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May 31, 2008

Law and the LBD: YSL in Montreal

YSL robe smoking 1970If name is fate, then Yves Saint Laurent was destined to be not only a great couturier but a commercially successful one.  Just take a look at his initials, which, intertwined as a logo, form yen, dollar, and pound symbols -- the most powerful currencies of his era.  (What of the euro, you ask?  Perhaps it's no mere coincidence that YSL announced his retirement in 2002, exactly 40 years after he founded his label and the same week that the euro entered circulation.  In France, YSL's portrait even appeared on the last five, ten, and fifty-franc pieces minted before the euro took over.  Rendering unto Caesar must've been a quite stylish pursuit, at least for a short time.) 

YSL's great legacy -- artistic, not financial -- is celebrated in a stunning new retrospective at the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal.  By happy coincidence, the opening coincided with the annual meeting of the Law & Society Association, your favorite law prof's official reason for heading north of the border.  The greatest moments of YSL couture are all on display:  Look!  A safari jacket!  Yes!  The Mondrian-inspired sheath!  OMG!  Can you believe the colors on that Ballet Russes ensemble?!  The number of trends that this man anticipated or created is phenomenal.

YSL did not, of course, reserve his creations only for those with access to the haute couture and the patience for multiple fittings.  He is credited with popularizing ready-to-wear as a cutting-edge fashion option, starting in the 1960s.  As you might expect, his work also gave rise to legions of knockoffs.

Counterfeit Chic's favorite piece in the exhibit is a simple black tuxedo gown from 1970 (right).  The dress appears on a reclining manequin, alongside several other examples of YSL's transformation of "le smoking" into elegant womenswear.  Why this dress, one of the simplest in the collection, as opposed to elaborate beaded embroideries or sumptuous fabrics or technically sophisticated constructions or groundbreaking silhouettes? 

Simply put, this little black dress has a history.  In 1994, a French commercial court found that Ralph Lauren had copied this gown far too literally and awarded its creator a substantial sum.  Although the case was subsequently settled, it remains the most famous example of the gap between two extremes of fashion law, French and American -- and I was standing inches from the evidence, examining every thread.  (And since there is no glass between museum visitors and the garments, making the guards quite nervous.)  I kept my hands behind my back as I leaned forward -- but it wasn't easy. 

If you'll be in Canada this summer, take a break from hiking and fishing and other pursuits requiring utilitarian footwear to visit the exhibit -- there's nothing like seeing this kind of craftsmanship in person, accompanied by perfect lighting, runway videos, and soft music.  Alternatively, the collection will arrive at the de Young in San Francisco on November 1, and the exhibition catalog is available for preorder online. 

Many thanks to Emmett and Pierre for the travel tip!  (It's always nice to have a reason to play hookey for a couple of hours...in the name of research, of course.)

UPDATE:  M. Saint Laurent passed away in Paris the day after this post, on June 1, 2008.  Requiescat in pace. 

May 28, 2008

T-Shirt Contest

Vote!  For the candidate with the best knockoffs.

One of the most striking aspects of the Obama campaign has been the amount of spontaneous creativity it has generated, from music videos to t-shirts -- including some designs inspired by unrelated trademarks

Not to be outdone, the Clinton campaign created an official site seeking t-shirt design submissions -- and got things started with some reinterpretation of its own.  Not only is a Warhol-style Hillary head among the 5 faves up for a vote, but the contest "borrowed" its logo from Project Runway.  No word on whether this is representative of Mrs. C's official trademark policy.

Good thing PR exec producer Harvey Weinstein is a diehard Clintonista.

May 23, 2008

Don't Get Hosed!

Among the hardships of wartime is the scarcity of consumer goods.  Members of the "greatest generation" remember the rationing of everything from sugar to shoes -- and, of course, the near-complete unavailability of nylon stockings. 

Today, the fashion flock has decreed bare legs preferable to flesh-toned pantyhose, even in the dead of winter (formal office standards notwithstanding), but the WWII era still valued top-to-toe polish.  Some young women resorted to drawing seams up the back of their bare legs with eyeliner; others searched for stockings on the black market.  As with any illicit trade, however, scams abounded.

This 1940s ad from the New Yorker offered a vision of sheer elegance...

...while the February 1945 Reader's Digest warned against "shifty-eyed, furtive nylon bootleggers" who were likely to be selling either poor-quality stolen goods or rayon masquerading as nylon.  The article concluded on a patriotic note:

After the war there will be nylon hosiery, finer, sheerer, stronger, more beautiful than ever before. Designs for the machines to make it are past the blueprint stage. But until the war is over, the Army and Navy need every pound of nylon. There won't be any for stockings except what is stolen. And there won't be much stolen. So, ladies -- don't be suckers. 

