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Fashion's Financial Fiction

Awards season may be in full swing, but everyone knows that Jason Wu already won the grand prize.  Let other designers court stylists and starlets; Jason's dress was Michelle Obama's pick for the inaugural balls. 

Of course, Jason's big win didn't exactly come with a big check.  The custom gowns that he and his staff spent many late hours designing and constructing were sent gratis, with the understanding that if one were chosen, it would subsequently be donated to the Smithsonian.  Sure, the honor is impressive and the publicity may be priceless, but how many previously unknown inaugural gown designers have gone on to become household names?  (Michael Faircloth for Laura Bush?  Sarah Phillips for Hillary Clinton?)  Jason has the advantage of already enjoying recognition within the industry, not to mention a talent for creating charming dresses -- but giving away ball gowns doesn't pay the rent.

Jason's dress may prove profitable for a number of other labels, however.  The usual suspects -- ABS, Faviana -- have already announced plans to market their own budget versions.  Interestingly, the copyists' rhetoric seems to have changed somewhat of late.  Rather than describe the knockoffs as exact lookalikes, Faviana's proprietor notes that his gown will be made to "our specifications, our patterns," while Allen B. Schwartz will "most likely" cut a similar, pre-existing design in ivory. 

The law hasn't changed -- yet -- and exact copies are still legal in the U.S.  But could derisive reports of sartorial plagiarism, together with copyists' concerns that American law will soon follow other countries in protecting fashion designs, already be leading some companies to emphasize differences rather than similarities?  If so, the Design Piracy Prohibition Act may have begun taking effect before even being reintroduced in the new Congress. 

In the meantime, congratulations and good luck to Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, and all of the creative designers favored by Mrs. O.  It's just a pity that with 10 inaugural balls, we didn't get to see 10 gowns!


P.S.  It may be a new historical era, but celebrity knockoffs aren't a thing of the past yet.  While Faviana and ABS may be soft-pedaling their designs on Michelle's gown, edressme.com is still happily watching Hollywood awards ceremonies for more literal "inspiration." 

Eva Longoria Parker in Reem Acra at the Golden Globes (left) and edressme version