practice after the NFL awarded an exclusive contract to Reebok in 2001.  At issue is whether the NFL is, for antitrust purposes, a single entity or 32 individual teams and thus subject to scrutiny.  The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the NFL and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed; nevertheless, both sides asked the Supreme Court to grant cert.  (Petitions, including amicus briefs from the NBA and NHL, here.  Why not Major League Baseball as well?  Presumably because baseball has an antitrust exemption going back to 1922.)

For the moment, however, American football fans will continue to be officially clad not by Buffalo, NY-based American Needle but by a company founded in the U.K. and now a subsidiary of Germany's adidas.  As for where the  bulk of the items are manufactured, need you ask?   

The cover may suggest a resumption of last summer's hostilities over copycat couture, but this year Betty and Veronica are teaming up for a summer job fighting fake fashion.

Archie_Betty_and_Veronica_242_border.jpgLike Lois Lane before them, the two Archie Comics characters plus another friend go a bit too far and find themselves in peril.  Unlike the intrepid girl reporter, however, they have a cell phone handy to summon assistance -- and plans to go back to ferreting out fakes once they've spent their reward money. 

The story reads a bit like a PSA, with tips for spotting counterfeit goods, an explanation of why the boys in blue need the girls' assistance, information on where to find the real thing -- and even a presumably purebred pooch with a natural aversion to pleather.  The creators do take a little bit of license:  It's not likely that shopping for fakes would be a particularly well paying position, or that in real life Betty and Veronica would be driving off to the big city rather than searching the web for infringing goods. 

Still, it seems that -- like Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel -- the all-male cast of comics creators who bring us this book are sympathetic to the intellectual property plight of their fashionable counterparts. 
When Counterfeit Chic is asked to sum up the current cultural ascendancy of fashion in the U.S. in the U.S., my usual reply is, "It used to be that kids wanted to grow up to be rock stars.  Now rock stars want to grow up to be fashion designers." 

Case in point:  Eddie Van Halen.  A guitarist so iconic that mere initials will suffice -- as in his  branded EVH gear, including not only guitars, amps, and accessories, but also a new line of EVH shoes.  The canvas high-top and low-top sneakers come in three striped patterns, each based on the design of one of his signature guitars, including the Frankenstein (below left).
 
Van_Halen_Frankenstein_guitar_shoes.jpgCould it be coincidence that Nike has also created a shoe incorporating black and white stripes on a red background?  Not according to Van Halen, whose company, E.L.V.H. Inc., has sued Nike, claiming copyright infringement of the original graphic design on the guitar (complaint here).  (No, that's not a typo -- the "L" is for Lodewijk, Van Halen's middle name -- but you knew that, right?)  Interestingly, there's no trade dress claim, so the question of whether the alleged copy reminds consumers of the EVF design isn't the focus here, and Nike's protestations that it didn't reference Van Halen in marketing the shoe aren't particularly pertinent.
Nike_version_of_Van_Halen.jpgThe timing and the medium are certainly suspicious, but are the stripes on the Nike shoe similar enough to the pattern on the guitar to constitute copyright infringement?  You really got me.  I'll have to leave it up to the court to determine whether Nike is running with the devil -- or trying to.

Via BeatCrave.

Many thanks to longtime Counterfeit Chic reader Doug Linde for the tip!
With all the cold, rainy weather this year, it seems that celebrity designer and Bravo TV Fashion Show judge Isaac Mizrahi may have caught a bad case of plaid. 

During last night's episode, the contestants were asked to create an outfit using the same inspiration board that Isaac had put together for his own line.  The worst of the resulting looks included a coat with a plaid lining reminiscent of Burberry's nova check, which the panel of judges agreed turned the otherwise original garment into a bad knockoff.  (Not to mention a potential trademark infringement, had the garment won and been produced for sale.)  The cerebral contestant responsible for the design, James-Paul, wasn't sent home -- but to borrow one of the heavy-handed puns beloved of the show's producers, it looked for a moment as though he were "hanging by a thread." 

FashionShow_Bravo_Season1Ep7.jpgOn the other hand, perhaps James-Paul's only offense was hewing too close to the style of the show's reigning design diva.  Counterfeit Chic readers may remember the curious cuffs on this look from Isaac's Fall 2009 collection for Liz Claiborne, presented last February.
 
