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February 28, 2007

Paris Mashup

Yohji Yamamoto Fall 2007

Lest fashion ever be mistaken for merely a series of beautiful and covetable items of clothing, there are always a few avant-garde designers who provoke the question, "What was (s)he thinking?"  (Yes, my dear skeptical fellow academics, thinking.) 

This season Yohji Yamamoto's first look, a long coat, rolling suitcase, headwrap, and even boots splashed with a logo that was suspiciously but not completely familiar, was clearly a text to be deconstructed.  But what was the message?  A not-so-subtle dig at corporate power?  A comment on consumerism?  A nod to the ubiquity of the Louis Vuitton brand, even to the furthest traveled points on the globe?  And isn't the form of reference itself a bit recursive?  Only the toile will tell.

Setting questions of deeper meaning aside for the moment, can he do that?  That is to say, will Yohji's next design experiment involve classic prison stripes or orange jumpsuits? 

If Yamamoto were an unknown copyist instead of an internationally renowned designer producing an expensive collection, or if he had left his own "YY" initials out of the pattern, he might very well find police instead of buyers waiting back in the showroom.  The pattern, which he used in multiple looks, is so similar to the LV Monogram toile that absolutely noone in his audience could miss the reference -- but then, his own YY's are iconic in their own right.  Moreover, the publicity generated by this collection may serve to diffuse any likelihood of confusion, at least among the fashion-conscious consumers most likely to buy either label.

Still, unless you are a darling of the fashion intelligensia, don't try this at home.  And even if you are, make sure you keep your attorney on speed dial.

February 27, 2007

Lagerfeld's Labour's Lost

Courtney Love showed up at Paris Hilton's birthday party in L.A. wearing Chanel couture -- or did she?  The august fashion house says that only one original dress has ever been made, and that runway sample is still hanging in Paris.

While the test of true couture is the workmanship, which is best viewed in peson, the photographs appear to show differences in both the trim and size of the neckline.  Also, the patch pockets on the original are not visible on Love's dress.

Although copies are legal in the U.S., France protects fashion designs under both copyright and design laws.  WWD reports that designer Karl Lagerfeld is furious (a departure from his past statements about copying) and that Chanel officials are considering whether to take any action. 

Chanel couture original and copy on Courney

Chanel original (left) and Courtney's alleged copy.  Photos: Giovanni Giannoni.

A word of advice to Ms. Love:  The copy may be lovely in pictures, but it won't travel well -- especially to Paris.

February 26, 2007

Vintage Celebrity Knockoff

Amid this morning's post-Oscar chatter about which gowns were so safe as to be almost knockoffs themselves and which ones are likely to be knocked off for prom season, here's a look at a celebrity knockoff from an earlier era:


Peanuts, 11 April 1951

February 24, 2007

Knockoff News 51

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 tomorrow night's Academy Awards, when some will be looking at the dresses, others will be looking to knock off the dresses, and few (if any) will be listening to the speeches:

And during the commercials, check out Bronwyn Cosgrave's history of Oscar's fashion winners and losers.

Bronwyn Cosgrave Made for Each Other

As the Globe and Mail notes in its review:

Some gowns have caused a knockoff furor. The dress Halle Berry by Lebanese designer Elie Saab screamed in when she won for Monster's Ball launched his career and resulted in thousands of high schoolers strapping on voluminous burgundy skirts with embroidered tops.

Worst was the 1999 Gwyneth Paltrow prissiness by Ralph Lauren. The pink sweetheart gown she sobbed into was a huge hit in Wal-Marts everywhere for grad season.

Wonder what the odds are in Vegas for the celebrity gown most likely to be knocked off this year? 

February 22, 2007

Yankee Go Home

Although fashion journalists play an important role in disseminating information and enforcing social norms against copying, among other things, their negative comments are seldom appreciated.  New York Times critc Cathy Horyn, in particular, has drawn designers' ire of late, and she has reportedly been banned from the shows of Carolina Herrera, Nicole Miller, and Dolce & Gabbana. 

After Horyn's description of the trousers in Giorgio Armani's signature collection as "limp and clingy as gym pants," she may be exiled from the realm of Armani as well.  Although she denies ANSA's report that King George exiled her from the Emporio Armani show, which she hadn't planned to attend anyway, her diplomatic immunity has certainly been revoked.