Excellent advice for any age.

Thanks to OrangeCats for posting both the vintage ad and the entire article on Flickr -- and a wonderful Memorial Day weekend to all!

May 20, 2008

Dressed for Success?

It's a career-advice cliche:  Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.  And the same goes for your avatar. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that as more students are unable to find paying summer jobs in the real world, they're turning to lucrative online opportunities.  Among these new internet entrepreneurs is Ariella Furman, who's found success doing Second Life videos for clients as prominent as IBM and the World Bank via media tech companies.  Like any job candidate, the 21-year-old filmaker wants to make a good impression:  "Ariella Furman used to dress up her avatar as a geisha or an Amazonian warrior. These days, she sticks to business suits. She wants to look professional when she meets with clients."

And how does one accessorize a virtual business suit?  With a (presumably unauthorized) virtual Vuitton bag, of course. 

Ariella Furman's virtual Vuitton

Memo from virtual the virtual career development office:  Don't try this yourself.  Unless the job title you had in mind was "counterfeiter."

(And yes, my sources tell me that fake handbags periodically show up in real-world interviews as well.  Don't call them, they'll call you.) 

May 15, 2008

Colonialism, Culture, and Copying

Cultural appropriation is a frequent theme in the world of fashion, from YSL's famous Ballets Russes collection to more or less any Dries Van Noten season.  In today's New York Times, Cintra Wilson casts a Critical Shopper's eye at the exuberant creations of Christian Lacroix -- and while she chastises the designer (and his clientele) for failing to age gracefully, the boutique's excesses inspired a series of creative mixed metaphors.  How often does slipping on a beaded bangle lead to colorful post-colonial political commentary?

While the rest of the developed world is circling Africa like a kettle of vultures, the French seem to be getting sentimental about the aesthetics of their old colonies.  It's a casual approach to the perpetual ransacking of pre-conquered cultures, old icons conveted into trendy adornments.  Old Gods are rendered symbolically meaningless at the moment that the dominant culture declares them adorable.  High fashion 1, Africa 0. 

For a lighter look at the connection between borrowed spirituality and material culture, enter the Blingdom of God.  Or pile on a few baubles of your own and enjoy my favorite work by Yeats.  Agree or disagree with his eloquent shrug at the end, there's no doubt that this coat's a  classic:

I made my song a coat 
Covered with embroideries 
Out of old mythologies 
From heel to throat; 
But the fools caught it,    
Wore it in the world’s eyes 
As though they’d wrought it. 
Song, let them take it 
For there’s more enterprise 
In walking naked.

Lacroix Spring 2008

May 13, 2008

Counterfeits and Chiaroscuro at Harper's Bazaar

At the 4th annual Harper's Bazaar Anticounterfeiting Summit this afternoon, dark tales of effectively enslaved street vendors and deaths from fake pharmaceuticals contrasted with bright sunlight and the spectacular views from Hearst Tower -- interrupted only by the slow transit of a pair of men in hardhats on a construction lift outside. 

The speakers' messages were a similar mix of light and shadow.  Keynote speaker Moises Naim of Illicit fame offered a b-school analyis of the complex international networks of illegal trade, but suggested that chapter 12 of his book has some advice for the good guys.  (Gotta love an author with a book to sell.)  Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler noted the vast extent of counterfeiting in NYC alone, but celebrated the efforts of the Office of Special Enforcement and unveiled a new consumer education campaign, coming soon to a subway near you.  Frederick Mostert, chair of the Authentics Foundation, seemed equal parts shocked by his own props (fake Skippy peanut butter and Viagra) and fascinated by the technological prowess of the copyists (next year, he'll bring along his fake Ferrari).  And panelists from the USTR's office, Pfizer, Kodak, and Microsoft alternated between underscoring the seriousness of the issue and promoting efforts to address it (including ACTA, Kodak's Traceless system, and Microsoft's "How to Tell" page). 

From the perspective of Harper's Bazaar publisher Valerie Salembier, the most exciting news may be that the magazine's website about counterfeits, Fakes are Never in Fashion, is up and running.  Even better, Harper's has hired one of Counterfeit Chic's favorite correspondents, Liliana Andreano (until recently of MyAuthentics.com), to work on the campaign.  Congratulations, Liliana!  Here's hoping that your stylish new job won't require window washing or anything else that calls for a hardhat -- standing on that lift looked pretty scary.   

May 12, 2008

Where the Buffalo Roam

Imagine noble herds of bison roaming the North American plains.  Now picture an Italian craftsman dreaming of all that leather on the hoof.  The result is Il Bisonte, an artisanal leather workshop established in Florence in 1970 by Wanny DiFilippo and his wife, Nadia.

