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May 31, 2007

Double Trouble 2

Is it something about being twins, mirrored in the flesh since before birth?

Or is it simply a matter of being celebrities, assuming (often correctly) that many fans are also would-be impersonators?

Whatever the creators' impetus, at least one look from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's new line, Elizabeth and James, takes the same closet-driven approach as the new "Copy Kate" Moss line for Topshop.  The sequined minidress below was, WWD generously reports, "inspired by one of Mary-Kate's vintage finds."  Quite literally, it would appear.

Legally, of course, there's no issue -- even if there were intellectual property protection for fashion design in the US, vintage looks would be fair game. 

So come fall, we can all be Olsen twins. 

Enjoy the summer while you can.

May 29, 2007

Barred by the Bard

Shakespeare knockoff

Pepper . . . and Salt

And now a test of your Shakespearean knowledge:  do you remember the full quote and original source?

Othello, Act III


Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

May 28, 2007

Knockoff News 59

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

Counterfeit Vuitton car

And in the best pun of the week, Le Petit Musee des Marques features Elle magazine's warning that counterfeiting is anti-fashion:

An appropriate slogan for the global fashion police, no?  Perhaps instead of fines and possible jail time for tourists who buy fakes, the French government should just send offending consumers home in T-shirts stamped accordingly.

May 27, 2007

Credit Card Cover-Up

As the insightful cultural critic Rob Walker notes in today's New York Times, "[M]aybe there's something inevitable about converting the credit card from a tool for acquiring expressive objects into one of those objects." 

Of course, this shift has been occurring for some time -- "affinity cards" advertise anything from the bearer's alma mater to her favorite sport, and the alchemy that transformed plastic from silver to gold to platinum in quick succession has culminated in the coveted, by-invitation-only American Express black card.  Today's "Consumed" column, however, reports on a new twist:  CreditCovers, essentially a line of stickers that allows consumers to personalize their credit cards.

Rob is duly skeptical of the creators' claim that these credit card "skins" are somehow "subversive" or rebellious -- just how radical is it to spend $4.99 on a design in order to adorn the means by which we borrow and spend money? 

Credit Covers Louis the XIV design

Perhaps an even greater irony is that the two current top-selling designs, "Louis the XIV" (above) and "Burs & Berries" (below), strongly resemble the LV Multicolore toile and the Burberry Nova Check, respectively.  Better still, both designs are attributed to "The Truth," actually one of the company's founders.  In other words, CreditCovers invites customers to display their individuality and escape the corporate uniformity of financial tools by purchasing presumably unauthorized versions of other corporate symbols.  The resulting semiotic haze nearly obscures issues relating to trademark law -- not to mention the comedic complications that might ensue if one were to "personalize" a Main Street Bank card and then present it to a store clerk at Vuitton or Burberry. 

Credit Covers Burs & Berries design

Nevertheless, CreditCovers has managed to both capture and capitalize upon a founding principle of self-definition within modern consumer culture, perhaps best expressed by artist Barbara Kruger

Until the trademark counterfeiting claims are filed, that is. 

May 26, 2007

Designer Baby

"Armani was like any other baby, right down to his daily bottle, red stroller, Huggies diapers -- except for a hole cut out for his tail..."

Designer Giorgio ArmaniNo, the Washington Post isn't reporting a reality-based twist on The Devil Wears Prada.  The Armani in question is not the Italian designer -- who is NOT rumored to have a tail -- but his simian namesake, a capuchin monkey accused of being an illegal resident of Rockville, Maryland. 

The monkey's owner, Elyse Gazewitz, claims that she purchased him before a state law forbidding ownership of certain wild animals took effect last year. 

Could her choice of name for little Armani raise a different kind of legal objection, however?  As trademarks comprise an ever-increasing part of our cultural vocabulary, naming pets and even children after brands has become a common practice.  Could this trend constitute a violation of trademark law?

Happily for all the poodles named Chanel and pugs named Bentley, trademark infringement (including dilution of a famous mark) can occur only if the name is used in commerce.  So unless Ms. Gazewitz intends to become an organ grinder and thus in need of a traditional capuchin monkey to solicit donation from passers-by, Armani's name -- if not his residence -- is probably safe from legal threat. 

Then again, Armani's legal defense looks to be fairly expensive...

Organ grinder and monkey

May 24, 2007

Welcome California Lawyer readers!

Thanks to California Lawyer Senior Editor Thomas Brom for an article in the May issue exploring the debate over the Design Piracy Prohibition Act.  Although the editor-in-chief elsewhere describes fashion as "a world where idealism is perhaps in shorter supply," I had to laugh when I read perhaps one of my most ominous quotes ever:  "Every young designer has a knockoff story to tell.

Sad but true, and most accurately quoted.  Still, I didn't mean to sound quite so much like the opening line of a gothic tale of fashion horror -- especially for readers in sunny California.  Then again, Hollywood is all about drama. 

