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July 31, 2006

Ms. Scafidi Goes to Washington

I'm back in New York after testifying before Congress on intellectual property and fashion design, and frankly I'm still surprised and delighted that the issue is being taken seriously.  Within a few years I've gone from not writing on the subject at the advice of older academic colleagues -- despite the fact that fashion is a $350 billion plus industry -- to speaking to the nation's lawmakers about it.  Of course, having tenure helps. 

I promised more details about the hearing on H.R. 5055, so here goes:

Favorite moment:  Representative Maxine Waters turning on her girl power and owning the room.  As she said to one of the bill's opponents, "You asked what Congress knows about it?  When you talk about women's fashion and design, fortunately there are a lot of women in Congress now.  We know a lot about it."  And she did, citing issues regarding quality control, artistic vision, and consumer expectations.

Second-favorite moment:  Representative Darrell Issa asking me who I was wearing -- actually an important and relevant question.  (He's got 37 patents of his own, so he knows a few things about innovation.)

What to wear to Congress:  So what was I wearing?  Luckily I thought about this in advance -- the hearing was about IP and fashion, after all!  Washington is fairly conservative in fashion terms, and a congressional hearing is a serious matter -- so a dark suit.  Also considering the setting, and the July weather, a skirt rather than trousers.  An American designer, in order to be suitably patriotic, but also a young designer for whom this legislation would really matter.  And ideally something classic, but with a twist. 

The final choice?  A fashionably black Narciso Rodriguez skirt suit from a couple of years ago.  The jacket looks like a bolero over a fitted top, but is actually one piece, and the skirt has a pencil silhouette.  100% cotton, thank heaven, and unlined but beautifully finished on the inside (like all of Narciso's work).  For accessories, the much-copied Lanvin tulle-wrapped faux pearls, my grandmother's pearl stud earrings for luck, and pointy black Manolo pumps.  (Like I said, the suit was American....)

Since Narciso Rodriguez is a designer whose work has been copied, I was able to turn myself into Exhibit A when Representative Issa asked -- an unexpectedly nice touch. 

The issues:  Stay tuned!

July 30, 2006

Knockoff News 26

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

Miss Ghana

July 28, 2006

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives took on the issue of fashion design and intellectual property, and your humble blogger was one of two witnesses invited to testify in favor of the bill.  (The other was menswear designer extraordinaire and CFDA board member Jeffrey Banks.)

Why in favor?  In shortest possible terms, because young designers are being hurt by the lack of protection under U.S. law, and because the bill calls for a very short, reasonable term of protection (3 years total, as opposed to the standard copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years). 

I have much more to tell you -- from legal analysis to my solution to the all-important question of what to wear to Congress -- so please check back in over the next couple of days.  In the meantime, the webcast is available here, and my 5-minute opening statement starts at approximately 35:30. 

July 26, 2006

Tourist Trap

Click here for larger image

In Italy, unlike the U.S., a purchaser of counterfeit goods may be subject to a fine.  Above, a sign in Venice warns unsuspecting tourists of the hidden costs of bargain bags.

July 25, 2006

Supersize It

Is Louis Vuitton going the pop-up store route in Korea, or are counterfeit retailers wrapping themselves in logo print?  (Hint:  If you sign in to Flickr and enlarge the photo, it appears that "Monogram" also sells Chanel, Dior, Hermes, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana....)

Thanks to Superlocal for the photo!  (And is that a "Burberry" umbrella in the left foreground?)

July 23, 2006

Knockoff News 25

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

Germany:  the land of ideas

July 20, 2006

Knight Errant

British luxury goods company Burberry may be working to change its checks, or at least downplay them, but its revived knight logo may be just as tempting to counterfeiters.

The Times (of London, not New York) reports that Burberry just accepted a $100,000 settlement from Marco Leather (of New York, not London), which had been selling counterfeits bearing both logos.  Rather boldly, Marco Leather had also filed a U.S. trademark application for a slightly modified version of the knight and had registered a U.S. copyright for an image of the knight superimposed over the check.  (Who exactly was giving the IP advice here?)  Under an order from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Marco Leather must abandon the trademark application, transfer the copyright to Burberry, and refrain from any similar activities. 