Among Il Bisonte's classic styles is the E56, a canvas and leather shoulder bag that converts to a backpack (left).  Fans have nicknamed it the "candy bag," a reference to its gathered ends. 

Il Bisonte (left) and Versace

Now fast forward to Spring 2008, when a difficult-to-deceive design student from Vancouver, Justin Ng, noticed a strikingly similar bag in the Versace runway collection (right) -- and suspected the well-known brand of trying to buffalo its customers. 

As Justin observed, the front pockets aren't identical.  But then, neither are Christian Louboutin's trademarked red soles and the dark orange versions that caused so much confusion when they appeared in Versace's spring ad campaign.

Perhaps the Versace accessories department needs to engage in a bit less hunting and gathering and a little more creating?

May 09, 2008

Bringing Home the Birkin

Michael Tonello is the Crocodile Dundee of the luxury set, skilled in clever means of capturing elusive prey.  When Michael bags his beast, however, it's already been transformed into that most expensive and coveted of handbags:  the Hermes Birkin.  (Genuflect here.) 

Michael's breezy travelogue, Bringing Home the Birkin, is a perfect beach read -- at least if by "beach" you mean the Hamptons, St. Barth's, Ibiza, or similar.  His tale begins in absolute innocence ("What's a Birkin?") and follows the author as he perfects a fool-proof method for not only beating the allegedly "closed" 2-year waiting list, but eventually procuring enough of the high-end croc Birkins to become one of the world's largest resellers (along with his eventual collaborator, Createurs de Luxe).  Of course, every great hunter must someday meet his match, but Michael wouldn't be sharing his secret formula if he were still in the game.  One can't help but wonder, though, if he still bags a Birkin every now and then, just to keep a hand in. 

Throughout his adventures, Michael gleefully outsmarts salespeople and competitors alike, but he's adamant about one thing:  no fakes.  In his words:

Ever since my mother made me return a stolen half-eaten Heath bar to the supermarket cashier (at the ever-so-impressionable age of four), the idea of stealing anything was psychologically insurmountable.  Well, as complexes go, that one has served me well.  It went right along with the idea of selling anything inauthentic -- that would be the same as theft to me.  No knocking over and no knockoffs, and that's final.

Hermes may or may not appreciate the narrative or the closeup of an orange croc Birkin decorating the cover of the book under the half dust jacket -- the company has a trademark on that belted flap, after all -- but it can't object to the author's respect for genuine goods. 

Can't afford to drop thousands or even tens of thousands on a real Hermes bag?  Head over to the company's website, which offers the opportunity to download, print, color, cut, fold, and glue a custom Kelly.  There are worse ways to amuse a junior fashionista-in-training -- or while away a Friday afternoon at your desk. 

As for me, well, some of you know how I feel about orange.  Instead, I'll be daydreaming of a black matte croc 35cm with palladium hardware...in my next life.

May 08, 2008

adidas v. Payless: 3 Stripes, You're Out

Why put on athletic shoes and go for a run when simply reading about adidas' latest victory can raise your heart rate? 

adidas v Payless

In a lawsuit claiming that Payless had engaged in unsportsmanlike conduct with respect to adidas' ubiquitous 3 stripes, an Oregon jury awarded the German athletic wear company USD $305 million, reportedly a record for a trademark infringement case.  And yes, that's over $100m per stripe.  Kansas-based Collective Brands, which owns Payless, intends to challenge the verdict.

The win for adidas comes on the heels of another victory in the European Court of Justice, which recently ruled that a Dutch court could not take into account others' desire to maintain access to a design element as basic as 3 stripes.  The decision was based on the already established link in the public mind between adidas and the 3-stripe design, when used as a trademark (as opposed to a general design element). 

Of course, the adidas stripes weren't always treated as a trademark.  For years, the International Olympic Committee allowed 3-stripe patterns much larger than the usual 20-centimeter limit on athletes' clothing, treating the stripes as simply part of the design.  In response to competitors' objections and in recognition of adidas' worldwide trademark registrations, the IOC changed its position prior to the 2006 Winter Games. 

Interestingly, the verdict sheet in adidas v. Payless shows that the jury found infringement in the case of 2- and 4-stripe models as well.  In fact, among 250+ styles, the jury only disagreed with adidas in one case -- a model that appears to have only 1.5 stripes.  Presumably 5 stripes, the longtime territory of K-Swiss, would be off-limits to Payless as well. 


But hey, Payless can always base its next collection on lawyers' pinstripes.

May 07, 2008

California Dreamin'

Rami KashouDon't you just hate missing a good fight?  When the L.A. County Bar Association invited me to participate in a debate that took place last week regarding the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, I knew I couldn't make it -- but I also knew that a few sparks were likely to fly. 

