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January 31, 2007

Subway Chic

Valerie Salembier

Was the elegant publisher of Harper's Bazaar, Valerie Salembier, spotted riding the New York City subway this morning?  In a manner of speaking, yes, but only to further her commitment to a cause.  Call it subway evangelism -- and check out her Metro interview here.

And any guess as to what percentage of readers were actually carrying counterfeit bags at the time? 

Many thanks to Jennifer Spencer for saving me the article -- I certainly wasn't that awake and alert during my commute!

Purse Party Planners on Trial

Remember when police busted up parties because teenagers were playing their music too loud?  Now it's their moms who have to worry. 

A front-page story in yesterday's Washington Post reports that a father-and-son team are scheduled to go on trial today for supplying counterfeit purses to everyone from suburban hostesses to mall kiosks in the D.C. area.  Following up a tip from a purse partygoer who suspected -- shock! -- that $40 Prada bags and their ilk weren't exactly on the level , federal agents ultimately seized some 30,000 handbags from a Northern Virginia warehouse. 

Perhaps even more interesting were over 100 phony Kate Spade labels stashed in a desk drawer at the warehouse, waiting to be affixed to otherwise legally untouchable "generic" bags -- which may just happen to look exactly like the designer originals.  As the article notes:

Court documents say the Ohris were told by some malls to stop selling counterfeit goods but ignored the warnings. But Suzette Timme, general manager of the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, where the family operated two kiosks, said mall security never noticed any problem.

"They were just selling generic bags with no labels," Timme said. 

Sounds like this time the authorities found the smoking glue gun.

Many thanks to both my former Georgetown law student Jacob Howley and my father for sending the story (told you I was a native Washingtonian!).

January 30, 2007

Knockoff News 48

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

And finally, an allegedly treif trademark use, brought to you courtesy of the letter "K":


Of course, the complaining New Jersey company doesn't really own the letter "K," which is not registrable on its own.  Kof-K owns a mark consisting of the Roman letter "K" printed inside the Hebrew letter "kof," one of dozens of kosher certification marks currently registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

So even if Kof-K isn't willing to supervise production and certify Tight Fit Productions' products as kosher, surely someone will volunteer for the job....

UPDATE:  For a tasty and tasteful take on this issue, check out the inimitable Likelihood of Confusion.  

January 29, 2007

Ass Bite

Today's New York Times has annointed Levi's as "the most litigious in the apparel industry when it comes to trademark infringement lawsuits."  While I suspect that this dubious title may be contestable by any number of other companies, particularly were global legal activity included, Levi's does seem to be determined that its double-arc pocket stitching not become a generic inscription on competitors' backsides:

Robert Hanson, Levi's North American president, has a few choice words for alleged trademark infringers:

Instead of relying on Levi's designs for what he called a "running start," competitors should look for other devices that don't come remotely close to the Levi's trademarks," Mr. Hanson said.  "Be more innovative."

While some denim designers deny copying Levi's and characterize the lawsuits as a desperate effort to reinvigorate a tired company, others are bolder:

"Everyone is borrowing from them, it's inevitable," said Michael Silver, the founder of Silver Jeans, who has had several legal run-ins with Levi's.  "They should be happy that people are copying them," he said. 

Fashion designs themselves, of course, are not protected under U.S. law.  Even if they were, a basic idea like denim jeans would long since have been part of the public domain, as would any number of classic styles.  It seems, however, that in their zeal for copying, some clothing companies may be taking trademarks along with the designs to which they are affixed. 

It remains to be seen whether these alleged infringers have bitten off more than they can chew.

UPDATE:  You’ve just got to see The Trademark Blog’s ass-essment of this issue.  Indescribable—and NSFW!

January 27, 2007

The Mirror Neurons Made Me Do It

Ever wonder why yawns are contagious, or why we feel the pain of a fictional onscreen character (at least until the credits roll)?  It turns out that a team of neuroscientists at the University of Parma in Italy know the answer, or at least the beginnings of it. 