May 23, 2007

The Chattering Classes

For your humble blogger, April and May have been a blur of lectures and debates on intellectual property law and fashion, organized by everyone from the Copyright Society in New York to the Festival International de Mode et de Photographie in Hyeres, France, and punctuated by the reintroduction of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act as H.R. 2033 (formerly H.R. 5055).  Have PowerPoint, will travel.

It was a relief, then, to put up my heels and let someone else do the talking for a change.  William M. Borchard, an author of the first draft of the bill and still a supporter, invited friends, clients, and colleagues to a breakfast seminar to discuss not only fashion law but also current business strategies, courtesy of Marc Beckman.   Although Bill noted that design legislation has been introduced 90 times in 93 years to no avail, he's still in favor of closing the legal loopholes that leave fashion designs largely unprotected -- a man after my own heart. 

Either that, or we're both part of the Red King's dream

May 21, 2007

Crimes of Fashion

Anna WintourDid former WWD reporter Peter Braunstein, currently on trial for sexually assaulting a co-worker, plan to top off a crime spree with a "copy cat" version of the murder of Gianni Versace -- targeting Vogue editrix Anna Wintour as his victim?  Apparently so, according to the testimony of psychiatrist William Barr, who addressed the issue of the defendant's ability to form intent

It almost makes one long for criminals who just copy handbags.

Closing arguments in the case are expected as early as tomorrow.


May 17, 2007

Guilt and Innocence

For a cultural historian, works of fiction are arguably among the best records of the past.  What better place to find descriptions of daily life, from employment to entertainment, food to fashion? 

In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton's 1921 tale of late-19th-century New York Society and its machinations, gowns of velvet, fur, brocade, muslin, tulle, and especially bridal satin play important supporting roles.  The last of these, in particular, forms an object to be protected from would-be interlopers:  in the case of the bride herself, from a rival to her groom's affections, and in the case of her wedding dress, from (of course) eager copyists.

May Welland's procession into Grace Church to marry Newland Archer is, as custom dictates, to be protected from common eyes by a canvas-draped awning.  The narrow passage, however, proves an obstacle to the bride's broad-minded and physically large grandmother, Catherine, whose wheelchair will not fit between its posts:

The idea of doing away with this awning, and revealing the bride to the mob of dressmakers and newspaper reporters who stood outside fighting to get near the joints of the canvas, exceeded even old Catherine's courage, though for a moment she had weighed the possibility.  "Why, they might take a photograph of my child and put it in the papers!" Mrs. Welland exclaimed when her mother's last plan was hinted to her; and from this unthinkable indecency the clan recoiled with a collective shudder.

How quaint, even for Wharton's day. 

Of course, not every current socialite or celebrity bride wishes to be an easy target for freelance photographers -- especially when they've learned to sell the pictures themselves, or at least arrange for flattering views and venues.  (Melania Trump in Dior by Galliano on the cover of Vogue, perhaps?)

Still, modern copyists don't have to join the scrum of paparazzi in order to get an early look at the latest styles.  That's what the internet is for.

May 15, 2007

Knowledge Economy

Are Chinese counterfeiters hacking the computers of European designers in search of the next "it" bag?

The most recent edition of Gnosis, a publication of the Italian intelligence agency SISDe, warns that the "yellow peril" is spreading via the internet -- and that industrial espionage is one of its dangers.  The article quotes Roberto Preatoni, the founder of an international computer security company, as saying, "At one time the Chinese came to the West to take pictures of the windows of shoe stores or fashion boutiques in order to copy the products.  Today, instead, they steal designs directly from the manufacturers' servers and are thus in a position to introduce a counterfeit product into the marketplace even before the original has been commercialized."   

According to the Washington Times, a spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, dismissed the report. 

Then again, perhaps a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.   

May 14, 2007

Art and Artifice

Against a backdrop of global concern over counterfeit goods and artistic frauds, Forged Realities, a recent art show in Beijing, took on the question of real v. fake.  Ten artists, including Stephanie Syjuco of Anti-Factory and the previously featured Counterfeit Crochet Project, contributed works in the categories of fake goods, fake narrative, and fake artworld (in contemporary China), under the curatorial direction of Pauline J. Yao.  

To open the exhibition catalog, Yao offers the following quotes:

Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;

Real becomes not-real when the unreal's real.

--Cao Xueqin

Starting out from the demand of "forgery in place of original," passing through the contemplation of "forgery or original," and even surpassing the dialectics of "forgery and original at the same time," we finally arrive at the viewpoint of "forgery as original," which at the moment offers perhaps the greatest perspectives:  In an age when the confidence in authenticity and trust has been shattered, to direct a beam of light at the twilight concealing the distinction between forgery and original, with a painful brightness that provokes clarification and reaches the most secret corners of personal existence, with a brightness to which we cannot close our eyes, this is perhaps the most that art can do. 

--Janos Gyorgy Szilagi

Just the thing for a Monday morning meditation.

