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November 30, 2006

Coco is Dead

Ever wonder how Karl Lagerfeld got his job?  Check out the subversive "Coco is Dead" line of jewelry -- ranging from "Bullet Holes" to "Knife Fight" to "Buried Alive" -- from Alex+Chloe:

Bullet Holes logo and We Love Coco bullets

Knife Fight

Buried Alive

And then hit the ground, lest Chanel's lawyers fail to appreciate this countercultural parody and fire a few missiles of their own.

Thanks to rock star editor Lesley Scott of Fashion Tribes for this tip from her holiday wish list!

November 29, 2006

Three Ring Circus

The Greatest Show on Earth doesn't clown around when it comes to its trademarks.  Yesterday Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey filed a lawsuit in Manhattan's federal district court against cometics company Sephora and its parent LVMH for allegedly stealing the circus' famous slogan.  Will Cirque du Soleil be next to blow its big top over Sephora's holiday ad campaign? 

November 28, 2006

From Silk Purse to Sow's Ear

Why settle for wearing a novelty Chistmas sweater when you could inscribe holiday cheer directly on your skin with the GR8 TaT2 Maker

This holiday gift sensation is at the top (or perhaps it's the bottom) of Professor Alan Childress' shopping list -- click here for his fabulous review.  Somehow it doesn't sound as if the Childress children will be applying faux gang tats on Christmas morning.

But wait -- haven't tattoos been rehabilitated as an art form?  What about all of those opportunities for personal expression, declarations of cultural affiliation -- or even "commercial" messages?  The possibilities are endless:

Of course, such creative efforts may prompt irate trademark holders to wish for a whole new definition of prison tattoos. 

November 27, 2006

The Making of a Fashion Editor

New Yorker 30 March 1998

November 26, 2006

Counterfeits and Counterterrorism

Military activities are big business -- just ask the nice folks at Halliburton.  Tax dollars (yours and mine, around the world) fund the various government-sanctioned versions of warfare.  But who's paying for the rest?  With Leonardo DiCaprio starring in the upcoming film Blood Diamond, we're certain to hear a great deal about one source of funding for armed conflict.  Today's New York Times, in a front-page article on the Iraqi insurgency, discusses other means of financing violence:

The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded [emphasis added].

Counterfeit Chic has already discussed the alleged link between counterfeiting and terrorism here, here, and here.  It's almost a cliche that profits from an illicit market in anything (drugs, human beings, handbags) can be used to fund other illegal activities, although inquiring minds prefer concrete evidence of a connection.

Speaking of evidence and connections, why exactly is it that the paper of record is publishing the contents of a confidential report, obtained from "American officials"?  In a troubled administration, is "counterfeit classified" the new "top secret"? 

We Interrupt this Holiday Shopping Season...

...with a public service announcement from Wealth TV.  Did you know -- gasp! -- that there were merchants out there selling fakes?  Watch this 5-minute clip for some facts and figures on counterfeit handbags, sunglasses, and the like, as well as an advance look at Harry Potter book 7, now "available" in China.

November 24, 2006

Knockoff News 41

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

Lucky Break Wishbone

And because the law of fashion by implication includes its absence:

November 23, 2006

Pilgrim's Regress

Happy Thanksgiving to friends of Counterfeit Chic -- you all are certainly something for which to be thankful this year!  As those of you in the U.S. enjoy your turkey dinners tonight and prepare to start the Christmas shopping season tomorrow, here's a look back to another Pilgrim who was knocked off -- and the author's response.

An excerpt from John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (1679 & 1684), The Author's Apology of Part II, "The Author's Way Of Sending Forth His Second Part Of The Pilgrim":

Go now my little Book, to every place
Where my first Pilgrim has but shewn his Face:

. . .

1 Objection

But how if they will not believe of me
That I am truly thine, 'cause some there be
That counterfeit the Pilgrim and his name,
Seek by disguise to seem the very same,
And by that means have wrought themselves into
The hands and houses of I know not who?


'Tis true, some have of late, to counterfeit
My Pilgrim, to their own my Title set;
Yea others half my Name and Title too
Have stitched to their Book, to make them do;
But yet they by their Features do declare
Themselves not mine to be, whose ere they are.

If such thou meetst with, then thine only way
Before them all is to say out thy say,
In thine own native language, which no man
Now useth, nor with ease dissemble can.
If after all they still of you shall doubt,
Thinking that you like Gipsies go about
In naughty wise the Country to defile,
Or that you seek good people to beguile
With things unwarrantable; send for me,
And I will testifie you Pilgrims be;
Yea, I will testifie that only you
My Pilgrims are; and that alone will do.

