« May 2006 | Main | July 2006 »

June 30, 2006

Has Old Navy turned to Piracy?

In an article on Old Navy's new strategies to attract customers, Amy Merrick reports the following in today's Wall Street Journal:

...Old Navy designers looked at jeans from high-end brands like Seven for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity, which sell for more than $100.  They took the garments apart, examined the stitching and fabrics, then asked Old Navy's factories to create something similar.  The result, called "special edition" denim, will sell for $36.50 to $49.50, the priciest Old Navy jeans to date by $10.

Reverse engineering or design piracy?  Without seeing the jeans, it's hard to tell -- but the process sounds awfully suspicious. 


June 29, 2006

Knockoff News 23

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a summary affirmation of the district court's earlier decision in Hooters v. Winghouse, discussed here.  (Short version of the decision:  The "Hooters Girl" in uniform is primarily functional, and therefore does not qualify for trade dress protection.) 

 But was the original "Hooters Girl" really inspired by body paint?

Photo by Mario Casilli, Playboy, March 1968

Hat tips for various newsbriefs to MarkenBlog & David Althoff!

June 28, 2006

Television Time Out

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Fashionisti across the country have followed Project Runway for the past couple of seasons, and on July 12 the competition begins again with Season 3.  To kick it off, Counterfeit Chic will eschew the search for fakes for a few hours and visit the charming Nolita boutique of Season 2's Emmett McCarthy, EMc2.  (Already been?  Just wait and see what Emmett has done with the back garden!)

Not only will there be summer sales and a preview of the fall collections, but Emmett will be joined by fellow contestants Nick, Kara, and Chloe -- and America's dean of fashion, Tim Gunn!

All are invited!  And fellow fashion bloggers, please feel free to copy and post the invitation.

June 27, 2006

Counterfeit Cops Acquitted

On Monday a Manhattan jury acquitted two of the five Manhattan police officers accused of accepting fake sports jerseys, handbags, and other items in exchange for giving a counterfeit merchant information and favors.  A defense lawyer told the court that the peddler, Jamil Faied, was a longtime police informant.

One of the other officers, Jashua Penalo, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation, while the cases against George Santiago and Jaime Albertelli are pending.

For Detective Lewis and his co-defendant, Detective Brian Bartlett, however, the case had a happy ending.  Detective Bartlett will try to get his former position back, and Detective Lewis is taking his family to Disney World -- where presumably no knockoffs are allowed. 

June 26, 2006

Copyright Nose No Limits

The name of a perfume is usually trademarked, the packaging may be protected trade dress, the text on the box may be copyrighted, and certain synthetic olfactory elements or even the bottle could be patented.  But the complex liquid inside the bottle -- the "juice" -- has usually been fair game for imitators.  Until now.

Back in February, a French court of appeal held that copyright law is applicable to fragrances.  The court found Dubai-based Bellure N.V. had copied a number of L'Oreal fragrances and ordered damages in the amount of 1.48 million euros.  (Merci to Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion Incubator for a heads-up on the case and to Pierre Breese of Chroniques de la propriete intellectuelle for most conveniently linking to the judgment.)  The decision relied on chemical analysis of the olfactory doubles, as well as the scent of the perfumes (yes, a smell test) and expert testimony.

L'Oreal won again earlier this month, this time before the Dutch Supreme Court.  That court also ruled that perfume could be subject to the same copyright protections as a work of art, ordering Kecofa B.V. to disgorge profits from its "Female Treasure," a knockoff of L'Oreal's "Tresor."  Kecofa, arguing that aromas are part of nature and should not be subject to IP protections, may appeal to the European Court of Justice. 

In the U.S. scents applied to other goods can serve as trademarks, and newly created or isolated aromas may meet the criteria for patent protection.  In order to maintain the distinction between useful inventions and literary or artistic works, however, copyright protection does not extend to either processes or useful articles -- and thus aromas that might be patentable are excluded from copyright protection.  Mere discoveries, e.g. natural scents, are not eligible for either patent or copyright protection. 