Checkmate, Burberry.


July 19, 2006

If You Can Read This...

... my host server must be working.  Please pardon the recent outages, which were apparently the result of a chain reaction from a filer crash.  Either that, or one of the internet's "tubes" got clogged.

Culture Crash

An astute observer of cultural appropriation in all its forms, my Georgetown law student Jacob Howley, sent me this "breaking news" yesterday:

NEW YORK—More than 11,000 trendsetters, tastemakers, movers, and shakers gathered in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood Monday to declare a strike against the broad segment of the American population that they say routinely copies their fashions, musical tastes, and sensibilities. Should the strike persist, experts said, it could bring the pop-cultural life of the nation to a standstill.

Amused?  Plant your tongue firmly in your cheek, and continue reading the entire article from The Onion.

July 18, 2006

Tempest in a Tube

All the world's a reality TV show, and all the men and women merely players -- or so it would seem from recent message boards.

The previews following Project Runway's Season 3 opener piqued the interest of fashionable viewers nationwide when it suggested that one of the designer contestants had behaved in a manner unbecoming to television and would be asked to leave.  But who?  And what was the infraction?

And could it have anything to do with copying?

The obsessively perceptive "Viktor Rolf" posted the following on a Television Without Pity forum:

I believe Keith will be ask to leave since he copied runway images from several different designers and used it as his own. He used runway pics from Giambattisa Valli, Lacoste and possible Marni for his book. I noticed the Valli pic right away, but really didn't make anything of it. Passing other designers work as your own is so not cool. Say adios to the poor man's Jude Law.

Elsewhere, "The Hepburn" promptly and most resourcefully juxtaposed screencaps from Keith Michael's sketchbook portfolio, submitted as part of his application to become a PR contestant,  with photos of the original outfits in their respective runway shows (also here): 

L-Keith R-Giambattista Valli Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Giambattista Valli, Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Lacoste, Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Marni, Spring 2006

Interested parties in the blogosphere did not react kindly, but Keith sent the following explanation/defense to Blogging Project Runway:

for the record, i submitted 5 portfolios for the judges review. the one you seem to be focusing on was a research assignment i did for a client in which i reviewed key fashion trends. i'm very proud of all the work that i do. the panel of judges that reviewed my work had many years of experience behind them. i found them neither ignorant, uninformed or in any way confused about their own profession.

Although quite a few commenters were skeptical of the explanation, Counterfeit Chic prefers to withhold judgment pending more information.  From a sociological perspective, however, it is interesting to note the negative response of fashionisti to the alleged copying of others' garments.  The practice may be legal, albeit not within the rules of a competition, but that doesn't make it respectable.  A designer's credibility and status are based on his/her production of original, creative work.

There's another potential legal issue here, however.  Keith is not alleged to have copied the actual garments, merely the runway photographs of the garments -- right down to the poses in which the models were captured on film.  Those photographs are protected by copyright.  Yes, the copies are sketches of the photos rather than exact, mechanical reproductions of the photos themselves, but despite the change in medium they are still quite literal.  Moreover, Keith claims to have produced the copies for a commercial purpose, thus actually competing with the market for the photos.  It's possible that Keith licensed the images, but if not, they may violate copyright law.

Is it odd that U.S. copyright law protects the two-dimensional images of a garment, but intellectual property law does not protect the actual designs?  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."

Viewers will soon learn whether the same is true for reality TV.

July 17, 2006

Baked Goods

Like the industrial age before it, the digital age in America appears to have sparked an arts & crafts movement.  There is a difference, however:  a century of exposure to brand marketing has added logos and trademarks to our vernacular and thus to our efforts at creative expression.  In other words, welcome to the age of do-it-yourself knockoffs.

