Hello, Dolly!

Is Michelle Obama the new Barbie?

First she chooses an inaugural gown by Jason Wu, who got his start designing dresses for dolls.  Now Brooklyn-based sculptor Jason Feinberg has created a series of Michelle Obama dolls -- er, make that "action figures" -- wearing dresses in which Mrs. O appeared during the campaign.  Yes, there are the red-and-black Narciso Rodriguez from the acceptance speech in Grant Park, the purple Maria Pinto "fist bump" sheath, and the black-and-white Donna Ricco dress from White House/Black Market that entranced watchers of "The View." 

MichelleObama_dolls_ChiTrib_10-14-09.jpgWhile the First Lady made her displeasure with Ty's "Sweet Sasha" and "Marvelous Malia" dolls known, it's unclear whether she'll object to seeing her own image in plastic -- or whether it would be good politics to attempt to decapitate the dolls with a right of publicity claim.  (Yes, she's a public figure and the First Amendment protects speech; no, these dolls don't seem to constitute commentary of any sort.)  Suffice it to say that the action figures were not authorized, but that overt legal action is not terribly likely.

And what of the designers whose dresses have made fashion history?  Paradoxically, if Feinberg had reproduced the dresses themselves and sold them in a Brooklyn boutique, their original designers would have had little or no claim under U.S. law.  However, the same may not be true of the 6-inch versions. 

Let's consider each dress individually.  Apart from the purple Pinto, which is probably too simple to trigger any sort of protection (belt sold separately), the doll-maker may run a slight risk of playing (court)house with his creations.  Either Donna Ricco herself or whoever created the black-and-white fabric pattern might have a copyright claim, depending on how closely Feinberg copied the print.  And if either Narciso or Donna created a sketch of his or her respective dress before stitching it, the drawing (though not the dress) would be subject to copyright -- making the doll theoretically an infringing derivative work.  Of course, Feinberg presumably copied the dolls' dresses from a source other than the designers' original sketches (if any), most likely a press photograph.  That brings up another copyright issue entirely, one with which Shepard Fairey is all too familiar.  But then, which copyrighted photos served as Feinberg's source? 

At the end of the day, the doll designs strike Counterfeit Chic as more darling than daring, legally speaking.  Perhaps a coordinating Pennsylvania Avenue Dream House will be the sculptor's next project?

Many thanks to longtime reader Jamie Kiburz for the tip!

Via the Chicago Tribune.