LizC_plaid_WWD_2-11-09.jpgCould it be that plaid is contagious?
Lancome_Tresor.jpgWould a rose by any other name really smell as sweet?  Bellure and its fellow defendants in a case decided today by the European Court of Justice had better hope so, since the ruling in favor of L'Oreal restricts the use of direct comparisons in advertising and of lookalike perfume packaging -- even when there's no likelihood of consumer confusion or harm to the original brand. 

Designer_Imposters_CalvinKlein_Confess.jpgIn response to a series of specific questions referred from a U.K. court, the ECJ concluded that "to ride on the coat-tails" of a trademark with a reputation or to present a fragrance as an imitation of another with a well-known trademark constitutes an "unfair advantage."  The case will now go back to the U.K. for a final decision. 

Unlike in the U.S., where the "Designer Imposters" line remains a drugstore staple two decades after an unsuccessful legal challenge, it seems that those who would pluck fragrant European trademarks had better watch for legal thorns.  

Via Le petit Musee des Marques (on Twitter). 

Previous posts:  Passing the Smell Test, Copyright Nose No Limits

Turban Trouble

Imagine being permitted to wear a religious symbol to work at your government job -- but only if your employer's logo were incorporated into it. 

That's the controversial policy facing Sikh men and Muslim women who work for the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority.  Billed as a post-9/11 compromise between a regulation requiring employees to either wear MTA hats or go bareheaded and religious rules requiring head coverings, the policy has been challenged in court by the U.S. Department of Justice and criticized by a majority of the members of the City Council. 

Nevertheless, the MTA continues to defend its position, stating, "We believe that standardized uniforms assist our customers in quickly identifying employees if they need emergency assistance or just travel directions."  What does it say about our logomaniacal society that "standardized" means "overtly labeled"?  Isn't the rest of the required uniform sufficient to convey the information that an individual is an MTA employee?  Or is MTA really saying that the message sent by certain religious headwear is so loud (and scary) that it drowns out other sartorial signals and must be partially obscured by a governmental symbol?

MTA_turban_2.jpgWhat's next -- NYPD yarmulkes or Sanitation Department gold crucifixes? 

Via Uncivil Society, which calls the MTA policy "a stunning example of bureaucratic ignorance." 

Plucked!

Trovata's next move after a mistrial in its very public case against Forever 21 should be announced soon, but in the meantime the fast fashion chain is losing no time filling its outlets -- with still more alleged copies. 

Take a look at ModCloth's "Florence Nightingale" necklace (left) and Forever 21's "Song Bird Pendant Necklace II."  From the angle of the twigs on the branches to the gleam in the two birds' eyes, the details are suspiciously similar.  Sure, the ModCloth version is "vintage inspired" -- and Forever 21 could in theory have drawn the same source.  But what is the likelihood that both modern pieces are based on one particular antique pendant, with reproduction of all the same elements -- or on one particular songbird, for that matter?

ModCloth_necklace_Forever21_copy.jpgSince the item at issue is jewelry and not clothing, ModCloth could very well have a copyright infringement claim against Forever 21, provided that ModCloth's fine feathered friend is different enough from its (presumably public domain) vintage source to qualify for a copyright.  Still, ModCloth can't have expected its quite reasonably priced piece, which retails for a mere USD $12.99, to be knocked off and sold for $5.80.

 Birds of a feather may flock together, but from the perspective of a creative designer, this has all the makings of a Hitchcock moment. 

Many thanks to fully fledged fabulous fashionista Becky Perlman for the tip!

Dressed to Protest

Calvin Klein may no longer be the day-to-day force behind his eponymous label, but those branded elastic waistbands are every bit as ubiquitous as a decade and a half ago when his daughter Marci told Vanity Fair, "My only complaint about having a father in fashion is that every time I'm about to go to bed with a guy, I have to look at my dad's name all over his underwear!"

Just how far does Calvin's elastic stretch? 

Check out the Daily Kos coverage of the post-election situation in Iran, which includes pre- and post-riot photos of a Calvin-clad citizen...

