April 20, 2009

Ruffled Feathers

According to the New York Post, Real Housewife Kelly Bensimon and a former colleague at Elle Accessories are howling over an owl -- or an owl pendant design, to be exact. 

Celeste Greenberg, who now designs the jewelry line Tuleste Market, claims that the design came from a vintage pendant that she sourced for Bensimon.  The two allegedly made a verbal agreement to manufacture replicas of the owl and split the profits.  Bensimon, who has produced and sold both pendants (below) and clothing (left) bearing an owl design, denies that that there was any such deal. 

The real legal issue, however, may be the provenance of the original pendant.  Since jewelry is subject to copyright protection under U.S. law, the initial owl design could belong to someone else entirely, depending on its age and whether it was registered.  And, given the potential for publicity-generated profits, the original designer may very well give a hoot.


April 13, 2009

Who Can Spot a Fake Watch

Need a reason to forego buying a fake watch?  How about this:  If the Doctor needs something gold to help him save the world, your faux fashion statement won't do it. 

Confused?  Check out this scene from the Doctor Who Easter special, "Planet of the Dead."  


Still confused?  Then you're clearly not a fan of the hugely popular and long-running British sci-fi series Doctor Who, which involves an attractive and altruistic but ultimately lonely alien (currently David Tennant) who saves the human race.  Often.  With a sonic screwdriver.  

Um...maybe you need to see it for yourself. But trust me, it's worth it -- and I'm only an honorary geek.

Many thanks to extremely warm and friendly members of LOTNA, who kindly allowed a couple of visiting Yanks to join them at a London pub to watch the show.  One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. 

April 02, 2009

Runway Ready

While reading yesterday's New York Times update on the fight over which network would have the right to air the next season of Project Runway, Counterfeit Chic wondered whether it was an April Fool's joke.  Not because the lawsuit had settled, with the Weinstein Company agreeing to pay a fee to move the show from NBC's Bravo to Lifetime, but because the official statement apparently included a message from Harvey Weinstein personally congratulating NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker and thanking him for resolving the issue in a professional manner. 

Really?  Harvey Weinstein?

But improbably polite press releases aside, it's nice to know that the competitors who braved sleepless nights of constructing couture garments from industrial waste and dryer lint -- while inspiring record numbers of starry-eyed students to apply to design school -- will have their season in the sun.

October 16, 2008

Project Runway: Copy Cut


On last night's Project Runway finale, the fireworks over Kenley's copies finally fizzled out as the contestant came in a distant third -- but not before the judges once again noted the similarity between a look from the contestant's collection and the recent work of a renowned designer.  The same Spring 2008 Balenciaga show that Counterfeit Chic suspects inspired Kenley's only individual win during the season apparently also served as the source of one of her final dresses.


 Balenciaga Spring 2008 (left) and Kenley's dress

At least the judges graciously predicted that Kenley would have a bright future in the industry -- and restrained themselves from suggesting that she send her resume to Forever 21.  

The design ingenue, of course, appears determined to persist in her disingenuous denials.  Her last word to the camera, as she dissolves in tears, is to call her designation as a copycat "bullsh*t."  Now there's an argument that will charm editors and win lawsuits. 

But lest copying controversies drown out the other contestants' success, congratulations to winner Leanne and runner-up Korto!

Related Post:  Project Runway: Birds of a Feather

October 09, 2008

Project Runway: Birds of a Feather

It seems that every season of Project Runway involves a copying complaint of one variety or another, and this year is no exception.  In last night's episode, contestant Kenley whines that two of her fellow competitors have knocked her off -- by which she means only that they, too, chose to make short rather than long bridesmaids' dresses (at the urging of design guru Tim Gunn).  Proprietary hemline lengths?  Hardly a compelling argument.  Kenley, however, seems to have a double standard when it comes to copying. 

Watch the strangely restrained critique of Kenley's wedding gown from designer Michael Kors and the confirmation of copying from fashion editor Nina Garcia, along with the aspiring designer's denial...

...and then judge for yourself.  McQueen showed his dress (left) to rave reviews  just months before the filming of Project Runway.