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will follow the lead of the Netherlands and France and consider copyright protection for perfumes formulated by expert "noses," who choose among thousands of potential scent notes to create pleasing combinations.  Are perfumes more like recipes, which are generally unprotected (despite recent controversies), or musical compositions? 

For now, Designer Imposters and other imitators are safe under U.S. law.  But when in Europe, don't squeeze the juice. 


June 23, 2006

The Sweet Smell of Litigation

For a romantic interlude (or perhaps a provocative one), check out The Trademark Blog, one of Counterfeit Chic's perennial favorites.

June 21, 2006

Allied Powers

Here's more on the new US-EU joint effort to combat counterfeiting, in the form of a WSJ editorial collectively authored by the US Secretary of Commerce, the European Commission Vice President for Enterprise and Industry, the EU Trade Commissioner, and the USTR. 

Rhetorically, the focus is on not-so-chic counterfeiting:

Twenty years ago, counterfeiting might have been regarded as a problem chiefly for the makers of expensive handbags.  In the 1980s, 70% of firms affected by counterfeiting were in the luxury sector.  But in 2004, more than 4.4 million items of fake foodstuffs and drinks were seized at EU borders, an increase of 196% over the previous year.  In the U.S., seizures of counterfeit computers and hardware tripled from 2004 to 2005.  There are also fake electrical appliances, car parts adn toys.  Even airplane parts are being pirated:  The Concorde crash of 2000 appears to have  been caused by a counterfeit part that had fallen off another aircraft. 

Good point.  The next time I buy an airplane, I'm going for the real deal. 

June 19, 2006

Midsummer Magicks

As Midsummer approaches, the power of witchcraft takes on a would-be counterfeiter (from the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker, 1975):


June 18, 2006

Knockoff News 22

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:


June 15, 2006

Museum-Quality Fakes

Counterfeit Chic has previously pondered why it is that museums and museum-goers prefer the display of original works over copies, particularly when the vast majority of viewers can't tell the difference. 

Apparently the Nassau County Art Museum has no such existential concerns.

WWD reports that a new exhibition, "Art and Fashion:  From Marie Antoinette to Jacqueline Kennedy," required a degree of curatorial resourcefulness:

Unable to borrow any of Kennedy's dresses from her White House years from the Smithsonian Institution, the NCMA turned to local students to re-create her signature look, said director Constance Schwartz. Fashion students at Nassau Community College designed the dresses for the exhibition.

The museum also posthumously honored one of Jackie's favorite designers, Oleg Cassini, with a lifetime achievement award.  Which is only appropriate, given that he was accused of making knockoffs of European designs for Jackie.

In other words, the museum may have commissioned copies of copies for the display.  Maybe the gift shop carries originals?

Art Imitates Art

Sometimes copyists adorn our bodies, other times they decorate our walls.

The remarkable Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion Incubator sent the following item from the Economist:

A golden figure in Tokyo’s art world has been stripped of one of Japan’s most prestigious prizes. Yoshihiko Wada, a 66-year-old artist, had staged an acclaimed exhibition of oil paintings in Tokyo last year and this spring won Japan's Art Encouragement Prize for his work. But after two months of basking in considerable glory, Mr Wada surrendered the prize in May amid an investigation by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs that his paintings, which depict urban Italian life, might plagiarise the work of Alberto Sughi, an Italian artist.

The panel that awards the prize reconvened to decide whether Mr Wada’s paintings too closely resembled those of Mr Sughi. After just two hours of deliberations, the panel concluded that the likeness was too strong to be ignored. Mr Wada denied plagiarism but returned the prize “to protect its honour”.

According to the BBC, Wada claimed that the two artists had inspired each other.  Sughi, however, said that he thought Wada, who visited Sughi's studio several times and took photos, was a tourist.