Today's WWD quotes the Italian designer's reaction:

I wonder what kind of eyeglasses she's wearing....  She has the right to write; I have the right to keep her out....  If she would have said, 'I don't like it,' I would have accepted it. That would have been a commentary, while instead what she published was bull----.  I'm a true creative, not like the Americans who copy.

Ouch.  It seems that nobody likes Americans these days -- not that we've made ourselves particularly welcome. 

But who are these American copyists to whom Signor Armani refers?  It sounds like there's another story here.

Armani takes a bow

February 21, 2007

"Fake Classic" at Prada

Directional designer Miuccia Prada describes the concept for her Fall 2007 runway collection as "fake classic," with "no shapes, no volume, no couture, just something with very simple materials and colors."

Simple for Prada, that is.

The collection, created from Prada's characteristic experimental fabrics, included pieces that resembled everything from fur and feathers to shag carpet.  There was, however, no actual fur; apparently it's currently so common that Prada is "bored" with it.  At least one PETA protester was fooled and leapt onto the Milan runway with an anti-fur poster anyway -- or perhaps he just couldn't change plans quickly enough. 

Then again, few of us can keep up with Prada's forward-looking (if frankly not always flattering) vision. 

Fall 2006: Real fur sleeves on photo-print coat (Style.com); Fall 2007: Fuzzy fake (IHT). 

February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras Masquerades

Of all of the Carnival celebrations taking place this Fat Tuesday, from Rio to New Orleans, Venice is most renowned for its elaborate masks. 

But are those ubiquitous papier-mache or porcelain souvenirs really Venetian?  Not usually -- in fact, many still bear "Made in China" labels -- nor is most of the glass ostensibly from Murano or the lace from Burano genuine.  On my last trip to Venice, I spoke with a shop owner who had the following sign in his window:

Dear customer:  In this store you will find only original Murano glass, not horrendous copies made in China and other countries.  Therefore, if you're just looking for cheap souvenirs, this is not your shop.  Thank you. 

Marcello Ravanello, of Nason & Moretti, needed little prompting to express his disgust with the foreign imports masquerading as local products.  To further emphasize his civic and artistic pride, he even provided me with a (very short) list of art glass competitors who also sell the real thing. 

Of course, false appearances are the nature of a masquerade -- as apparent from 17 seconds of footage from last year's celebration in New Orleans, available here.  Truly a tradition worthy of Bakhtin

Happy Mardi Gras!

February 19, 2007

Critcal Mass 2

The fashion flock has left New York and passed through London on its way to Milan and Paris, so it's high time for Counterfeit Chic to gather up a few Fall 2007 copying-related comments from sharp-eyed fashion critics, editors, and others:

Derek Lam Fall 2007

The New York Times' Cathy Horyn and International Herald Tribune editor Suzy Menkes saw ghosts of Alaia everywhere (as did others, particularly at the Derek Lam show).  As Horyn noted:

About the only designer in New York who doesn’t attempt to resuscitate the dead is Narciso Rodriguez. I mean, if I see another Adrian, Mainbocher, Alaia or quietly finessed McCardell look…

Menkes went one step further, writing off the New York season almost entirely:

Ultimately, the New York shows remained stubbornly grounded, for instead of soaring to a new place, the collections were often tied to a retro futurism that took off with a Balenciaga show one year ago.

WWD reported on the response of Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent's longtime partner, to the YSL references in Marc Jacobs' collection:

"It's true that it's inspired by Saint Laurent," Berge mused.  "But it lacks the great precision of Saint Laurent."  Pausing, he added, "Still, it's better to be inspired by Saint Laurent than by John Galliano!"

Writing for Daily Fashion Report, Marilyn Kirshner described Michael Vollbracht's program notes for Bill Blass, which astutely headed off any charges of copying by acknowledging his sources in advance:

Several outfits were described as "Halston-like" or "Norell-like" and in his program notes, [Vollbracht] explained why he is "obsessed with the two legends."  As he put it, he "fell in love with his (Norell's) sequined mermaids years and years ago when I was a very young designer."  And Halston?  "Because his simple philosophy looks so good in this era of over-designing."  And he continued:  "And of course Blass - because it is my job to knock him off."  Michael not only has a sense of humor...but he's honest.

It would appear that copying is a dangerous game, at least when it comes to the critics, but "homage" may get the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps my favorite comment, though, came from Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at F.I.T.  When I ran into her at the Barneys party for the relaunch of the late Madeline Vionnet's label, she immediately reminded me that Vionnet herself had waged an ardent campaign against copying.  Good thing that the house's new design director, Sophia Kokosalaki, is doing a beautiful job! 