 Alexander McQueen Fall 2008 (left) and Kenley's design (right

But wait, you think.  Kenley may have copied the strapless, fitted, off-white, feather-covered bodice, the full feathered skirt with tulle beneath, and the feathers sprouting from the model's head, but didn't she at least come up with the only other element -- the extra mass of tulle beneath the skirt -- on her own?  Not exactly.  The bird-brained contestant's dress is a mashup of the McQueen above and several of his other feathery looks from the same show, which use that same riot of tulle as an underskirt:

 Alexander McQueen Fall 2008

Still, knockoff or no, shouldn't Kenley's performance over the course of the season -- a series of vintage-inspired frocks regularly ridiculed by her fellow designers -- entitle her to compete for the big prize? 

Let's take a look at her only individual winning design, which does have a rather modern silhouette.  At the time (episode 3), Counterfeit Chic thought it mimicked the couple of dozen Balenciaga looks with which designer Nicolas Ghesquiere had deeply impressed editors for Spring 2008.  Floral prints, strong shoulders, rounded hips, high neck, short skirt -- all in all, a very distinctive and powerful take on spring dresses.  Still, Kenley's version was enough of a departure that, while not the kind of original vision that can make a designer's reputation, it wasn't just a knockoff (though it shouldn't have been a winner, either).  In retrospect, it may indeed have been an indication of what to expect from this Project Runway contestant.

 Balenciaga Spring 2008 (left) and Kenley's winning design (right)

Why, if Project Runway purports to be a search for "the next great American designer," has blatant copying not resulted in early elimination?  Why are crooked hems or dangling threads apparently the greater sins when professional designers are expected to create a unique (and profitable) vision, not sew on deadline?  

Perhaps the unoriginal contestants have simply been good television in one way or another, and thus worth keeping around.  Perhaps the producers believe that some great American designers are copyists.  (No names -- today.)  Or perhaps producer/judge Heidi Klum is loathe to penalize anyone else for copying, given the accusations leveled against her jewelry line by Van Cleef & Arpels in a recently settled lawsuit. 

This laxity with respect to knockoffs must be good news for the team designing Heidi's own line in partnership with Jordache.  Following a recent series of celebs whose eponymous labels are filled with copies straight from their closets, Klum appeared in the New York Times in July 2007 wearing a top from the Lower East Side design duo Foley + Corinna (on model below), whose designs have become copy-catnip.  Then, this past May, she showed up in People magazine alongside looks from her own line, including a suspiciously similar top (below right). 

 Foley+Corinna (left) and Heidi Klum (right)

Maybe next season Project Runway -- on Bravo or Lifetime, whichever channel wins the legal tug-of-war over the show -- will take the opportunity of illustrating to aspiring designers the line between inspiration and imitation. After all, in an information-rich, consumer-savvy market, names are not made on knockoffs.  Not to mention the fact that in every major fashion capital except New York, they're legally actionable.  At the same time, young designers are regularly hired to carry on the tradition of a famous fashion house, which involves a bit more than just ransacking the archives.  Counterfeit Chic can't wait for Tim Gunn's take on that challenge.  

And in the meantime, let's hope that in this season's final episode Kenley's avian abomination gets plucked.

September 23, 2008

Fakes on Film

Please pass the popcorn -- fakes are appearing on and around film quite frequently of late. 

In an early scene from Diane English's remake of the 1939 gem The Women, Annette Bening's magazine editor character goes shopping.  At Saks, which presumably paid dearly for some heavy-handed brand placement throughout the movie.  With only 5 minutes devoted to the task, the character's sharply honed, encyclopedic fashion vision (or perhaps it's her oversized sunglasses) allows her to target and identify specific products as they cross her line of vision.  Designer, item, and price instantly appear on screen -- as does an alert regarding the Canal Street origin of a fellow shopper's fake. It's as if a military contractor had taken up Counterfeit Chic's favorite sport -- fakespotting -- and developed top-secret search-and-destroy technology.  Sadly, despite an all-star cast and a fierce fashion show sequence courtesy of Narciso Rodriguez, the film's plot doesn't stand the test of time particularly well. 

Although Lifetime engaged Shirley MacLaine to channel Coco Chanel in her later years, they apparently didn't spring for vintage couture.  The costume credits went instead to Stefano De Nardis and Pierre-Yves Gayraud.  Shirley probably wasn't too bothered, however, as she admitted to WWD last January that she'd worn knockoffs of the designer's fashions all through the 1950s and 60s.  Of perhaps greater concern was the meager use of Ms. MacLaine merely as a framing device for a rather sentimental biography of Mlle. Chanel as a young woman -- and the distracting shifts in accent between the senior and junior actresses.  Dressing Shirley MacLaine in Chanel copies and asking her to intone a few of Coco's most notable quotes does not make for great television. 