Compare Sughi's "Piano Bar, Italia" (1996), top, with Wada's "Muso" (Reverie) (2004). 

Alberto Sughi, Piano Bar, Italia (1996)

Yoshihiko Wada, Muso (Reverie) (2004)

I'm no expert, but it looks like Wada's got the blues.  (Yes, groan.)

June 13, 2006

Knockoff News 21

S & Ms

And an update on Counterfeit Chic's Fendi v. Wal-Mart report:

We have not removed the products for sale because we believe them to be authentic.  We are fairly certain we can prove that.

So either Fendi has evidence that Wal-Mart is selling knockoffs or else Fendi doesn't particularly want last season's luxury merchandise -- real or fake -- diverted to Sam's Club stores by discounters.  Developing....

June 12, 2006

Faux Fendi Finale

Wal-Mart isn't the only retailer that has been accused of selling faux Fendi bags of late.  In today's WWD there appears the following notice of a settlement between Fendi and Loehmann's discount department store, which was recently acquired by a government-owned Dubai firm:

Translated from legalese, placing this ad is the rough equivalent of saying, "Loehmann's got off easy -- but don't mess with Fendi or we'll turn you into a B bag." 



June 11, 2006

Human See, Human Do

Anthropocentric cliches are a bit beleaguered of late.  Animal lovers  take umbrage at various unflattering references to humans acting like denizens of the barnyard, and now psychologists have banished that withering dismissal of copycats (oops, make that copyists):  Monkey see, monkey do.

While organizing some files this morning, I came across an essay by Carl Zimmer about the work of two research scientists at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, Victoria Horner and Andrew Whiten, and Yale grad student Derek Lyons, who was inspired by their findings.  In a nutshell, it appears that when learning how to solve a puzzle, humans will watch others and imitate all steps -- even the unnecessary ones -- while chimpanzees will simply figure out the most efficient method and skip extraneous steps. 

According to Zimmer, Lyons "sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation.....  As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore.  Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them.  They needed to imitate."

Presumably the next step would be to decide which cool, cutting-edge hominids to imitate. 

All of which may help explain why so many people end up following trends, flattering or not.  It's only human.

Dr. Jane Goodall & friend

June 09, 2006

Is Wal-Mart Imitating Art?

There are many metaphors for happiness and true love, but perhaps none as trendy as a Fendi bag. 

On an episode of Sex and the City set in L.A., the sexual gourmand Samantha boasts of finding a fabulous fake Fendi, everywoman Carrie goes hunting for the perfect knockoff but ultimately decides that faux won't do, and aspirational Charlotte reveals the truth about her sexless honeymoon by bursting out with the memorable line, "My marriage is a fake Fendi!"  Ultimately Samantha gets SATC foursome thrown out of her idea of paradise -- the Playboy mansion -- by accusing one of the "bunnies" of stealing the bag.

As it turns out, Samantha may have been able to stay home and go to Wal-Mart.

Today Fendi, a division of LVMH, filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, alleging that the giant retailer has passed off counterfeit Fendi handbags and other products as genuine.  According to the complaint, Wal-Mart has never purchased products directly from Fendi nor sought to acertain the legitimacy of the trademarked items.  In one instance, a Wal-Mart Sam's Club store in Miami allegedly sold a black, logoed "Fendi" bag, retail price $930, for $508.25 -- a nice discount, but not a price low enough to make a consumer realize that she's not necessarily buying the real thing.

Who knew that Sam Walton was a SATC fan?

Sex and the City episode 44

P.S.  Are large, international retail chains the new battlegrounds in the anticounterfeiting crusades?  This isn't the first time that a division of LVMH has alleged that shady merchandise is for sale in otherwise well-lit venues. 

June 08, 2006

That's Why They Call It a Gold Standard

As if last week's jewelry theme at Counterfeit Chic didn't give the newly affianced enough to argue about, today's Wall Street Journal raises another issue:  is that ring really platinum?