It turns out that our brains are laced with "mirror neurons," which fire not only when we perform an action but also when we see someone else perform that action.  These neurons thus play a role in everything from learning to walk and talk to demonstrating feelings of empathy.  Some scientists have even theorized that the development of human culture, from making tools to visiting the same websites, is the product of advances in these neurons' mimetic capacity.  Even some negative behaviors, like copycat crimes, may be related to the activity of mirror neurons. 

So the next time you're tempted to pay a hefty price for the latest celebrity-endorsed "it" bag, or to buy a knockoff of a style you don't even particularly like but everyone is wearing, don't blame the machinations of the advertising industry.  Just look in the mirror. 

Alfred Stevens La Parisienne Japonaise

January 25, 2007

Broad Daylight Sneakerjacking?

Cool urban streetwear is hot -- so much so that a recent counterfeit bust in New York netted more fake streetwear items than luxury items. 

The catch in creating a brand based on attitude rather than luxe, however, is that anything less than real is likely to lose respect -- fast.  Check out Complex.com's must-read post on the Puma sneakers (below right) versus the more recent BAPEs.  Once you discount the color schemes and the different logos, the designs are suspiciously similar....

Many thanks to Bucky for his sharp eye and sharper prose!

January 24, 2007

Manufacturing Authenticity

Which is more "authentic," a counterfeit or the real thing? 

75 years ago, when John Dewey gave the series of lectures at Harvard that ultimately became Art as Experience, he argued that works of "art" are too often perceived and analyzed in isolation, apart from human interaction with them. 

Abe Burmeister at Abstract Dynamics makes a similar point about consumer goods.  Bored by the hype of artificial scarcity and the carefully cultivated images of luxury brands, he writes, "When it comes to telling a story you see, the counterfeits are the real deal, whatever authenticity they lack on the branding and legal sides they more than make up on their backstreets round the world journeys."  Interesting perspective, even if it perhaps underestimates the agency of global counterfeiters -- and no doubt a cultural analysis of the movement of fakes from original target selection to unmonitored factory to consumers with mixed motives would be quite revealing. 

On the other hand, do I perceive a bit of reverse snobbery here?  If we peel back the layers of public image management, the culture of creative designers and their material responses to the moment (high-tech accessories, eco-friendly fashion, and the occasional political statement, as well as more abstract responses to the zeitgeist) is an equally fascinating subject of study -- as are their clientele.  Certainly the recent popularity of fashion shows, the creation of documentaries and fashion reality TV, and the transformation of designers into public figures indicates a desire among consumers for this particular art as experience.

So which is more "authentic"?  Even if authenticity means gritty or small scale, as opposed to glossy or corporate -- e.g. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, rather than Manhattan's Upper East Side, or a local diner rather than Starbucks -- it's not clear that the massive trade in copies of certain goods is any less planned or manipulative than legal channels (even if it's less regulated, taxed, etc.).  The image of the rogue counterfeiter may be imbued with a certain subversive appeal, but the reality is at least as commercial and corporate as the real thing (without the advertising budget, true, but without the creative expression either).  Rodeo Drive and Canal Street both have "street cred" -- just in different forms.

As Rob Walker has observed (with great insight), selling oneself is no longer the equivalent of selling out.  A new generation has discovered branding as a personal attribute, and as the person becomes the persona, our conception of the authentic may have to change as well. 

January 23, 2007

Knockoff News 47

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

And finally, an example of cultural appropriation that will either promote world peace or cause yet another rift in the Middle East -- you decide:

Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin

PROPONENTS' VIEW:  "Once Israelis adopt the accessory, it will create "a common denominator" with their neighbors."

OPPONENTS' VIEW:  "Some [Palestinians] already see the Israeli keffiyeh as threatening to appropriate yet another trademark element of their culture (see: hummus, nargila water pipes and belly dancing)."

FASHIONISTA'S VIEW:  "It can go with the relaxed look of the backpackers who return from abroad and like to layer themselves in textile wraps."

Now there's a question for the Miss Universe pageant.

January 21, 2007

Father What-a-Waste

First the pope wore Prada -- or not.  Now Versace has got religion, after a fashion.