Some of these DIY projects take the form of artistic commentary on consumerism and luxury brands, while other projects seem more purely commercial.  Consider Rylan Morrison's jewelry line White Limousine, featured in this week's Time Out New York magazine.  The designer/student/nanny uses Shrinky Dinks -- thin, flexible plastic sheets that can be decorated, cut into pieces, and baked into hard disks -- to form unique made-to-order baubles.  I vaguely remember as a small child having an artistically inclined babysitter who entertained us with the same product.  But take a closer look at Rylan's designs:  many of them incorporate product images or corporate logos.

Would anyone mistakenly believe that Chanel and Mercedes-Benz had teamed up to produce plastic jewelry in a toaster oven?  One would hope not.  Nevertheless, White Limousine and similar endeavors raise questions about where art ends and commerce begins, the concept of consumer confusion, and what constitutes expressive use of a trademark that has become a household word.

July 14, 2006

Inventive Steps

Washington, DC, is my original hometown.  However, it isn't the most fashion-forward of cities, despite the efforts of Pulizer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan and the weekly column of The Manolo.  The Metro is filled with men and women in conservative suits and sensible shoes, and the city's most characteristic fashion statement is the ubiquitous lanyard with government-issued photo ID attached. 

This summer, however, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is stepping out in style. 

Although fashion design ordinarily isn't protected by intellectual property law, technological innovation in the field -- as in any other -- can qualify for patent protection.  An exhibit opening today at the USPTO Museum, "Shoes:  Innovation at Your Feet," highlights technological accomplishments of the footwear industry from the 19th century to the present

So if you're visiting the nation's capital this summer, grab the kids, hop on the Metro, and head out to Alexandria.  It may not be the ever-popular Air & Space Museum, but it's certainly a great idea for an exhibit.  Who knows?   It may even be a step towards closing the gender gap in science and engineering.  And above all, remember to wear cute -- and comfortable -- shoes.

July 13, 2006

Scents and Sensibility

Last month, Counterfeit Chic noted that cases in both France and the Netherlands had extended intellectual property protection to perfume, although the issue ultimately remained unresolved in France. 

In today's New York Times, Elaine Sciolino further explores two conflicting French decisions -- is perfume "a work of the mind" or not?  Is the creation a a new fragrance the result of a "simple implementation of expertise" or something more poetic?

"It's an extremely open and controversial question," said Catherine Verneret, the lawyer for Bellure, the company that lost in the L'Oreal case.  "Perfume is not only a simple aesthetic creation.  It is also an assemblage of molecules, a technical solution to a technical problem."


"When I write a perfume, the scents are the words," [perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena] said.  "And with these words I construct a story.  There is breathing, and there are transitions, just as in sentences.  Perfume, first of all, is a mental construction."

In reading the article, I wondered whether the courts in the divergent French decisions had been influenced as much by the facts and circumstances of the cases as by the copyright principle.  In the case won by cosmetics giant L'Oreal, the defendant was a perfume knockoff artist.  In the later case, a perfumer who had won an earlier case against her employer for wrongful dismissal unsuccessfully attempted to claim royalties for Dior's Dune, which she claims to have created. 

Do these cases represent a jurisprudential inquiry into whether an original fragrance may be subject to copyright, or a more instrumentalist protection of the industry?  Perhaps both, but the result so far is a lingering air of confusion. 

Straight Shooter

In an interview with New York Magazine this week, Project Runway's Tim Gunn (and now America's dean of fashion) opines on the counterfeit question:

What about knockoffs?  Can you spot one at twenty paces?

Not that often -- there are some awfully good knockoffs out there.  I hate to say this because I'm so respectful of brands, but why spend $2,000 on the Chanel bag?  I don't believe in jewelry for men, but women's jewelry -- what's wrong with cubic zirconia?  I say, if it looks goods and it works, do it.

Thanks to a senior official  a reliable source  an anonymous but fabulous reader for the tip.

July 12, 2006

Say It Ain't So, Michael

In today's earlier post, Counterfeit Chic noted that esteemed Project Runway judge and fashion designer Michael Kors may have had self-interested reasons to be a bit soft on Marla's knockoff in Season 2. 