It appears that a new platinum alloy, which contains only 58.5% platinum as opposed to the minimum international standard of 85% (or the more typical 95%), is gaining in popularity.  Since platinum has become popular for both engagement and wedding rings, and the metal has nearly doubled in price over the last year, the cheaper "585" platinum has the potential to sweep the market.

Jewelers are divided over the issue of whether to call the new alloy "platinum," with one camp holding out for an identification between linguistic and metallurgic purity and the other noting that 14-karat gold is still called "gold," just like the pure 24-karat stuff.   The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has solicited comments on the matter, but it has not yet published guidelines.

In the meantime, let the bride beware. 

Lagerfeld Live

And here it is -- Counterfeit Chic's first bootleg video! 

Listen to Karl Lagerfeld on counterfeiting in last Sunday's interview with Cathy Horyn and Stefano Tonchi of the New York Times:

Many thanks to the dynamic duo at Coutorture, Julie and Phil, for posting the video and sending me the link.  And don't forget to check out Julie's thoughtful post and column on the NYT event!

June 07, 2006

Double Vision

At a recent conference, luxury brand executives focused on China's market potential -- and on its production of counterfeits.  Patrizio di Marco, president and CEO of Bottega Veneta, offered this description of the issue of exclusive products faced with a proliferation of copies:

[Counterfeiting] is bad in terms of inflation -- visual inflation in the market.

Inflation -- interesting analogy.  Same dollar (status good) buys less (prestige).  Better send in the troops.

June 06, 2006

Et Tu, Your Honor?

Counterfeit Chic recently attended a gathering that included a distinguished member of the judiciary.  When a drink was accidentally splashed on her quilted "Chanel" handbag, the elegantly attired judge graciously pardoned the offender.  "Don't worry about it," she said.  "It's not real -- it's just some piece of plastic."

June 05, 2006

Knockoff News 20

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And here are additional reason for the lady to smile:  

A sales assistant at one Shanghai DVD shop said the initial copies were "pirated overseas" and that "better quality" versions would probably be available early next month.

Perhaps he should've waited for the real fakes to arrive from China?

June 04, 2006

Karl's Life and the Times

Karl Lagerfeld, arguably the world's most famous living fashion designer, will be moving onto my block in New York as soon as his condo is ready -- but we're not exactly dropping by for Sunday brunch yet.  In the meantime, my esteemed colleague at Blingdom of God and I settled for attending "Sunday with the Magazine," a New York Times event at which various writers and editors were paired with their subjects for interviews lite.

Horyn (left), Lagerfeld, Tonchi

Karl was joined by NYT fashion critic Cathy Horyn and T magazine style editor Stefano Tonchi for a pleasant chat about life, fashion, and a life in fashion.  I predicted that if I waited long enough during the general Q&A, someone would ask the Counterfeit Chic question -- and I was not disappointed by either the audience or the answer.

Counterfeit Chic has in the past described Karl's -- and the house of Chanel's -- changing attitudes with respect to copying and the information technologies that facilitate it.  At today's event, the proud papa of a podcast from the spring show of his eponymous line was all about embracing the new (though he didn't seem to think much of blogging). 

When it came to copying, the Kaiser offered the socially acceptable response, "It is a compliment."  (This is apparently a designer's equivalent of opening a hideous gift, smiling, and saying, "Oh, you shouldn't have!"  Nearly everyone who is knocked off claims to be flattered -- just prior to calling a lawyer.)  Karl Lagerfeld didn't just leave it at that, however.  He added, "The people who buy a copy wouldn't buy the original anyway" -- a controversial statement in itself -- and then offered a verbal slap on the wrist to copyists, who "should make some effort." 

Karl concluded his response to the copycat query by saying, "If on another price level they do it, it's a compliment."  This once again reflects the norms of the industry, which has historically expected greater creativity at higher price points, from haute couture down to mass market.  As the designer himself noted in response to another question, though, good (and bad) design today exists at all price points. 