Former Catholic schoolgirls (and some schoolboys) from the days before scandals and lawsuits rocked the Church will remember Father What-a-Waste -- the handsome, young, charismatic priest in almost every parish who inspired everyone from giggling adolescents to little old ladies to "love thy neighbor."  Alas, celibacy.

Donatella Versace has copied the look for a collection based on Father Georg Gaenswein, the pope's handsome -- and much gossiped-about -- private secretary.  (The question, of course, is exactly how private.)  In addition to his priestly duties, Father G is a tennis player and an amateur pilot.  What's next -- a Vatican lifestyle collection? 

No word on whether Versace intends to tithe a portion of the profits.

January 18, 2007

Is it or isn't it?

We see the real ones and the fakes masquerading as real all the time.  Now and then we even see a fake admitting its real identity (and thus staying on the right side of the law).  

So what's left?  Real Louis Vuitton "Speedy" bags labeled as "FAKE" by Korean artist Zinwoo Park, currently part of an exhibit on Andy Warhol and Korean pop art at Ssamzie Gallery.   

by Zinwoo Park

Naturally, there's a commercial tie-in:  the faux/real Speedies have been photographed and silkscreened onto canvas shopping bags, which are for sale.  Andy would've been proud.

Thanks to Buddha Baby for posting the photo!

January 17, 2007

On Exhibit

If you happen to be in the nation's capitol this evening, feel free to drop by the Corcoran Gallery of Art at 7pm to hear me speak on a panel about -- what else? -- copyrighting fashion.  Wall Street Journal reporter Teri Agins, who essentially created the field of fashion business journalism, will be signing copies of her book afterwards. 

The dress code is creative, of course. 

January 16, 2007

Pelosi's Power Pearls

Jackie wore fakes that charmed her children -- and that ultimately sold at auction for $211,500.

Barbara Bush wore fakes to hide her neck wrinkles -- courtesy of star costume jewlery designer Kenneth Jay Lane.

Nancy Pelosi sworn in 4 January 2007Now another important woman in Washington has made pearls her signature -- only this time, they're real. 

Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, apparently shares my weakness for South Sea pearls, including the champage strand that she wore with a plum suit for her swearing-in.  It seems that with real power comes real jewelry (even if the ornament of choice for women in politics is soft, round, and usually pale -- but that's an analysis for another day).

Of course, if you're still working your way up to that kind of authority, tips for sourcing pearls of much better price abound -- real or fake.  Then again, authenticity -- like authority -- may be relative

January 15, 2007

Knockoff News 46

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

And for those fans preparing to sit back and enjoy the annual marketing contest that is Hollywood's awards season, here are a couple of reminders that images on film are not always what they seem (and that New York isn't particularly happy about it):

January 13, 2007

Diamond Conflicts

If there's a sparkle in your eye that can only be matched by a certain stone, but you're concerned about the evils of conflict diamonds, don't sigh and reach for that cubic zirconia yet.  You could opt for a certified rock with peaceful provenance -- or you could wait for the latest crop of lab-grown diamonds to be harvested.

As Counterfeit Chic discussed last spring, several companies have developed cost-efficient methods of creating gem-quality diamonds without waiting millions of years for Mother Nature.  They're physically and chemically identical to the real thing, not associated with bloody civil wars, environmentally friendly, and less expensive.  An update in the Wall Street Journal also indicates that their size and commercial availability are increasing -- watch the red carpet this Hollywood awards season for details.

Of course, the diamond industry is preparing for a war of its own, not least over nomenclature.  Are the new stones "cultured" or "synthetic"?  Expect an administrative and legal battle over that one, all in the name of consumer protection.  If the history of pearls is any indication, however, devising a retronym for what we now call simply "diamonds" is an equally compelling task -- "mined diamonds" or "real diamonds"? 

Of course, the industry would probably find almost anything preferable to "blood diamonds."

January 12, 2007

Von Dutch Treat

Remember a few years ago, when Von Dutch trucker hats were inexplicably "in," appearing on the heads of celebrities around the globe ... and then teenagers at the mall ... and then tourists buying fakes on Canal Street? 

Now that the brief trend has been filed in the "what were people thinking?" category, and Von Dutch hats aren't exactly the popular target of copyists that they used to be, the brand's New York boutique has created a new window display.