As WWD reportsRami Kashou of Project Runway fame expressed the creative designers' point of view in support of legal protection:

"I put...everything into my designs," he said.  "When an idea is invented or comes to life, and people associate a label with that idea, I would definitely hope there is some kind of protection." 

Several attorneys, including occasional Counterfeit Chic correspondent David Erikson, whom longtime readers may recognize as Libertine's lawyer, were on hand to fill in the details.  (Thanks, David!)  Present to offer a negative view was a representative of the group whom WWD politely refers to as "vendors" -- clothing manufacturers not engaged in creative design.  (There are other words for them, some more colorful than others, but not all vendors are copyists who oppose fashion design protection.) 

While the bill isn't on the fast track at the moment, Rami offered a look on the bright side:  "Raising awareness is a good start.  That's how things get passed eventually."

Consider your consciousness raised. 

Res Ipsa Loquitur*

Fortune Small Business magazine reporter Maggie Overfelt recently called Counterfeit Chic to ask a simple question:  What happens when, as in the U.S., fashion design piracy is legal? 

Our conversation was interesting and wide-ranging -- thanks for the quotes, Maggie! -- but ultimately, as a lawyer might say, *"the thing speaks for itself":

A few weeks after clothing label Foley + Corinna debuted its spring 2007 collection, co-founder Anna Corinna received a phone call from one of her store employees.

A good customer had recently visited the designer's New York City store and dropped more than $1,200 on four silk dresses for her bridesmaids to wear in her upcoming wedding. Distraught, the bride-to-be said that she had just seen "the same dress" in the window of a discount fashion clothing chain. There, the dress - a polyester replica with identical coloring, cut, and flower design - was selling for $40.

"She returned the dresses," says Corinna, 35. "When one of our designs gets knocked off, the dress is cheapened - customers won't touch it."

Foley+Corinna dress (left) and Forever 21 copy

(Note:  In the example pictured, copyright law might protect the printed fabric, but copyright never applies to the underlying design.)

Weighing the Value of Law

Newsweek columnists Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert took the measure of two controversial laws aimed at weight, one a French proposal that would ban advocating "extreme thinness" (text here) and the other a New York City regulation that requires chain restaurants to post calorie counts.  Although the rules fall at opposite ends of the scale, their supporters share a belief that legislation can contribute to the battles against anorexia and obesity, respectively. 

As the article notes, your favorite law professor is skeptical about the wisdom of outlawing speech very likely to originate with eating disorder sufferers themselves. 

And as for prominently posted calorie counts, I recently noticed an accusatory 410-calorie sign standing between me and a Starbucks brownie.  Reader, I ate it anyway. 

May 06, 2008

The Revolution will be Fabulous

Last night the Met was filled with couture superheroes and their well-dressed celebrity mannequins, but where were the arch villains?  Out in L.A. no doubt, arming themselves to the teeth with designer weaponry. 

You may remember Anko's "Louis Vuitton" grenade; now check out Peter Gronquist's solo show, including rocket launchers, chainsaws, missiles, and other dangerous things, branded with all of your favorite designer logos.  Whether your label of choice is Hermes, Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Coach, Paul Smith, Dior, Fendi, Chanel, Versace, Fendi, D&G, or a somewhat incongruous Pac-Man, the artist has a weapon for you.  There's even a Vuitton electric chair for those who prefer state-sanctioned violence -- though perhaps a guillotine would've been a more direct cultural reference. 

 Louis Vuitton electric chair USD $4500

Photo via Toybot Studios blog.

 Burberry rifle USD $3500

 Photo via Gallery 1988 blog.

But is all of this artful appropriation of trademarks merely provocative, or is Gronquist a retail genius in disguise?  As Occasional Superheroine and full-time feminist comic book fan Valerie D'Orazio notes, there's quite a market for pink guns.  When the revolution comes, prepare to shoot like a girl.

The Revolution will be Fabulous:  A weapons of mass designer show will be on view at Gallery 1988 Los Angeles through May 16. 

May 02, 2008

Name is Destiny: Thumbs Up on Pro-IP Act

It's unanimous:  the House Judiciary Committee has passed the Pro-IP Act.  (With a name like that, who could vote against?)  The somewhat controversial bill is focused on IP enforcement, and its provisions include the creation of a new federal IP czar and forfeiture provisions for property used in copying.  But not to worry -- statements from Public Knowledge aside, nobody believes that the forfeiture provisions include, say, fingers used in the process of sewing on counterfeit labels. 

Now it's on to the House floor, where the bill could pass this summer.  A Senate version is still in committee.

Proposed uniform for new IP czar

As for including fashion designs within the scope of IP protection via the proposed Design Piracy Prohibition Act, neither the House nor the Senate has yet taken action.  Tune in next Congress.