Iran_protester_combo_Daily_Kos_6-13-09.jpg...as well as an artist's interpretation.  Daily Kos writer electronicmaji asks, "Is this this movement's hope poster?" 
Iran_protester_art_Daily_Kos_6-13-09.jpgOr the genesis of another provocative ad campaign?  Or maybe just an interesting dilemma for Calvin's attorneys and PR folks if an enterprising t-shirt maker decides to seize an opportunity and rev up production?
Joseph Abboud is a well-known menswear designer.

JOSEPH ABBOUD is a registered trademark owned by JA Apparel.

Since 2007, the man and the corporation have been playing a very public game of tug-of-war over the designer's desire to use his name commercially, albeit in a non-trademark fashion -- an issue of interest to all of those potentially nameless souls who ignore Counterfeit Chic's advice and put their names on their labels.  Last fall, Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz of the Southern District of New York concluded that JA Apparel had purchased exclusive rights to the name.  Earlier this week, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded it to the district court.  (Opinion here.)

Name may be destiny, but it seems that the destiny of this particular name is still to be determined.

Previous posts:  A Rose By Any Other Name, More Name Games: Joseph Abboud

Clan Kitty

Cloyingly cute Japanese character Hello Kitty may be a British citizen only in fiction -- but she now has her own official tartan.

In advance of Kitty's 35th birthday this fall, toymaker Sanrio contacted the well-known tartan manufacturer Lochcarron of Scotland, which has presumably never before run so much pink thread through its mills.  The resulting pink plaid confection has not only been copyrighted but also officially registered as the "Hello Kitty" tartan.

Hello_Kitty_tartan.jpg
Hello Kitty with designer Yuko Yamaguchi and tartan registration certificate.

Who knew it was that easy to go mad for plaid?  As it turns out, only since February has there been one official, central tartan registry.  Late last year legislation established a Scottish Register of Tartans under the auspices of the National Archives of Scotland, which has incorporated the preexisting databases of the nonprofit Scottish Tartans Authority and Scottish Tartans World Register.  Anyone can register a unique tartan, in categories ranging from the traditional clan/family to corporate, though the Keeper of the registry may reject "undesirable" names.

Hmmm.  While a Scafidi tartan somehow seems culturally inapposite, a Counterfeit Chic design certainly has possibilities.  Primarily black, I think, with charcoal grey for contrast and subtle white and shocking pink accents.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to work out the threadcounts. 

In the meantime, check out designer Jeffrey Banks book, Tartan: Romancing the Plaid, for an expertly guided tour of tartan. 

Not-So-Lucky Break

Ananas, the handbag line whose perseverance in the face of knockoffs is a paean to pineapple power, has been sliced yet again -- this time in the pages of Lucky magazine

The July issue includes a patriotic red, white, and blue layout that at first glance appears to feature the Ananas Emily bag (left), but instead shows an Amici copy.  The original details are all there, right down to the distinctive stitching and wooden rings. 

Ananas_Emily_Amici_knockoff_Lucky_7-09.jpg
According to the knockoff's website, "Amici designs are all original, incorporating ideas from couture and ready to wear markets."  Really.  And with Amici like this, who needs enemies? 

Until the U.S. adopts the Design Piracy Prohibition Act or similar legislation, indie designers like Ananas' Jennifer Lagdameo have no legal recourse.  In the meantime, Counterfeit Chic suggests checking out the originals either online or at the Ananas boutique in New York's Nolita neighborhood -- and flying an appropriately expressive American flag on Independence Day.

American Jolly Roger.jpg
Oh, and Lucky?  Love that you've highlighted Ananas in the past and still appreciate the style -- but how about a feature using the real thing? 

Previous posts:  Pineapple Pirates, Pineapples, Pirates, and a Pop-Up Store

For the girl who still can't get over Sex and the City, here's the ultimate set of baked fakes:  cupcakes inspired by favorite fashion labels. 

cupcake_counterfeits.jpg
Photos by Therese Aldgard, styled by Lisa Edsalv.