November 22, 2006

"Priceless" Knockoff

Getting ready to break out the MasterCard for Black Friday shopping?  Just remember, there are some things money can't buy....

Thanks to Doc Proteus for the "commercial."  And don't forget to check out law prof Vic Fleischer's insights into the priceless brand's IPO. 

November 21, 2006

Mind the Gep

Thanks to Flickr photographer Johann Espiritu.

November 20, 2006

The Liar's Paradox

The Cretans are always liars.


(A Cretan philosopher, of course.)

The trademark version of this classic logic puzzle, along with very possibly the perfect final exam question, has been posted by Frederic Glaize at Le petit Musee des Marques.

A trademark of the word "COUNTERFEIT" -- for clothing and accessories, no less? 

Setting aside conundrums of registrability (and yes, there's an English-language U.S. counterpart), imagine a "COUNTERFEIT®" handbag that is allegedly counterfeited by another handbag maker and clearly labeled "COUNTERFEIT."  Which is the real counterfeit?  Exactly.

Bill Cunningham for the New York Times December 5 2004

Bonus point:  What iconic starship captain was a master of using the liar's paradox to attack unfriendly artificial intelligences?

November 19, 2006

Like Cabbage for Sauerkraut

For those of you who read last week's Knockoff News and wondered what a million pairs of shoes look like, check out my closet this slideshow, courtesy of my student Louis Abrams. 

Below:  One very satisfied-looking German customs official (in sensible shoes, of course) presides over the shredding of the counterfeits. 

German customs officer Petra Lotzin

November 18, 2006

Ella-mentary, my dear Watson

So, you think that the Canal Street provenience of your "replica" handbag has gone unnoticed, and that you've committed the perfect fashion crime?  Not so fast -- Designer Ella is on the case.  Head over to Pursed Lips, where she discusses (and dismisses) six common reasons for buying counterfeits.  

November 16, 2006

Spying in Style

During World War II, propagandists on both sides turned to clothing and textiles to spread their messages.  From a jacket warning, "You never know who's listening," to scarves and posters reminding citizens to "keep it under your hat,"  anti-espionage themes were prominent.

Today, stylish spies like Mata Hari and James Bond are the stuff of history and fiction, but espionage is alive and well in the world of fashion.  In recent weeks I have heard tales from several different indie boutiques in New York, all of which have had experiences with not-so-subtle industry copyists.  The bored-looking man taking photos of dresses, the woman carefully examining the interior construction of a dress and taking notes, the imperious customer snatching up creative designs without regard to size and then paying with a corporate card -- any of these may be corporate spies.  Vendors displaying their newest designs at trade shows are particularly vulnerable, as the brave and passionate Knitgrrl Shannon Okey describes. 

Even the virtual world is crawling with copyists -- or copybots, as the case may be.  Not only do designs from the real world cross the digital divide, but virtual world designs (which sell for real money) are frequently copied.  Marty Schwimmer at The Trademark Blog has a brilliant report on the latest online design thief, a program named CopyBot has been released into SecondLife.  This program, which takes the onscreen form of a character, can copy anything within its proximity -- clothes, hairstyles, you name it.  A character who unsuspectingly approaches the CopyBot may thus find her outfit cloned or, as Marty puts it, "an avatar dress shop becomes as vulnerable to counterfeiting as any commercial enterprise."  Most interesting of all, it's been captured on video, morphing into various avatars as it approaches them -- the ultimate illicit intelligence-gathering, and a fascinating must-see

A creator may try to keep her newest ideas secret, at least long enough to sell her work or fashion an original avatar.  But it's tough to "keep it under your hat" when the hat itself is the target.   

November 14, 2006

Knockoff News 40

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

And if you thought that doing your own laundry was a chore, just wait until you read this:

November 13, 2006

Web surfers, like, like Like.com

Are you more attuned to visual cues than verbal ones?  Or do you simply want to find a bag that looks like the one your favorite celebrity was carrying last week?

If so, the new search engine Like.com is designed for you.

Not only can you search by description -- say, "gold evening bag" -- but once you see an "almost right" photo, you can also isolate parts of the image -- the handle, for example -- and find similar items.  Unlike other search engines, the response to your queries comes in the form of thumbnail pictures, so you can scan through and select only the ones with immediate visual appeal.  You can also click on a photo of a celebrity for recent pictures and then find accessories similar to those that he or she was wearing.  If you buy one of the items that you've found, Like.com gets a cut.  The selection of both celebrities and categories of goods is limited thus far, but plans for expansion are in the words. 

