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Custom Copies

Among fashionable city dwellers and world travelers, there persists a tale of a semi-hidden guild of tailors and seamstresses capable of producing made-to-measure knockoffs for a song.  Just bring along your favorite garment or even a magazine clipping, stand still for a few measurements, and the deal is done.  The identities of such talented needleworkers, often located in Hong Kong or one of many urban Chinatowns, are passed sotto voce among friends and colleagues intent on limiting access to their treasures. 

Are these copies legal?  Yes -- at least in the U.S.  Just as design pirates can mass-produce cheap copies of designer gowns, custom tailors can create perfectly fitted, high quality versions for individual customers.  Are designers as concerned about single copies as they are about fast-fashion fakes?  Presumably not -- the market for custom tailoring is small, and only a small percentage of it involves direct copying as opposed to original designs or adaptations.  Moreover, relatively few people have access to made-to-measure tailors.

Until now.  Once again, modern technology in the form of the internet has changed the rules of the game.  From the marvelous Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion Incubator comes word of a new eBay shop, TopRunway, offering to make copies of Roland Mouret's blockbuster Galaxy dress and similar styles.  The listings offer a choice of fabric swatches and detailed instructions for taking your own measurements, and promises delivery worldwide within 10-19 days.  The prices?  Hovering around U.S. $50 for a dress.  The location?  "Asia, China."

In Kathleen's words, "'Borrowing influences and concepts is one thing.  This is another."  As she also noted, however, the only legal offense (again, under U.S. law) is the use of a runway photo from Getty Images.  The clever copyist didn't even use the Roland Mouret name in advertising the goods, thus avoiding a potential trademark claim -- although the description of the dress as a "Galaxy" might raise a question. 

It appears that in the realm of knockoffs, we've entered the era of mass-produced made-to-measure.