"Surely not Michael!" came the response.

Oh no?  Take a look at the signature Jack Rogers design below:

And then at the Michael Kors:

Differences?  Of course.  Heel height, as noted earlier, as well as toe ring versus thong, wooden heel, and greater separation between the toe decoration and the band over the arch.  Still, not much of a creative leap.

I must say that I actually quite like Michael Kors' work.  He designs elegant sportswear that is on trend but not trendy, appropriate for women over the age of 16 but not frumpy.  Even his diffusion lines are on point. 

However, his accessories designer apparently cut a few corners this season -- which may be why the sandals ended up at a discount store (albeit with a higher pricetag than the Jack Rogers originals). 

Project Runway: Life Imitating Art, or Vice-Versa

Once upon a time, every tale began with "once upon a time" -- and every story had a moral.  That neatly scripted world is a bit more difficult to reproduce in the era of "reality" television, despite the transformative editing.   (Thanks to my Georgetown student Rowan Morris for exploring this genre.)  Still, audiences seem to yearn for a happy ending, or at least one that sees justice done -- the best man (or woman) wins, the bad guy loses, and all is right with the world.

Today, on the eve of a new season of Project Runway (if you missed the contestant selection special last night, click here for the preview video that PR's nice PR folks sent me), here's a video clip from last season.  In it, both the oracular Tim Gunn and the talented and pragmatic Emmett McCarthy warn Marla Duran that sending a knockoff down the runway isn't a winning strategy. 


Alas, despite no fewer than 9 separate scenes mentioning Marla's appropriation of a Chloe dress already owned and worn by her celebrity "client," she survives the round.  Apparently, at least in the eyes of judge Michael Kors, it's a greater sin to land your client on the worst-dressed list than it is to send her out in a copy.  (Of course, this may have something to do with the Michael Kors sandals on sale at DSW in New York a few days ago; they were strikingly similar to the ubiquitous Jack Rogers Navajo sandals, but with higher heels.) 

Still, all's well that ends well, and PR Season 2 winner Chloe Dao is a true original, with a compelling success story to boot.  And she's not the only worthy candidate who's enjoying post-Runway life. 

If you happen to be in New York TODAY, don't forget to join Chloe, Kara Janx, Nick Verreos, and Tim Gunn at Emmett's Nolita boutique for a summer sale and fall preview (details here).  Why just watch the designers when you can actually wear them?

July 10, 2006

Knockoff News 24

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

LV Multicolore Boulogne v. DB

And a 5 part series on the high cost of piracy:

July 09, 2006

Forza Azzurri!

Check out the best dressed World Cup ever!  (And if the merchandise in this case is unauthorized, we really don't want to know....)


July 07, 2006

Burberry Checked

Burberry's new CEO, Angela Ahrendts, has big plans for the British luxury brand, including the development of new logos to supplement the iconic check.  According to today's Wall Street Journal:

The new strategy may help Burberry solve a major problem facing Ms. Ahrendts:  plaid overexposure.  In recent years, the company attached its plaid to too many products and its brand image slid, with even British soccer hooligans wearing it.  Exacerbating the problem was counterfeit goods. 

What, no more tan tartan?  Have the arbiters of aesthetics and persistent counterfeiters unwittingly joined forces to rid the world of plaid?  Is the era of chav chic at an end?  Not so fast:

"We will always have the check," said Ms. Ahrendts yesterday. 

(Sigh.)  How romantic.  In fact, a bit of digital wizardry could create an inspired new ad campaign.  Cue Humprey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, standing in the fog at a remote airstrip, under a Burberry plaid umbrella, both wearing Burberry trench coats.  As Ilsa's -- sorry, Ingrid's -- eyes shine with unshed tears, Bogart says stoically, "We'll always have plaid." 

A tragedy on so many levels.


July 06, 2006

Going Ape over Counterfeits


Which of these things is not like the others?