The T-shirt caption reads:

Use any of my stuff you want to.  Nothing is original!  Everything is in the subconscious, we just "tap" it sometimes and think we have originated something.  Genes make us more or less interested in certain things but nothing is truely [sic] original!  Copyrights and patents are mostly an ego trip. 

In other words, "Copy us please -- we need to prove that we're still cool"?  Not so much.  Otherwise folks might simply take the store's advice and buy a cheaper fake.

Then again, the T-shirt doesn't say anything about copying the Von Dutch trademarks, which were the real target

January 10, 2007

Geek Chic

If the trend toward integrating electronics and fashion continues, debates over whether clothing should be copyrightable may be moot -- and the Patent Office may have to hire a design expert or two.  

High-tech clothing is no longer limited to practical but unglamorous items like antibacterial socks or temperature-controlled mittens.  Technical wizardry took a spin on the runway this spring, with Hussein Chalayan's automatically transforming and self-undressing clothes.  (Caution:  The looks below are safe for work, but you may wish to look over your shoulder before clicking the link!)

Hussein Chalayan Spring 2007

Now WWD's Cate Corcoran offers a report on still more computerized apparel and accessories, from a programmable circuit board minidress by Despina Papadopoulos to an umbrella that will check the weather forecast for you. 

Smart looks, indeed.  Of course, putting your various electronic devices through airport security may prove something of a challenge.

January 09, 2007

Knight in Shining Armor

Many lawyers and law students remember their first days of law school, when they dreamt of justice and worthy causes -- only to find that most of their studies were about rules and regulations.  Some attorneys, however, steadfastly pursue their missions and are recognized accordingly.  Alain Coblence is one of these legal luminaries.  

The newly dubbed Sir Alain, if I may mix traditions and honorifics, was recently named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.  He has been a consultant to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Federation Francaise de la Couture, and the Camera Nationale della Moda Italiana, and he practices in both New York and Paris.  All of this leaves one small dilemma, however:  metallics are "in" for Spring, yes, but where does one actually find a suit of shining armor these days?



January 08, 2007

Weighing In

Velvet dAmour for GaultierSo, it's been a week -- how's the New Year's diet going?  Ever since calories became plentiful and most jobs sedentary, those of us living in industrialized societies have been putting on weight and idealizing slenderness.  Sometimes to extremes.

Starting last September, when the Asociacion Creadores de Moda de Espana banned too-skinny models from the Madrid runways, the fashion industry and its critics have once again been buzzing about the effects of unrealistic fashion images on the impressionable young girls of the world. 

Amid pious statements about healthy bodies and realistic body image, however, were overheard mutterings about the far more common issue of obesity.  Fashion's bad boy, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, even sent plus-size model Velvet d'Amour down the catwalk alongside the usual stick insects. 

Then, in November, the unfortunately named Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston collapsed on a fashion shoot.  She was 21 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighed just over 80 pounds.  Her subsequent death from anorexia may be part of a tragic wave that calls to mind The Sorrows of Young WertherIt also reignited the debate over the inner workings of the industry and its responsbility toward not only models themselves, but also ordinary young women who somehow believe that extreme dieting will enable them to attain measurements accessible only through genetic fortune or Photoshop. 

Ana Carolina RestonThis time a major fashion capital, Milan, joined Madrid.  In December, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana announced plans to require that models demonstrate that they are at least 16 years old and have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 18 before being granted a license to walk the city's runways.  The guidelines are not absolute, however; factors such as the model's ethnicity and geographical origin may be taken into account.  (Not that anyone really understands this qualification -- are Americans, say, expected to be chubbier than average?  Bring on the Coca-Cola and M&Ms!)

What, then, of the Council of Fashion Designers of America?  Thus far, the CFDA has assembled a committee of fashion and health professionals to address the issue.  Although its guidelines have not been announced, criticism has already ensued.  Let the great weight debate begin. 