An attorney who works with a frequently copied brand once told Counterfeit Chic that its legal department could probably devote an entire division to patisserie if it chose, so I suppose it's no surprise to see an entry in the cupcake division.  Of course, these particular sweet treats aren't actually counterfeits, even if the styling of the photos would suggest otherwise.  Fans of Louis Vuitton, Betsey Johnson, Chanel, and Christian Louboutin (love the red velvet cake!) can thus sink their teeth into buttercream fantasies without intellectual property guilt.  As for caloric qualms -- well, that's a matter for Weight Watchers (a name that always sounded a bit Big Brotherly to me, but maybe that's just my culinary conscience talking).

Bonus:  Lollipops!

Via  High Snobiety -- with more pics.

Tory_Burch.jpgYesterday Tory Burch, whose preppy-bohemian style has made her "the most copied designer in America" according to more than one observer, headed to D.C. with CFDA executive director Steven Kolb.  Her mission?  To lobby for passage of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act -- and deter copyists from stepping on her fans' smartly-shod toes

Related posts and more on the new and improved DPPA:  March on Washington, March on Washington 2:  Project Beltway (with a summary of the new bill), March on Washington 3:  All-American Appeal
For many girls, shopping is a social activity, not a solitary one.  And if a girl finds a cute dress when her friends aren't around to form a collective opinion, she's likely to do the next best thing:  try it on, take a picture with her phone, and send it around for advice (or to Mom for credit card approval). 

Most retailers, with the exception of bridal boutiques, wouldn't forbid these impromptu photo shoots for fear of losing sales.  But what happens if a store objects?  And what if the individual in question isn't just a potential customer sending a photo to friends, but celebrated U.K. fashion blogger Susie Bubble posting the pics on her site?

Designer Pam Hogg's people registered just such an objection to Susie's photos of herself in a colorblocked catsuit, leaving the certifiably adorable blogger (yes, we've met) with the impression that only women of otherworldly stature and minimal mass are welcome to appear in Hogg's clothes.  Not exactly a PR coup.

Susie_Bubble_in Pam_Hogg.jpgThe note that caught Counterfeit Chic's eye, however, was Racked's report that Hogg's representatives "argue that Bubble violated intellectual property rights by posting a photo of an item she hadn't bought."  Now, that's an IP claim I haven't heard before.  And given that buying an item is not the same thing as buying IP rights in that item, such as the right to reproduce images of it, the argument seems more than a bit overreaching.  Does the company believe, for example, that Susie couldn't have taken a picture of an outfit in a shop window or photographed someone on the street wearing a Pam Hogg design?

When Toronto Life singled out Deena Pantalone for its best-dressed list, the 30-something socialite/developer took the opportunity to boast of her recessionista chic.  Asked who designed the little red dress she was wearing at a charity event, she answered:

Well, me, sort of. It's a really old vintage dress I've had lying around the house for years. My cousin is a stylist in New York, so she helped me decide how to alter it, and then I just took it into one of those tiny mom-and-pop seamstress shops on Queen West.
At the same event, the Toronto Star asked Pantalone the same question -- and was informed that the dress was Dior.

Deena_Pantalone_Toronto_Life_5-27-09.jpgAs well over 100 increasingly angry commenters on the Toronto Life website made clear, however, the dress was actually designed by Champagne & Cupcakes boutique owner Caroline Lim, who personally sold the dress to Pantalone in April.  Feelings ran so high before the editors closed comments that at one point a gracious Lim chimed in to thank her supporters and ask them to refrain from further attacks on the mendacious mannequin.  And when Pantalone returned to the store to apologize -- with her mother -- the story made the front page of the Toronto Star.

The moral of the story?  Don't lie about the label -- Canadians are serious about giving credit where credit is due.  Although Canada gives only a little more protection to fashion designs than U.S. law does, which is to say not much, the social sanctions can be severe.  (Note to Mrs. P. and other doting parents:  The time to frog-march your spawn off to apologize for their behavior is ideally well before they hit their 30s.) 

And by the way, being a designer involves more study, talent and skill than ordering a few alterations (or pretending to have done so). 

Like all the best morality tales, this one also has a happy ending.  According to the Toronto Star, orders for the Champagne & Cupcakes dress are "pouring in fast --- and furious."