  1.  Louis Vuitton
  2.  Chanel
  3.  Rolex
  4.  Gucci
  5.  A Bathing Ape

If you answered (5) A Bathing Ape, you're right -- and wrong.

A Bathing Ape is a hot young Japanese fashion label worn by hip hop artists and those who love them, not a venerable European luxury brand.  But BAPE also has the dubious honor of being among this season's most wanted counterfeits, so much so that it posted a plea/warning about fakes on its website. 

In other words, monkey see, monkey don't.

July 05, 2006

Fifth of July Fireworks

The Fourth of July holiday may be over, but some fireworks are meant to last all year.  Take the Tiffany & Co. Fireworks collection, for example -- or perhaps the knockoff version below:

Vintage jewelry seller Grandma's Top Drawer says, "I purchased this wonderful pin in a shop in Atlantic City called Landau, they specialize in CJ [costume jewelry].  They do a lot that is based on fine jewelry.  This pin is based on the Tiffany and Co. Fireworks collection.  You may have seen them advertised.  This one is done in RS [rhinestones], of course."

Of course, if the governor of New Jersey hadn't shut down Atlantic City's casinos during Independence Day weekend, Grandma might have gotten lucky and bought the real thing.  Gotta love politics.

July 01, 2006

Disposable Fakes

Some time ago one of Counterfeit Chic's favorite readers, La BellaDonna, sent the following inquiry:

Susan, if you have the opportunity at some point, I would appreciate your views regarding something I've seen posted more than once: consumers who had bought copies of luxury goods said that their fakes outperformed/outlasted/were better made than the originals.

I know that I myself have bought the occasional watch or sunglasses from street vendors, but to my knowledge they weren't "fake" anything - just generic "watch" or "sunglasses" because I scatter them far and wide, like confetti, in passing. What issues, if any, do you have with street-vended goods that aren't pretending to be anything else?

My immediate response to the final question was, "No problem whatsoever!"  Personally, I'm thrilled that in the city during a sudden rainstorm, street vendors selling cheap black umbrellas spring up like mushrooms in the woods after the rain.  Perhaps if I were a sartorially gifted British gentleman, I would be privy to the secret of keeping track of an elegant bespoke silk umbrella with a carved handle.  As it is, I'm happy to have access to umbrellas, sunglasses, etc. that aren't fake, just convenient and effectively disposable. 

But what about buying fakes in order to avoid losing the real thing?  That's the strategy of columnist Harry Hurt III, who in today's New York Times describes a trip to Chinatown to find a counterfeit facsimile of the Patek Philippe watch given to him by his wife.  He hadn't actually lost the watch yet, but only because it remained locked in a jewelry box for safekeeping.  Naturally, the giver was't pleased by this state of affairs; hence, the shopping excursion.  In HH's words:

I climbed out of a subway hole, looking and feeling like a loser.  And I was a loser.  Not just any old loser.  I was a loser of fine watches....

Well, yes, that about sums it up.  If you've lost Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philippe, "and then some" over the past three decades, it's time to give up -- or more to the point, for your spouse to give up on buying you expensive gifts.  Perhaps there's a subconscious issue with measuring the passage of time, a dislike of expensive adornment, or a more-cerebral-than-thou insistence upon disregarding personal possessions.  In any case, a fake Patek Philippe won't fool Mrs. HH, especially since you've just turned it into a column. 

Which is not to say that there's no place for "travel jewelry" or other self-respecting substitutes for luxury items.  A half-hearted attempt to fool one's spouse, however, isn't a particularly worthy mission.

As for copies that are superior to the originals, they should serve as a wake-up call to high-end companies that claim to compete on quality and style rather than price.  With good design available at all price points, the real deal ought to at least offer superior craftsmanship.  Otherwise, a luxury logo becomes "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound an fury, signifying nothing."  In other words, a retail tragedy.

P.S.  Let me take this opportunity to compliment La BellaDonna on choosing one of my favorite screen names ever.  A "beautiful woman" and a deadly poison once used for cosmetic purposes?  Talk about a complex character!