Crochet Bag Project displayed in Forged Realities


May 10, 2007

Karmic Relief

Earlier this week, the master "minimalist with heat" Narciso Rodriguez announced the sale of a 50% stake in his company to Liz Claiborne, a move engineered by friends in the industry to alleviate the designer's financial woes. 

At the same time, Gap's unsuccessful attempt to appeal to baby boomers, Forth & Towne, saw the beginning of the end.  The website has shut down, and the shops will soon follow. 

From Counterfeit Chic's perspective, both events are worthy of celebration.

Narciso is not only a major modern talent but also a charming individual -- not to mention the answer to the all-important question, "What's a girl to wear to testify before Congress?"  Forth & Towne is (or was), shall we say, somewhat less than original in its offerings.  Below left, a Narciso Rodriguez creation from Spring 2006, in natural linen piped in black (and reversible to solid black); below right, the F&T version from Spring 2007. 

Of course, Narciso Rodriguez is no stranger to being copied.  One notorious knockoff artist alone sold 80,000 copies of the dress that made Narciso a household name, a custom-made wedding gown for Carolyn Bessette Kennedy that was intended to be one of a kind.  With a record like that, it's no wonder that so many of his other designs have been poached over the years. 

Still, every now and then justice is done.  The creative designer wins, the copyist is vanquished, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Until the next time. 

May 09, 2007

Shop for the Cause

As some of you heard when emerging designer Emmett McCarthy and I spoke at an event in his boutique last week, knockoffs are a concern for young designers -- but so is actually selling the real thing.  Combine your desire to support creativity with an eye on your own bottom line TODAY at a one-day-only sale at EMC2 in Nolita. 

Emmett McCarthy spring sale

Not in New York, or can't make it downtown?  Shop for new spring styles online with discount code "Mayday." 

Don't you just love ethical bargain shopping?

May 08, 2007

Knockoff News 58

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

Don't fcuk with their trademark

And for those of you in the mood for a little light reading:

True Story, Swear to God #5

May 07, 2007

Rock this Anti-Knockoff Trunk Show!

Femme Metale anticounterfeiting trunk show

Rock-n-roll jewelry designer Leslie Homan doesn't bite -- but sometimes she'd like to.  Her line of edgy silver baubles, Femme Metale, has been worn by everyone from Angelina Jolie to Avril Lavigne.  It's also been knocked off by everyone from...well, never mind. 

Yes, jewelry is protected by copyright.  Sometimes, however, a designer wants to appeal directly to her fans, rather than entering the labyrinth of the law.  You can join Leslie at the Rock and Roll Emporium (that's RARE to the carnivores out there) in Huntington Beach, California, on Tuesday, May 8, for an anticounterfeiting trunk show.  She'll not only show off her creations, but also explain how to tell real from fake. 

Just the thing for Mothers' Day -- assuming that Mum is a former groupie.

May 04, 2007

Toy Soldiers

In the final months of World War II, a faux U.S. Army unit marched from France, through Luxembourg, and into Germany, accompanied by inflatable rubber tanks and the recorded sounds of airplanes.  Along the way, loose-lipped soldiers and officers "revealed" battle plans.

Political protest, you ask?  Not at all.  Rather, the "Ghost Army" was a counterintelligence unit designed to confuse the enemy with regard to the real Allied strategy.

For 60 years, the history of the United States Army 23rd Headquarters Special Troops remained hidden.  Now a filmmaker, Rick Beyer, has joined the niece of one of the soldiers to produce a documentary and a traveling exhibition about the unit.  Since many of the servicemen were artists, recruited from schools in New York and Philadelphia, the show incorporates the original paintings and drawings that they created en route.  And if you'd like to own a piece of that history, signed prints of some of the original artworks will be auctioned off this Sunday in Hamilton, Massachusetts, to raise money for the film.

But what's all this artifice got to do with fashion, you ask?  Take a look at the stylish caricature of Ghost Army soldier and fashion designer Bill Blass, drawn by fellow recruit Jack Masey, who remembers his late comrade-at-arms "reading Vogue in his foxhole." 

Don't ask, don't tell, indeed. 

May 02, 2007

Art Imitates Life

Non sequitur

May 01, 2007

STOP! In the Name of Law

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Government yesterday issued the 2007 Special 301 Report, which surveys the state of intellectual property rights worldwide.  Like any government document it has its share of acronyms--the name of the current U.S. anti-piracy initiative is STOP!, for Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy--but it also contains a lot of concrete information on legal developments around the globe.  As usual China and Russia are the primary sources of dissatisfaction, although government officials and industry alike have taken the occasion to note that these countries have also made significant progress.

The most disappointing aspect of the Report, however, has to be the removal of the Bahamas from the Watch List due to ongoing improvements in IPR enforcement.  Surely there's need for a just a bit more investigation--say, sometime next December through February?  

Authentically Bahamian