A faux fashion-related film that I have not seen, but that has received better early reviews, is Plastic City.  This Japanese, Brazilian, and French co-production by Chinese director Yu Lik-wai is set in an underworld where "the goods are fake, but the money is real," and it revolves around a counterfeit kingpin and his adopted son.  In other words, not exactly your basic chick flick. speaking of criminal connections, there are hard truths and real dangers behind all of these fictional fakes -- and filmmaker Richard Van Dam of Investigative Films is determined to reveal them.  He's hard at work on a documentary about counterfeits, and you can help by visiting his website and sharing your stories.  Richard's investigations have taken him around the world, including your favorite law prof's office (dangerous in its own way, perhaps!), and his tales of adulterated pharmaceuticals, deadly electronic devices, and child labor are quite shocking.  When this film opens, Counterfeit Chic will be first in line -- for a "hold the popcorn, pass the Scotch" kind of experience.

July 10, 2008

String Theory

Fans of the British TV series Doctor Who are still debating the details of last Saturday's season finale -- as well as the BBC's controversial enforcement of its intellectual property rights in the show.  And they're not just talking about downloads and DVDs.

It seems that grannies in the U.K. have given up knitting tea cosies and are instead turning out Doctor Who scarves and plush replicas of the various aliens whom the Doctor encounters in his travels.  Since both crafters and science fiction fans are communal types, it's not surprising that patterns for these projects have appeared online, further encouraging the proliferation of DIY knockoffs.  While the BBC is state run, it still has a keen eye on potential profits from merchandising -- and thus cease & desist letters have followed. 

The fiber arts brigade has, of course, questioned both the BBC's judgment -- why anger the fan base? -- and its legal statements.  Is it really illegal to knit your own Adipose baby or peaceful Ood?  Or to take up needles and recreate other TV characters or their signature wardrobe pieces?

From a copyright perspective, it's a knotty problem.  Characters can be protected by copyright, and thus a knitted version would constitute an infringement.  And if the knitted version is an infringement, then distributing a pattern online might very well constitute contributory infringement -- after all, the instructions enable others to knit their own unauthorized copies.  On the other hand, versions of the scarf worn by Tom Baker, the fourth actor to play the Doctor (1974-1981), may not be subject to copyright, since U.K. law protecting fashion designs at the time was far more limited than it is now.  Today, however, original items in a character's wardrobe would be more likely to enjoy copyright protection -- though a striped scarf might still be too generic to qualify.  (In the U.S., characters' wardrobe items would still be unprotected in almost all cases -- although animated characters would have a distinct copyright advantage over their live counterparts.)

As for trademark, relatively few characters are actually registered or used to indicate the source of tie-in products, but the name of a TV series certainly would be.  Thus any use of the name in a trademark manner -- "Buy your handmade Doctor Who toys/scarves here!" -- would constitute an infringement. 

So unless you're prepared to use those knitting needles as deadly weapons, it may be best to hide behind the sofa when that C&D arrives. 

Adipose babies


Thanks to my esteemed colleague, a lifelong Doctor Who fan, for suggesting insisting upon this post!  (It was this or knit him a scarf....)

June 02, 2008

Sex and the City: Sloppy Seconds

After a much-hyped opening weekend, the tally is in on the Sex and the City movie: 

  • mostly mediocre reviews,
  • flocks of fans who couldn't care less about the mediocre reviews,
  • twice the expected box office take, and
  • Hollywood execs perennially perplexed at the presence of pink purchasing power. 