In other words, Karl may not mind being knocked off by H&M -- unless, of course, he does it himself first

And for those who belive that the devil is in the details:

  • Yes, KL was wearing one of his signature skinny black suits and a high-collared shirt, with fingerless gloves, pointy black shoes, and assorted bling.  Instead of a white shirt, he chose a multicolored print on black -- part of a growing move toward adding prints to the fashion flock's longstanding love affair with solid colors, perhaps?
  • And yes, KL was drinking Diet Pepsi.  An assistant came out moments before the interview began and replaced the Diet Coke that had been on the table.  New spokesmodel?

June 02, 2006

Pearls of the World

And to close our jewelry case at Counterfeit Chic, below are a few photos of Alber Elbaz's signature tulle-veiled pearls for Lanvin -- introduced in Spring 2005, declared an instant classic by the fashion powers-that-be, and exhibited downtown at the Museum at FIT while still for sale uptown -- along with the Urban Outfitters' version.

The Lanvin advertisement:

Lanvin ad Spring 2005

One of the coveted Lanvin necklaces, top, and the Urban Outfitters version:

And a closeup of the faux pearls themselves.  Urban Outfitters must keep its legal department working overtime -- note the tranformation of Lanvin's black tulle over white pearls into Urban Outfitters' black lace over white pearls.  Who says that copyright law doesn't spur innovation?

That's a wrap!

For more on the history of costume jewelry, check out Carole Tanenbaum's beautifully illustrated and informative Fabulous Fakes.  Or, if you prefer something a bit more literary, a true gem never goes out of style -- or out of print. 

June 01, 2006

A Fiancé’s Best Friend?

Attention June brides:  Is that rock you've been flaunting really a diamond?

Ever since the DeBeers Group managed to convince a significant part of the English-speaking world that "A Diamond is Forever" -- and that a diamond solitaire ring all but guarantees a successful proposal of marriage -- would-be grooms have been searching for ways to get more bling for their buck.  With the arrival of gem-quality synthetic diamonds, they may have found it. 

Tiny diamond crystals have been produced for industrial purposes for decades, but the past few years have seen companies like Gemesis and Apollo Diamond develop multiple methods for growing large, near-flawless diamonds.  These "cultured" diamonds are physically and chemically "real" diamonds, not cubic zirconia or some other substance, and are for most jewelers indistinguishable from mined diamonds.  Except, of course, for the price.

At present, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires that synthetic diamonds be identified as such, and both Gemesis and Apollo inscribe diamonds over .25 carats with unique serial numbers.  In addition, DeBeers has spearheaded the development and distribution of sophisticated technologies that can distinguish some sythetic diamonds from their natural counterparts, albeit without 100% accuracy.  But the myriad small diamonds used in making jewelry are unlabeled and too numerous to be profitably analyzed or documented -- and at least some small synthetic diamonds have been sold without disclosure of their laboratory origins.

DeBeers' greatest fear, however, is not that the public will be tricked into buying "fake" gems.  Instead, its concern is that consumers will embrace synthetic diamonds as equal or even superior to natural ones, and the prices that the cartel has managed to keep high through artificial scarcity will plummet.  Will socially conscious consumers choose synthetic diamonds as an alternative to the "conflict diamonds" that support bloody civil wars in Africa?  Will the world's newest luxury goods customers (e.g. in China) care about a stone's origins?  Will brides-to-be prefer natural diamonds or more carats as a symbol of true love?

DeBeers is well aware of the history of natural v. cultured pearls, and it has no intention of allowing the lucrative mined diamond market to fizzle without a fight.  Still, at some point the high price of ice may melt away, and we'll all be able to dress like Liberace.

P.S.  Hat tip to my fashionable and insightful Georgetown student Sabrina Nguyen for suggesting this topic some months ago.  (Natural gems take time to form....)