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Forever 21 Unbalances Balenciaga

It's been a while since Counterfeit Chic and friends have caught Forever 21 with its hand in the design cookie jar -- but it looks like the fast-fashion chain may be reaching for a holiday treat in the form of a knockoff Balenciaga bag.  And we do mean almost the exact form.

The righteous Jennifer Moreno over at BagBliss sent word that F21 has come up with a "tragic bag, that's sure to tick off any devoted Balenciaga-lover."  It's all there -- the angled Balenciaga corner buckles, the distinctive half-moon patch design, the extra-long zipper pulls, even the whipstitching below the handle, all in not-so-luscious faux leather.  Only the slightly altered proportions of the knockoff (below right -- but you knew that) and the manner in which the handle is attached reveal the truth. 

 Balenciaga USD $1395 v. Forever 21 USD $34.80

During the current economic meltdown, Balenciaga's classics are among the few things NOT marked down to drastic levels, a fact that F21 may have noticed -- and one that makes this copy even tougher for beleaguered retailers to take. 

But is it legal?  F21 probably hasn't run afoul of copyright this time, but such a distinctive, instantly recognizable design is a prime candidate for trade dress protection.  When the design is so familiar that it doesn't need a label, copyists beware.  And F21 -- once again, what were you thinking?  There's so little intellectual property coverage for fashion designs under U.S. law, yet you seem to repeatedly reach for the protected bits.  How many times has Mom told you to keep out of the cookie jar?

Not yet convinced that Balenciaga is as distinctive as, say, Gucci's stripes and horsebit or Chanel's quilting and chains?  Check out Mary Ping's interpretation for Slow and Steady Wins the Race, her fascinating, limited-edition mediation on culture, mass and class, and the "creative progression of clothing design."  If she can create a canvas shadow version, then Balenciaga is clearly part of the pantheon of purses.

 Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Many thanks to Jennifer Moreno for the F21 tip and to Marie Choi for reminding me about the Slow and Steady Wins the Race project!