February 2010 Archives

The world's chilly response to the faux-Aboriginal costumes of ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin led them to lighten up on the references a bit for the Olympics -- literally -- but their original dance scores still lowered the Russian pair from 1st place to 3rd, with one round of competition to go. 

Was it the skating or the styling that led to the duo's drop in the ranks?  We'll never know.  But more generally, what is the global standard when it comes to cultural borrowing?

Domnina and Shabalin, before and after

Who Owns the Ice?

Perhaps in a perfect world, culture could flow freely without anyone taking offense.  Given the history of prejudice and power relations, however, world peace even on the cultural level isn't going to happen anytime soon. 

So, setting aside the question of whether folk dancing on ice is the best theme for an Olympic event, not to mention whether any form of dancing on ice is "authentic," how are skaters to choose a theme that is aesthetically and ethnically inspiring but not offensive?

Search and Destroy

While leftover snow still blankets the streetcorners where fakes are often found, e-commerce sites -- and their e-counterfeit counterparts -- just glow on.  Recent announcements by brand protection firm MarkMonitor and fashion house Louis Vuitton, however, may mean lights out for many online sources of fake merchandise.

Search and Destroy

MarkMonitor's new "Site Staydown Service" targets the myriad of websites that pop up in a search for any popular brand, many offering fakes.  For consumers, the proliferation of these sites means a lot of extra clicking -- and constant questions about whether a particular site is offering legitimate discounted merchandise or cheap knockoffs.  MarkMonitor's goal on behalf of clients like True Religion jeans is to get fake-selling sites down and keep 'em down, presumably with the cooperation of internet service providers who could face liability for continuing to provide a platform for known counterfeit sales. 

True Religion's own website, unusually transparent when it comes to acknowledging the counterfeit conundrum, has an impressive list of nearly 200 suspect e-commerce sites that are "under investigation."   

Destroy the Search

One of the easiest ways to spot a fake is a misspelled brand name.  Chanel doesn't sell "Channel," Prada doesn't sell "Prado," and genuine Dolce & Gabbana always has 2 b's and one n.   

Thus when Louis Vuitton (yes, 2 t's) learned that eBay was paying search engines to call up links to eBay's site in response to searches for terms like "Louis Viton" or "Wuiton," the luxury label expressed concern that the online marketplace was encouraging the sale of fakes and harming LV's reputation.  Last week a French court agreed and, in the latest of a series of judgments against eBay France, ordered the company to pay 200,000 euros in damages plus 30,000 euros in attorneys' fees and 1,000 euros for each future violation.  (In U.S. dollars, the 200,000 euros is approximately $275,000, or almost $23,000 for each letter in Louis Vuitton.)

Of course, legitimate but orthographically challenged sellers and buyers will have to step up their spelling skills.  (True confession:  Mine are mediocre, but I blame it on the parochial school teacher who used to bang our little heads against the blackboard when we got our spelling words wrong.  Thank goodness for spell checkers!)  Then again, training for the fashion spelling bee will keep you from bragging about the great deal you got on your new "Vuiton." 

Or sending a friend a link to Counterfit Chick.

Thanks to all those who sent tips, including Melissa Astudillo, Jennifer Huang, and Counterfeit Chic's favorite anonymous French correspondent!
Space: the final frontier.  For some women, it's that elusive extra foot of closet space.  For others, it's the half-inch between comfortably buttoned skinny jeans and a tortuously tight waistband.  And for still others, it's the tote bag that will hold everything from gym clothes to legal briefs while maintaining an elegant silhouette. 

Longchamp's foldable, expandable "Pliage" bag entered the space race over a decade and a half ago, and it has since become a must-have for the chic traveler who's done a bit of shopping along the way and needs to tote her loot home.  That success has apparently led to a few more knockoffs than Longchamp's lawyers would like.

Longchamp_trade_dress_ad_WWD_2-15-10.jpgThis Longchamp ad from today's WWD is further evidence that the trade dress trendlet Counterfeit Chic spotted some time ago is gathering momentum.  Sure, we've seen admonitory advertising about intellectual property before -- Chanel, Joseph Abboud, even Little Tree air fresheners -- but they've focused on trademarks, not trade dress.

All in all, a revealing use of (ad) space.

UPDATE:  According to the Longchamp website, the "Pliage" bag -- actually, one of a series of similar designs in the Longchamp "Pliage" line -- is also the subject of a U.S. design patent.    

Race to the Top

A year and a half after designer Sophie Theallet made news by casting only models of African descent in her debut runway show, Project Runway alum Daniel Vosovic has drawn similar attention this week with an all-Asian lineup

While the new focus on diversity --  not to mention a global customer base -- is a welcome change from the presumptively pale beauty standards of decades past, a question remains:  Is such specific model selection legal? 