In the meantime, CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg had sent out the following general statement:

As designers, we cannot ignore the impact fashion has on body image.  We share a responsibility to protect women, and very young girls in particular, within the industry, sending the message that health is beauty.  It is undeniable that the fashion industry has a huge imact on young women, so it is very important that we encourage and promote good health as beauty, and empower these women to want to take care of themselves.  The entire industry has to remain sensitive and aware of this issue, but should not discriminate [emphasis added].

Interesting point.  Could insisting that designers hire only models who are healthy, or at least appear so, constitute discrimination?  While a brief survey of federal antidiscrimination cases indicates that most issues involve overweight rather than underweight plaintiffs, it appears that an eating disorder could qualify as a disability. 

According to one federal definition, a disability is "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual"  or "being regarded as having such an impairment."  29 CFR 1630.2(g) (regarding the equal employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act).  Although eating is not among the "major life activities" named in the regulations, the list is not exhaustive -- and it does include "caring for oneself," which arguably includes feeding oneself.  If that is the case, refusing to hire a model because she has an eating disorder, or appears to have one, could be actionable. 

Given the complexities of both federal and state laws related to employment discrimination, the CFDA will have to draft its guidelines with care.  Designers might be best advised simply to predicate their model hiring decisions upon aesthetics -- which is, after all, their specialty.  And if that aesthetic includes actual flesh to go along with skin and bones, so much the better. 

Speaking of aesthetics, it's also worth noting that while current fashion may favor the ultrathin, beauty does not.  Medical school professor Nancy Etcoff, in her book Survival of the Prettiest, explains that across cultures average-sized women with a waist-to-hip ratio of .7 are considered the most attractive.  This number correlates with both general health and fertility and holds true across body types -- Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn shared this hourglass proportion, albeit in different sizes.  In other words, beautiful women deposit hip fat, and its absence is an artificial departure from aesthetic norms.  Etcoff's prediction?

...extreme thinness is bound to go the way of three-foot-high hair and the eight-foot-wide skirt.  There is nowhere to go with it:  models can't get any thinner, and fashion never stays in one place. 

Perhaps formal regulation of models' heights and weights is thus unnecessary, and the fashion world is simply participating in a new trend.  One bit of anecdotal evidence supports Etcoff's thesis:  a few seasons ago, my esteemed colleague and spouse accompanied me to a fashion show consisting only of bathing suits.  (What was I thinking?!  But read on....)  Apart from one well-known supermodel, who was slender but athletic-looking, the models were walking skeletons -- the audience could count every rib and vertebra, breasts and buttocks were nonexistent, and some of the pelvic bones looked as though they would poke through the skin at any moment.  My companion's response?  Shock, disgust, and pity. 

Reader, I married him.

January 07, 2007

Knockoff News 45

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

And for those of you whose cosy midwinter fantasies include briefs about briefs -- or at least a leading manufacturer thereof -- here are a couple of not-so-sweet nothings:

January 03, 2007

Counterfeit Cooperation

Ever wonder how hundreds of street vendors around the world seem to be selling the same merchandise displayed on the same white sheets at the same time for the same prices? 

In an article on Senegalese immigrants to Italy, the Economist pulls back the veil on an organized expatriate community of counterfeit handbag salesmen.  Many are members of the Muslim Mouride movement, and they support both one another and their families back home:   

On the street, [Alioune] Ka greets fellow Mourides, who form cheerful, close-knit sub-groups.  Sellers of bags and belts, mostly made in China, gather to hone their techniques for dodging the police....

Once a week most Mourides in Rome gather to pray, socialise and see who needs help.

In other words, they're the perfect self-reliant, hardworking, future citizens -- with an illegal twist.

Street vendor in Venice

January 02, 2007

Double Exposure

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then street photographer Ricky Powell must have a pretty strong sense of self esteem.  Complex reports that his sneaker designs are so cool that they're already being copied -- by the photographer himself. 

Is it legal to knock yourself off?  Sure -- as long as your agreement with the first guy to use your copyrighted photo isn't exclusive.  If the photo was exclusively licensed to either Puma or Converse, however, there could be trouble.

From a design standpoint, Counterfeit Chic is as surprised as Complex that Ricky used the same image twice.  These dogs are tired. 

Many thanks to ANIMAL EIC Bucky Turco for the great tip!