March 2010 Archives

Ugg, Uglier, Ugliest

What's worse than the fuzzy sheepskin boots that put the Ugg in ugly?
Ugg_women's_classic_tall_boot.jpgTry knockoff or even counterfeit Uggs.  According to British osteopaths, the cheap copies have still less support than the real thing and are causing wearers' arches to drop and their feet to splay, leading to potential foot, ankle, and hip problems over time. 

Is this warning a few seasons late, stylistically speaking, or are our otherwise fashion-forward friends across the pond still flocking to fleece? 

Either way, it's a tiny bit gratifying to see the haters of high heels and the champions of comfort at all costs caught flat-footed for a change.  Now, pass me my perilous platform pumps, please. 
Louis Vuitton sells handbags, among other things, to anyone who wishes to buy them. 

Google sells the name "Vuitton," among other things, to anyone who wishes to buy it -- and use it to direct internet searches to the buyer's own website via a "sponsored link."  Some of these sponsored links may lead to auctions offering Vuitton products, others may lead to Vuitton competitors, still others may lead to Vuitton product reviews, and many (most troubling to Vuitton) lead to counterfeits.  It's all up to the keyword buyer; Vuitton itself plays no part in the buying and selling of its name as a Google AdWord. 

Today the European Court of Justice, in a much-anticipated decision regarding Vuitton's challenge to Google's sale of trademarked terms as AdWords, found that the practice does NOT constitute trademark infringement -- so long as Google plays only a "neutral" role in the exchange.  (The press release, a bit quicker to read than the decision, is here.)   

According to the ECJ, this means that Google is off the hook if it can show that its storage of data as AdWords is "merely technical, automatic, and passive," indicating that the company lacks knowledge of or control over the particular terms stored by advertisers.  In other words, Google can't deliberately compose an email to potential AdWord clients offering a bargain on the name "Vuitton" but is free to allow buyers to purchase that or any other word as a search term leading to a sponsored link.  If Google actually learns that a specific advertiser is using an AdWord for nefarious purposes, however, Google is required to remove or disable access to the advertiser's link or face liability. 

Advertisers who purchase others' trademarks as keywords, however, don't get off quite so easily.  As in any other unauthorized use of a trademark, if the AdWord buyer arranges for Google to display an ad that confuses the searching public as to the origin of goods or services, the advertiser would be liable for infringement. 

Now that the ECJ's ruling has issued, the case goes back to the French Cour de cassation, which certified the questions to the central body in the first place.  It's a testament to the ECJ's diplomatic skills that both sides are likely to claim victory, although Google is presumably happier with the result than are Vuitton and its fellow litigants, a travel agency and a matchmaking service whose trademarks have also been sold as Google AdWords.  (Lawsuits do make for strange, er, bedfellows.)

Of course, the ECJ's decision is far from the last word on trademarks as search terms.  Just last month a French court found eBay liable for buying misspellings of "Vuitton," often used by counterfeiters, to create links.  Then there's Tiffany's still-pending appeal against eBay in the U.S., which also includes an argument regarding the use of the jeweler's name as a search term.  The list goes on.

And interestingly, my own Google search for "Vuitton" about 5 seconds ago generated not a single sponsored link, so perhaps Google is more cautious -- or more responsive to trademark owners' complaints -- than its litigation posture might suggest.

Toxic Togs?

In a reversal of reports regarding the toxicity of Chinese products from toys to toothpaste, which in recent years caused consumer concern but drew protests from the Chinese government, the province of Zhejiang has impounded European-made clothing that reportedly failed quality and safety tests.

Brands ranging from high-end Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Hugo Boss to fast-fashion Zara and H&M are implicated.  Their countries of original include Italy -- staunch protector of its quality-conscious "Made in Italy" label -- France, Romania, and Turkey. 

According to the government organization that impounded the clothing, tests of 85 batches of imported items showed that only 44% met standards.  Among the concerns were the presence of acid or formaldehyde (which can be used among other things to fix dye or make fabrics waterproof), poor color fastness, and fiber content mislabeling.

Serious safety violations, political posturing over minor malfeasance and mistranslation, or perhaps a bit of both?  Hard to tell. 

But one thing's for sure:  The companies and countries of origin involved will be keeping a keen eye on testing of Chinese-made exports.  And for consumers concerned about safety and accurate labeling, as opposed to price, turnabout testing may be fair play.

poison symbol.gif 
For centuries, stylish women knew that using deadly nightshade would enhance their natural beauty -- hence the other common name for the plant, belladonna, from the Italian for "beautiful woman." 

Our foremothers also knew that while eyedrops distilled from deadly nightshade dilate the pupils in a manner that they found attractive, the plant is also a dangerous poison.  Ingesting a handful of the toxic berries, or even a single leaf, can kill an adult. 

Fast forward to 2010, when the Toronto midnight bike crew and design collective Deadly Nightshades noticed a certain similarity between its ice-blue satin bomber jackets and two-tone leggings from last spring and fall, respectively (below left), and items currently on sale at American Apparel (below right). The Toronto Street Fashion site quickly joined the cross-border kerfluffle. 

Deadly_Nightshade_v_AmericanApparel_jkts_3-16-10_small.jpgDeadly_Nightshades_v_AmericanApparel_leggings_3-16-10.jpgLegally speaking, the Deadly Nightshades garments are very unlikely to have protection under either Canadian or American law, and in general are fairly basic designs.  (Even Chanel did quickly copied two-tone tights a couple of years ago.)  On the other hand, the American Apparel items are suspiciously similar to the Deadly Nighshades styles, from design to color to fabric choice.  And between financial woes, allegations of sexual harassment, immigration issues, and even a lawsuit by Woody Allen, Dov Charney doesn't need any more bad press.

So a word of caution to American Apparel:  Don't ever take Deadly Nightshade(s).  At least from a reputational perspective it can be, well, deadly. 

Shady Business

Finally, an iPhone that promises perfect coverage -- not to mention a wide range of apps, appropriate to any eye color and skin tone.  Look for the "eyemobile" at Kohl's, at least until Apple catches up with this latest riff on its trade dress.

Eyemobile_Engadget_3-14-10.jpgSpecial note to Eric Schmidt over at Google:  This palette could prove handy the next time Steve Jobs' lawyers try to give you a (virtual) black eye. 

Via Engadget

Is Kate Spade clutching at Olympia Le-Tan's idea of creating handbags that look like vintage books?  Ms. Le-Tan thinks so -- and called the company formerly owned by Kate "a big fat copy cat" on Twitter. 

Olympia Le-Tan's clever clutches, including titles like Moby Dick, were introduced last fall, and examples of Kate Spade's trompe-l'oeil library were displayed to editors during New York Fashion Week in February.  While even a lawyer of Olympian prowess would have to concede that no creative client can copyright her idea (as opposed to a specific expression of it), the potential for a trade dress or unfair competition argument could be interesting.

Olympia_LeTan_Kate_Spade_clutches.jpgMeanwhile, let's hope that both stylish students of literature have taken into account any lingering rights of the authors and original cover designers.  Otherwise, attorneys for the various parties may be tempted to use the "books" as clubs. 

Via Salon.

UPDATE:  Curious about the idea of the book as aesthetic signifier, without having to bother with all those darn words?  Check out this series of recent posts over at Murketing.