Copycat caution?  It seems that Like.com has thus far set out to avoid liability by not linking to "replica" sites that infringe the trademarks of famous brands.  Searches for "counterfeit" and "knockoff" came up empty, and "replica" appeared to generate only legitimate goods that include the word in their descriptions (e.g. "WWII replica olive drab combat pack").  But what about poor-quality, obvious copies that infringe neither U.S. copyright nor trademark law, but are nevertheless the bane of original designers?  Such slavish copies are certainly out there, but hopefully good taste will prevail, among Counterfeit Chic readers at least.  Still, I would imagine that even though the search engine is a technology that is "capable of substantial noninfringing use," as the copyright analysis would prescribe, well-known and frequently knocked-off companies are keeping Like.com in their sights for now. 

All in all, Like.com attempts to address the fact that shopping for fashion items is a visual exercise, while searching the internet has until now relied on more precise verbal cues.  While the site is designed to help users follow trends, it's own approach to style is rather more groundbreaking. 

Many thanks to the generous and vigilant Frederic Glaize of Le petit Musee des Marques for sending me the tip last week.  There is also an article on Like.com in today's New York Times.

Fixing Fakes

What happens to counterfeit merchandise after it has been stopped at customs?  Some is destroyed, some is redistributed (a controversial practice), and some is altered and made legitimate by Barry Forman.

The middle column of today's Wall Street Journal reports that "Mr. Fix-It," a rag trade veteran, has established a business that corrects errors made in overseas garment factories but not discovered until the merchandise reaches the U.S.  From sleeve lengths to weak seams, mistakes that would otherwise result in rejection of the goods can be corrected by Santa Fe Finishing.

Among the problems that call for Forman's expertise are counterfeit goods that have been confiscated by customs.  While some are presumably beyond repair, others can be salvaged with minor alterations that remove the offending trademarks.  As the WSJ reports:

In late August, for instance, 17,000 denim pants made in a Chinese factory were confiscated at the port of Long Beach, after U.S. customs officials determined that the zippers on the garments were counterfeits of a Japanese fastening brand called YKK.

To get out of the jam, a representative for the brand called on Mr. Forman.  Fifteen employees headed to the warehouse and set up a makeshift factory, complete with lamps, tables, and tools.  They spent the next five days grinding off the fake YKK marks with handheld drills.  Because the pants now had generic zippers -- rather than counterfeit YKK's -- U.S. customs officials approved the change and let the jeans enter the country, just one week late.

If that's all it takes to fix a fake, then let 'er zip!

Blouse zipper with counterfeit YKK erased

November 12, 2006


incredible (adj.)

1.  so extraordinary as to seem impossible

2.  not credible; hard to believe; unbelievable

The following message, featuring superhero Captain Rochester and villain Count DerFitter, was created by Hatchling and Rochester Electronics "to clearly illustrate the potential disastrous result of a counterfeit device in a critical application." 


The incredible part?  Captain Rochester is a knockoff of writer/director Brad Bird's Mr. Incredible, right down to the theme music.  Lest you doubt, check out the tags accompanying the clip on YouTube.

November 11, 2006

Further Ruminations

During the wonderful year I spent in Little Rock, Arkansas, as a law clerk to The Honorable Morris Sheppard Arnold, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, I learned a great deal about jurisprudence.  I also added a number of colorful new expressions to my vocabulary, including one of my favorites, "I [just about/haven't quite] chewed all the sugar out of that gum."  In other words, "I [have/have not] finished with that subject."

Judging by your emails, I haven't quite chewed all of the sugar out of the Chewy Vuiton [sic] case, a.k.a. Louis Vuitton Malletier SA v. Haute Diggity Dog, LLC.  In a decision handed down last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (a.k.a. the rocket docket) granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, a manufacturer of products for pampered pooches.  The line of dog beds and toys includes a number of humorous versions of luxury brands, including Furrari, Jimmy Chew, Sniffany & Co., Chewel #5...and, of course, the Chewy Vuiton "handbag" toys and beds at issue in the case.  (They're even labeled "parody items" -- probably a lawyer's idea.)

LV Cerises and Multicolore patterns

Haute Diggity Dog parodies

The court, in a "punny" opinion tailor-made for law school casebooks, analyzed claims of trademark infringement, dilution, counterfeiting, and copyright, concluding in each instance that either Haute Diggity Dog had engaged in legimate parody or Louis Vuitton had failed to make its case.  The most interesting part of the opinion, legally speaking, is that it is the first case to address the Trademark Dilution Revision Act, which became law on October 6, 2006. 