Whether or not, as a certain familiar opening voiceover suggests, "People come to New York looking for the two L's -- love and labels," Counterfeit Chic was amused by the followup metaphor:  "Turns out a knockoff is not as easy to spot when it comes to love."  This chick flick is nothing if not genuinely brand-friendly, the cameo role of an unlabeled vintage suit notwithstanding.  SATC even offers (repeatedly) one of my usual bits of advice for the aspiring fashionista who simply must have a designer label but can't afford to buy it -- namely, rent

Of course, any lucrative transition to the big screen gives rise to the suspicion that the creators of the sharp, observant original show have sold out to the masses.  Nostalgia for Meet Me in Saint Louis?  An apartment hunt based on following a white guy with a baby -- without irony?  Still, SATC includes one truly authentic moment, in which the writers' real attitude shines through.  After ordering a round of cosmopolitans, one of the gang of four wonders aloud why they ever stopped drinking the show's signature pink cocktail.  The answer?  "Because everyone else started." 

P.S.  Speaking of lack of originality, it seems that Sarah Jessica Parker's borrowed finery for the NYC premiere had already taken a turn on the red carpet -- to the dismay of the actress.  Despite the constant comparisons of the ready-to-wear era, enhanced by internet immediacy ("Who Wore It Best?" "Fashion Faceoff"), style-savvy stars still want to project a unique image.  In this case, however, there's something appropriate about a TV trendsetter celebrating her movie adaptation in a second-time-around gown. 

Sarah Jessica Parker (left) in Nina Ricci by Olivier Theyskens; Lauren Santo Domingo with the designer.

April 21, 2008


Are you a Betty or a Veronica? 

Betty & Veronica Digest #183

In the opening story of the June 2008 Betty & Veronica Digest Magazine, the longtime rivals for Archie's affections become mutually unwilling mirror images.  Betty's defense?  "Don't look at me like that!  I just bought it, I didn't manufacture it!"  Even the end of the school day fails to bring relief, as the girls stomp off to a pep rally -- in identical cheerleader uniforms. 

It may look like a children's comic book, but for my USD $2.49, it's a pretty sophisticated commentary on originality and social conformity.  After all, true wisdom comes from recognizing that all of life is just a reiteration of high school

April 18, 2008


In times past, a fashionista who contemplated attending a comicon would be tempted to duck into a phone both to change, lest her fellow style mavens suspect her secret identity as an associate of comic book geeks, science fiction fans, and other permanently adolescent males.  However unfair the stereotype -- most avid graphic novel readers have met a girl, and a growing number actually are girls -- hanging out with the comic crowd wasn't exactly a recipe for social success.

This season, however, none other than Vogue's Anna Wintour has declared the arrival of superhero chic.  The Met's Costume Institute Gala, co-chaired by Anna herself along with Giorgio Armani, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts, will take place among displays of high fashion influenced by comic book characters.  Mere mortals will no doubt flock to the exhibit for months afterward. 

The Met has, naturally, taken the opportunity to encourage donations by sending out preview literature from the exhibit, including this photo of a Bernhard Willhelm look from Spring 2006.  It's not clear exactly which nefarious ubervillain might have found a way to melt Superman's shield, but judging from the choice of trim underscoring the trademark, Counterfeit Chic suspects the Infringer, whose choice of weapon is the deadly pun ray.  Pugnacious parodies, Batman! 

Bernhard Willhelm Spring 2006

Of course, we need not worry about the Man of Steel.  He's more than capable of defending against crimes of fashion if necessary -- a good thing, since D.C. Comics' lawyers have had their hands full with other matters lately.

As for me, I'm off to the New York Comic Con's panel on "Comics, Concepts, and Copyrights" this afternoon at 2pm.  See you there!

March 31, 2008

Stealing Beauty

As every good hunter or fisherman knows, the right bait can be crucial to landing a catch.  In the 1955 Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly suspects Cary Grant of being a not-quite-reformed jewel thief masquerading as an Oregon businessman -- and baits her trap accordingly.  When Grant reveals his true identity by identifying Kelly's stunning "diamond" necklace as a fake, the victorious huntress leans forward and breathes, "Well, I'm not."  Fireworks ensue.  Literally.


Diamonds may be some girls' best friend, but for the future Princess Grace, rhinestones did the job just fine.  One can only imagine how well she'd have managed with access to a ready supply of the new "manufactured" diamonds -- or whatever they'll ultimately be called in the marketplace.

March 09, 2008

Project Parody

Are the small screen toils and triumphs of Project Runway's aspiring designers already fading from memory?  Then check out this report on Project Lameway, a San Francisco charity event sponsored by vintage emporium Retrofit to benefit Creativity Explored.  Not only did Nina, Michael, and Heidi lookalikes show up to judge the designs, but "Tim Gunn" was on hand to offer advice and encouragement. 