February 18, 2007

Happy Year of the Pig!

Chinese astrology predicts that new little piglets born during the upcoming year are destined to be lucky, but what do the stars foretell on the fake front?  Will China -- the United States' public enemy #1 with respect to counterfeit goods -- be plump and content, or greedy and lazy?  Either way, the U.S. Trade Representative will be watching, having recently postponed a threatened WTO action regarding China's intellectual property rights enforcement.  In the meantime, remember to check out the U.S. Department of Commerce webinar series on IPRs in China, as well as must-read blog IP Dragon.

And my lunar new year's gift to you?  A photographic reprise -- which turns out to involve allegations of a copying controversy of its own.

February 16, 2007

Joe Camel's Sex Change

The newest cigarette in Camel's stable, Camel No. 9, is an unabashed bid to lure female smokers to the historically macho brand -- just check out the hot pink and black packaging.  (Ahem.  Pause for station identification.)  Naturally, women's health advocates and concerned feminsts are up in arms -- but might they have a fashionable trademark ally as well?

As the New York Times notes, the new brand "has a name that evokes women’s fragrances like Chanel No. 19, as well as a song about romance, 'Love Potion No. 9.'" 

Hmmm.  CAMEL No. 9CHANEL No. 19.  Interesting point.

True, cigarettes and frangrance are quite different products.  On the other hand, some are sold through the same venues, e.g. drugstores.  And while the logos are quite different, the names  and use of the "No." abbreviation and similar typeface were at least close enough to form an association in the mind of one reporter. 

Moreover, Chanel No. 19 is arguably a well-known trademark, and the sometime association of cigarettes with glamour has been replaced in the modern era with images of lung cancer -- not exactly a connection that Chanel would wish to cultivate, despite the archival pictures of Mademoiselle with her smokes.

Horst photo of Coco Chanel 1937

Of course, like all cigarette packaging, this one comes with a disclaimer:

The “9” is meant to suggest “dressed to the nines, putting on your best,” [senior marketing director at R.J Reynolds, Brian] Stebbins said, rather than a perfume or a song.

Perhaps -- or maybe the job of marketing a Camel involves a certain amount of shoveling. 

Thanks to Katherine Ross for the tip!

February 14, 2007

Knockoff News 50

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 or your Valentine has dreams of red carpets rather than red roses, then check out the new "Celebrity Couples" feature at Like.com to locate looks like -- but not identical to -- the ones below.  (Note, of course, the legal disclaimer disavowing any endorsement of merchandise by the golden couples on display.)

Why let your sweetheart wear ordinary black wingtips when you could be assured that he's dressed like Demi Moore's arm candy?

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 13, 2007

Welcome Christian Science Monitor Readers!

Christian Science Monitor reporter Patrik Jonsson analyzes the fact that local police around the country are stepping up enforcement against counterfeiters -- and quotes your humble blogger.  From Watson's Flea Market in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Canal Street in New York, the new motto is caveat venditor.  Thanks for the article, Patrik!

February 12, 2007

Optical Disillusion

Would you hit a guy wearing glasses?  Well, what if he hit you first?

Last week, Toronto journalist Peter Silverman found himself on unfriendly territory when he attempted to investigate an optical shop alleged to sell counterfeit designer eyeglasses.  The thing about attacking a TV journalist, though, is that the cameras tend to be rolling. 


The follow-up report didn't include any information about the counterfeit goods, so who knows -- maybe the guy was framed?  Or perhaps he just needs his glasses adjusted?

February 10, 2007

The Littlest Counterfeiter

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Kay Jewelers is running a 15-second spot in which an adorable little moppet turns to counterfeiting in order to impress his equally tiny girlfriend:


If this were a public service announcement rather than a jewelry commercial, the next scene might involve federal agents jumping out from the bushes next to little Mandy's front door and arresting young Charlie for his crime of passion -- or at least our besotted protagonist going home to find a C&D letter from the nice lawyers at Kay Jewelers.

But would Charlie have a defense?

If the charges involved criminal counterfeiting, Charlie might argue that his lovingly handwritten "Kay" trademark was neither "identical with" nor "substantially indistinguishable from" the real trademark.  Moreover, he was arguably not trafficking in counterfeit goods -- unless Mandy's kiss could be construed as valuable consideration for the delivery.

