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Copies Even a Lawyer can Love

Copies come in many varieties:  counterfeits, knockoffs, knockups, and DIY fakes.  In anticipation of Fashion Week, the editors of Time Out New York decided to experiment with yet another variety, which we might call custom reproductions -- or perhaps resurrections. 

What's a girl to do when she's worn her favorite boots, T-shirt, or bag to shreds?  Before Mom throws the threadbare item out or your best friend stages an intervention and refuses to be seen with you in that thing one more time, TONY's editors suggest finding an expert who can recreate your beloved rag in all of its youthful glory.  Be warned, however:  it won't be inexpensive.  And it may or may not be legal.


Consider J.Crew boots, originally $200 and reproduced for $1,500.  Or a no-name bag bought on the street for less than $30 and copied for $1,200.  It's hard for me to imagine having a $5 T-shirt remade for $140 -- but then, can you put a price on love?

In most cases, moreover, you won't have to spring for legal fees.  So long as the tailor avoids stitching a signature swirl across the pocket of your repro jeans, and unless the style of your recreated bag is so iconic as to constitute protected trade dress, U.S. law will not prohibit the copies.   (A hint regarding trade dress:  If an elephant stomps on your Kelly bag while you're on safari, just have it repaired.  It may be cheaper than dealing with Hermes' lawyers.)  Among TONY's choices, only the graphic on the front of the T-shirt could cause legal problems -- and, since it's vintage 1970s, only if the image were properly registered. 

But should the law have anything to say about these reproductions?  While friends in jurisdictions that have fairly long terms of protection for fashion might disagree, Counterfeit Chic is (for once) satisfied with the American status quo.  After all, it takes years to wear out an item so thoroughly that it has to be replaced, by which time the original designer will presumably already have recovered his or her creative investment and moved on.  And a consumer who loved an item to death will almost certainly look for a new one from the original designer before paying many times more for a one-off custom reproduction that may or may not hit the mark.  Some designers may be concerned about harm to their reputations from poor copies -- but it's highly unlikely that the truly obsessed custom consumer would settle for anything less than the best. 

Just be sure to give the original a proper burial -- and don't even think about salvaging that label to add a bit of illegal authenticity to the reproduction.