In trademark law, the basic standard for infringement is "likelihood of consumer confusion."  Just like famous people, however, famous trademarks are surrounded by additional security.  If a trademark is famous, e.g. Louis Vuitton, the trademark holder need not prove a likelihood of confusion, but only (under the new act) a likelihood of dilution.  This dilution may take the form of making the famous mark less distinctive because there are so many other similar marks out there (dilution by blurring) or harming the reputation of the famous mark by associating it with certain other goods (dilution by tarnishment). 

The Trademark Dilution Revision Act in some ways makes life easier for the owners of famous marks, who now need only prove likelihood of dilution rather than actual dilution, but it also clarifies a number of "fair use" exceptions to infringement.  Among these fair uses is parody, which essentially takes legal notice of our collective sense of humor.  

Although Louis Vuitton brought its action against Haute Diggity Dog well before the new law took effect, it requested an injunction against sales of Chewy Vuiton merchandise.  Since an injunction by definition affects future rather than past action, the court concluded that the new act should apply -- and thus based its analysis of trademark dilution (including the parody defense) on new rather than old law. 

Although a parody defense can be enough to drive a trademark owner barking mad (OK, tried to resist; couldn't), it is based on the fact that our cultural referents are often commodified.  We no longer sit and tell stories around the fire; we sit around watching programs and ads on television (which Marshal McLuhan reportedly called "the campfire of the global village").  If Louis Vuitton has become cultural shorthand for high-end luxury goods, it's no wonder that the owners of cultivated canines are amused by the recursive reference. 

Does that mean that LV can't protect its trademarks against blatant copying or individuals who are simply trying to trade on the famous name?  Surely not.  But if an allegedly infringing copy makes the judge laugh, things don't look good for the trademark owner.

November 09, 2006

Faking It

Here's proof that in our modern media culture, ads are often more revealing than the editorial content:

Tab ad in Vogue

Apparently the Coca-Cola company's ideal woman prefers her fashion accessories real but is willing to fake her, er, other sensory experiences.  What better to fuel this fabulous lifestyle than the latest version of the Totally Artificial Beverage?  (No, that's not the official explanation of the name, but if the shoe fits....)  Pity that pink beverages went out of style with the finale of Sex and the City.

Click here for the full-page ad.

Likelihood of Comprehension

Knockoff News fans should head over to Ron Coleman's clever and informative Likelihood of Confusion site for an interesting analysis of yesterday's first item, "Take a hike: Counterfeits affect Russian economy," an article on counterfeit products.  After looking at the picture, Ron asks whether the item depicts counterfeiting or trademark infringement.  Take note, those of you getting ready to study for finals!

But there's one additional factor to play with:  in the Cyrillic alphabet, the letter "H" is pronounced like the Latin "N."  If only the first letter of the "NIKE" mark is altered (with the rest remaining in the Latin original), we end up with "HIKE."  Interesting local hybrid, da? 

(The subject of translated, transliterated, and homophonic infringements is a tale for another day, but in the meantime, click here for advice on trademark registration in Russia.)

November 08, 2006

Knockoff News 39

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

Nike knockoff 

And for the oenophiles out there, it's not just faux wine that can worsen a hangover -- it's the accessories as well:

BuiltNY wine tote

November 06, 2006

Line-for-Line Knockoff

Some people are shopaholics, others are fashion victims, and a few are even consumer triumphalists (marching under the venerable banner, "Veni, Vidi, Visa!").  But there's only one Professor of Obsessive Consumption, graphic design prof Kate Bingaman of MSU.  After spending 28 months documenting her purchases with whimsical line drawings, she is now in the process of drawing her credit card statements -- a task that will continue until they are paid off. 

But in the meantime, shopping trips continue to inspire, as evidenced by the Louis Vuitton lookalike cosmetic bag that Kate found -- and caricatured -- during a recent trip to Wal-Mart:

Walmart Vuitton knockoff

Many thanks to Rob Walker for introducing me to Kate's website via his own marvelously all-consuming online venue, Murketing.  And if you happened to miss Rob's "Consumed" column in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, by all means pull it out of your recycling bin.  This week is on the vogue for eco-friendly bamboo, which appears to be driven in part by the fact that bamboo is so good at mimicking other things.  Counterfeit chic, indeed!