In the realm of civil offenses, Charlie might have a more difficult time attempting to prove that his trademark did not create a "likelihood of confusion."  Same name, same type of packaging, same category of product -- how much does it matter that Kay Jewelers usually goes with commercial printing over crayon?  Perhaps a survey of Mandy and her friends would be in order here.

As for copyright, Kay can certainly protect its original jewelry designs under U.S. law -- but we have no evidence at present that Charlie's paper-and-glitter heart pendant was substantially similar to Kay's diamond baubles. 

So what will be the fate of our little Charlie?  The young lad's life has clearly reached a crossroads.  He may grow up to be a successful jewelry designer, inspired by the material evidence of his parents' affection for one another and the memory of his first love.  If he learns the wrong lesson, however, he may one day find himself in court, accused of trademark infringement or worse.

Whether Charlie's ending proves happy or tragic, Kay Jewelers has certainly captured a moment -- and planted the seed of a Cupid-worthy drama.

Maybe it would be safer to just go with flowers.

February 08, 2007

Welcome ABA Journal Readers!

In the wake of questionable Coach handbags showing up on the shelves at Target last fall, Stephanie Francis Ward interviewed your humble blogger for an ABA Journal article on counterfeits' new frontier.  Were the bags in that case "gray market goods" -- legitimately trademarked items intended for a different market but diverted to Target -- or counterfeits?  Since the case settled, only Coach and Target know for sure.  But one thing is certain:  both trademark owners and large discount retailers will be keeping a closer watch on their supply chains to make sure that fakes don't creep in unannounced.

Thanks to Stephanie for the article, and to Todd Melnick for sending me the link!

February 07, 2007

Fun with Phonics

After researching the extent of Louis Vuitton's trademarks in China, a businessman there has succeded in registering "LOUYIVEITEN" and its equivalent in Chinese characters -- despite opposition from LVMH.  Wang Jun hopes to sell the marks to the French company for 120 million yuan (approx. 15.5 million US dollars). 

The registration raises questions about whether protection against trademark infringement extends to transliterations and homophones, an issue that will only increase in importance with the rise in global trade. 

Perhaps aspiring intellectual property lawyers should start polishing their skills at charades ("Sounds like...")

February 06, 2007

Knockoff News 49

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

Le petit Musee des Marques highlights Adidas' Fake Hurts Real campaign -- click for more great pics!

February 05, 2007

Harper's Happening

The mood at the 3rd annual Harper's Bazaar Anticounterfeiting Summit last Thursday was more somber than in years past.  From publisher Valerie Salembier's continued focus on child labor conditions, to New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's description of counterfeits funding the Madrid bombings, to attorney Alain Coblence's description of the impact of knockoffs on American designers, the message was one of a steadily increasing problem.

On the bright side, lunch was lovely.  (So much for my regularly claiming that this is not one of those websites about what the blogger had for lunch.)  And oh yes, Harper's is preparing to launch a website of its own, fakesareneverinfashion.com -- complete with a shopping portal to guide consumers to genuine goods. 

In the meantime, here are the articles on counterfeits and design piracy from the January issue of the magazine, as well as a few reports on the summit itself:

February 03, 2007

Canine Cops

A photo essay in today's WWD offers a behind-the-scenes look at final preparations for fashion week, including this furry team member:

What does it take to put together a collection?  A whole lot of inspiration and determination -- not to mention strong coffee, countless fittings and a few little dogs to scare away the copycats.

So that's it!  It turns out these puppies aren't just pretty faces (or cute accessories) after all.

Photos by John Aquino, Pasha Antonov, Talaya Centeno, Kyle Ericksen, Kristen Somody, and Zack Seckler.

February 01, 2007

Fashion Week Follies

Knockoff artists make a substantial profit on copying creative designers' hottest looks straight off the runway, thus skipping both the process of developing new looks and the expense of creating and marketing an entire line.  But how do they know which items the fashion press -- and more importantly, the consumer -- will anoint as this year's must-have pieces? 

Ugly Betty, ABC television's knockoff of the Columbian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea, offers a fictionalized version of how discount chain "Century 21 Eternal 18" sneaks a peek in to the fashion pack's seasonal fetishes:


Of courses, the Mode staffer's scam isn't actually criminal -- unless the scheme is to steal the item itself.  But why settle for a clandestinely emailed photo or two when you could build a whole subplot around getting hold of "it"?