Under U.S. law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  There are limited exceptions, however, for circumstances in which the relevant characteristic is a "bona fide occupational qualification" (BFOQ) necessary for the job.  It would be very unlikely that anyone could successfully challenge the decision to use only female models to show women's clothing, for example.  Interestingly, though, the BFOQ exceptions in the statute mention only religion, sex, or national origin, and NOT race or color.  Disability and age discrimination are covered under different laws but raise similar questions.

 And that's only federal law.  Washington, D.C., for instance, specifically prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of "personal appearance."  Of course, my hometown isn't exactly known for high fashion, the current First Lady notwithstanding, but just imagine the potential effect of a such a law on New York Fashion Week. 

As a practical matter, however, neither Sophie nor Daniel nor even a designer who resists modern norms and aesthetics and hires only white models is particularly likely to risk legal challenge.  The working lifetime of the average model (a small handful of supermodels aside) is similar to that of a laboratory fruitfly -- here today, gone tomorrow.  It's unlikely that any particular model would wish to spend much of that time suing a designer who didn't hire her for a particular show, nor would she wish to risk alienating other designers.  And even if she did bring an action, it would be exceptionally difficult in most cases to show that it was her race and not her walk or some other characteristic that led to the designer's decision.    

So congratulations to Daniel V. on an auspicious debut and on reminding the fashion world of an issue that's far from merely black and white. 

P.S.  Happy Valentine's Day / Chinese New Year / Presidents' Day / Mardi Gras!   
Counterfeit Chic joins those saluting the creative genius of Lee Alexander McQueen -- frequently copied but never surpassed -- and mourning his passage.  


Just in time for New York Fashion Week, stories of a potentially significant lawsuit are splashing around the 'net -- and this one's no fish tale.

A complaint by Marc Jacobs against Christian Audigier's Ed Hardy label joins the recent trickle of trade dress claims which, if successful, could become a flood over the next several seasons.  This one is a tale of two totes, the Marc by Marc Jacobs "Pretty Nylon Little Tate" (left), which is quilted with a scrambled version of the Marc Jacobs trademark, and the Ed Hardy "KOI Jana Nylon Tote."  In describing the claimed trade dress, the complaint notes not only the Marc by Marc bag's dimensions and overall appearance but also the quilted pattern, knotted handles, vertical side pockets, metal plaque, and other details.  Both totes are available in multiple colors and at similar price points (around $150-$160 full retail).  Additional embellishment aside, the alleged copy appears, well, right on the Marc. 

Marc_Jacobs_v_Ed_Hardy.jpgThis case is a particularly interesting test of the growing trade dress trendlet, given the prominent appearance of each party's trademark along with the claimed trade dress.  The Ed Hardy tattoo-style fish print further complicates a demonstration of likelihood of consumer confusion with respect to who created each tote.  On the other hand, Marc has sold thousands of his bags and seen them included in numerous editorial layouts -- and, short of a design patent, a trade dress claim is the only opportunity under U.S. law to potentially prevent a competitor from taking a widely recognized design, slapping on an extra element or two, and selling it as his own.   

For good measure, Marc Jacobs also alleges infringement of the trademark in the scrambled-letter version of his name, as well as California unfair competition claims.  The trade dress claim is the most interesting argument, however, though it remains to be seen whether the court will take the bait. 

P.S.  You didn't think that Christian Audigier was the only one to have been allegedly lured in by the Marc by Marc Jacobs tote, did you?  Here's another somewhat fishy example, this one from Forever 21:
F21_copy_Marc_Jacobs_Pretty-Nylon-Little_Tate.jpgThanks to all who  wanted to hear from Counterfeit Chic regarding this case, including dedicated legal fashionista Kristina Montanaro!

Edwardian Fashion

We already knew that sometime Presidential candidate John Edwards cheated on his wife -- while she was battling cancer.  And that he spent almost 2 years denying paternity of his daughter, despite all evidence to the contrary.  So perhaps it should come as no shock to be told that Edwards also attempted to lie with his fashion labels.

According to a new book by Andrew Young, formerly Edwards' loyal associate and partner in deception, Edwards had the author remove a "made in the USA" label from his suit to sew in place of Edwards'  own "made in Italy" label prior to a union-sponsored event in Las Vegas.  The alleged alteration wasn't illegal, unless Edwards tries to resell the mislabeled item, but it does seem in keeping with the rest of Edwards' execrable ethics. 

With pseudo-patriotic stitching switches like that one, it's no wonder the U.S. garment industry is concerned about maintaining domestic production.  Or that the theme of an excellent ALMA event at the Italian Consulate in New York last week was "Protecting 'Made in Italy' through Intellectual Property Law."  (Nice speaking to you!) 

Oh, and John?  When you're done pushing the buttons of garment manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic, you might consider giving Andrew his label back.