November 05, 2006

Watch Out

In the market for a Patek Philippe Nautilus?  This 5-minute video offers an up-close look at a reasonably convincing fake -- and lets you know what to look for in the real thing:


And for more on counterfeit watches, check out the Replica Watch Report

November 04, 2006

Online (Mind)Gaming

In May, Christina Passariello reported in the Wall Street Journal that luxury brands were (cautiously) risking their cultivated airs of exclusivity and experimenting with direct online sales.  In today's WSJ, she once again announces this trend, complete with a repeat reference to counterfeits as one of the driving forces behind it:

The Internet's reputation as a host for discount shopping and bargain-basement deals, epitomized by retailers like eBay and Amazon, has until now been a turn off for luxury-goods players.  Brands have largely focused instead on developing their roadside store networks, where they say they can better control their image.

But the absence of real luxury players online created a void that counterfeiters have filled.  Experts say that by opening a certified store online, fashion houses can help combat that troubling phenomenon.  For instance, Hermes's site warns consumers that other sites might be passing off fake or damaged goods.

As long as we're recycling vintage commentary, Counterfeit Chic's response the first time was essentially that while some customers want fakes priced at next-to-nothing, others may be willing to pay for authenticity, quality, and condition. 

There's another point to be made, though.  While today's article emphasizes that the online likes of Bottega Veneta and Gucci won't be emulating plebian tactics like pre-holiday deals or post-Christmas price-slashing, the decision to allow shoppers in Peoria or Timbuktu direct access to luxury goods might address another populist issue. 

Fashion houses spend large amounts of money advertising products through mass-market venues -- ads in Vogue, Elle, or Harper's Bazaar, for example.  Not only is the average reader unable to afford these goods, at least not on a regular basis, but unless she happens to live in a large, urban area or ponies up the price of a plane ticket, she might never even be offered the opportunity to buy them.  And if she does manage to visit an elegant jewel box of a boutique in one of the globe's high-rent districts, it's unlikely that the hot item she covets will actually be available. 

Luxury brands have for years followed the strategy of creating artificial scarcity and thus unrequited desire in consumers, and then channeling it into more accessible lifestyle goods available at a local department store.  $80 perfume, say, rather than an $1800 handbag.  Consumers are nevertheless to some degree left with induced but unsatisfied demand for the latest "it" bag, gown, or watch photographed along with Kate, Uma, or [insert celebrity here].  In an era when we consider ourselves to be on a first-name basis with not only glittering models and actresses but also world-famous cobblers and tailors, this standoffishness is bound to generate some resentment toward brands that seduce but fail to deliver.  Hence one frequently observed phenomenon among consumers who buy counterfeits:  desire for the design, but resentment of the brand. 

If at least some high-end luxury goods are no more than a click away, however, some of that consumer resentment may be dissipated.  True, brands will have to negotiate a delicate balance between availability and exclusivity in order to maintain their luxury status.  But even the appearance of access may (despite accompanying sticker shock) mask the unpleasant odor of elitism. 

In other words, combatting counterfeiting isn't just about law enforcement.  It's about consumer psychology -- and what better place to begin than when we're already at home on our couches?

November 03, 2006

Shod for Success

As a law professor, I regularly receive questions from students about appropriate dress for interviews, etc., which I am happy to answer.  Still, while clothing is not only about individual self-expression but about communicating membership in particular social groups, it is nevertheless a bit disheartening that the sartorial aspects of one's legal education are directed to little more than conformity.  (Learn to think like a lawyer, learn to speak like a lawyer, learn to dress like a lawyer....)

It was thus with great glee that I read the response of the internet shoe bard extraordinaire, The Manolo, to the proud but concerned mother of a newly minted young attorney.  It takes true talent to craft a recommendation so simultaneously accurate and scathing.

The Manolo suggests Albion by Ben Sherman

The Manolo was, of course, too polite to address the other question implicit in the request for advice.  Mum, if your darling boy is so successful, why are you still picking out his shoes?

November 02, 2006

Knockoff News 38

And a counterfeit shopping excursion to the asphalt jungle yields not only handbags but hieroglyphics:

The cutting-edge collage is the work of artist Judith Supine.  But is the underlying graffito (yes, that's really the singular) "real" urban street art or a commercial imitation?  You decide. 

November 01, 2006

Doggerel Fight

Jack Spade dressed men in style,

  and Canal Street offered fakes.

Jack fought back with a wink and smile,

  but Marc Jacobs raised the stakes.


Now Jack's headed uptown,

where fashionisti abound,

to put his campaign on the map.


So Saturday, if you please,

drop into Barneys,

and ask "Jack" to initial your cap!

Click here for more details.