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Knockoff Nuptials

Ever since Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, Western brides have been opting for white wedding dresses -- and a vast industry is eager to oblige.  For the New York bride-to-be, and many others across the country, the epicenter of the bridal industrial complex is Kleinfeld's.  The wedding gown emporium recently moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, prompting the New York Times to take notice and send in "Critical Shopper" Alex Kuczynski. 

Within the satin- and lace-covered retail acreage, the proprieties must be observed.  Among these is a rule intended to foil would-be copyists masquerading as customers:

As a grandmother fumbled hopefully with a camera, the bridal consultant approached and put a hand on her arm.

"No pictures," she said, her smile settling into a thin line of reproach.

That's right.  "The use of cameras and the sketching of gowns is prohibited at Kleinfeld," reads a placard in each dressing room.  "This policy is strictly enforced."

In the world of bridal gowns, which, year in and year out are basically long and white-ish, individuality is key.  And no designer wants a one-of-a-kind sample copied by the tailor down the street, who would probably do it for a cost many multiples less.

Like other items of clothing, wedding dress designs are not protected by intellectual property law.  One designer did manage to find a loophole, however.  In Eve of Milady v. Impression Bridal, 957 F.Supp. 484 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), Judge Shira Scheindlin granted a prliminary injunction against an alleged copyist of the distinctive lace designs on certain bridal dresses.  The reason?  While clothes are not subject to copyright, fabric designs are considered protectable forms of writing, and the court found lace patterns to be a form of fabric design. 

All in all, a civilized dispute resolution -- surely more so than some of those likely to take place this Sunday at Kleinfeld's annual sample sale.


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