Tim Gunn impersonator for Project Lameway

With some of the buzz around the show fading, backwards-writing contestant Elisa Jimenez mischievously noting that "runway" reversed reads a sleepy "yawnur," and even finalist Jillian Lewis telling WWD that the producers need to "change the format or something" to maintain interest, at least the parody version will offer a few surprises. 

As for Counterfeit Chic, it's definitely time to turn off the TV and get back to work!

Law of the Lipstick Jungle, Part 3

Mirabile dictu -- a TV show got the law right! 

As law students who thought their careers would play out like a television sitcom or even a John Grisham novel quickly realize, law in the world of fiction and law in the real world bear little relation to one another.  After all, how easy is it to dramatize document production or the rule against perpetuities?  Every now and then, however, a smart writer captures not only the spirit of the law but its letter -- as in this week's episode of Lipstick Jungle

Counterfeit Chic readers are aware that both the original novel and the TV series include a subplot in which fashion designer Victory Ford has her work copied.  The small screen version reaches a climax in episode 105 when Victory sees a group of her sketches (secretly appropriated by a former assistant) already produced and displayed on mannequins in a department store window -- under the label of one Ricardo Bragini.  When the distraught Victory calls on her posse for support the next morning, one blithely suggests calling a lawyer, only to be informed that U.S. copyright does not apply to fashion designs. 


Naturally, Victory isn't going to let a little thing like the law's refusal to stop the theft of fashion designs prevent her from confronting the guilty parties.  To watch the episode in its entirety, including a dramatically ripped dress and Bragini's villainously cool response to Victory, visit the Lipstick Jungle website.

Of course, the real star of the show -- the strapless, empire waist babydoll dress in question -- is probably too basic to qualify for protection even under a more advanced legal regime.  But don't tell the show's stylist.  A trade secret is a trade secret, after all. 

Related posts:  Law of the Lipstick Jungle and Law of the Lipstick Jungle, Part 2

February 29, 2008

Law of the Lipstick Jungle, Part 2

Anton Chekov famously noted that if you hang a gun on the wall in the first act, you'd better fire it by the last.  It seems that the writers of the ABC television series Lipstick Jungle were listening. 

After introducing a dishonest assistant who appropriates her boss's work in episode 2, the preview for episode 5, "Dressed to Kill," shows fashion designer Victory Ford discovering her protege's perfidy. 


We'll have to wait until March 6, when the episode airs in the U.S., to find out what happens.  Until then, two words of advice from the jurisprudential jungle:  noncompetition agreement.

Related post:  Law of the Lipstick Jungle

February 28, 2008

Walk of Shame: Oscar Knockoffs by Faviana

Sunday's Oscar parties are over and the Monday hangovers have faded, but knockoff artists are still hanging around and sniffing at the leftover crumbs from the fashion banquet.  A Cachet copyist immediately revealed his top targets to WWD, and now the notorious Faviana label has named its own fashion victims, including two of the same dresses as Cachet.  

In addition to seeking secondhand publicity via Access Hollywood, Faviana has gone to great lengths to make sure that the models for its copied samples resemble the actresses who wore the original gowns to the Academy Awards -- or at least their morning-after incarnations.  Imagine Katherine Heigl with her curls gone flat and her roots showing, Jessica Alba with her bodice feathers bedraggled, Miley Cyrus haphazardly smearing lipstick around her mouth after partying with the grownups, or Amy Adams with shiny skin and an extra dessert under her belt, and you'll get the picture.  Or if your mind's eye refuses to conjure such wreckage, just scroll down: 

Katherine Heigl in Escada and Faviana knockoff

Jessica Alba in Marchesa and Faviana knockoff

Miley Cyrus in Valentino and Faviana knockoff

Amy Adams in Proenza Schouler and Faviana Knockoff

Girls, don't let these be your post-prom pictures -- just say no! 

And while the fashion police ponder these aesthetic offenses, does the legal system have anything to say for itself?  The gowns, of course, are unprotected by U.S. law -- but the photos may be subject to copyright.  Since Faviana is clearly using them for a commercial purpose, the company had better have sent its own photographer to snap these red carpet shots -- or at least licensed their use.  Even that wouldn't leave Faviana home free, however, if the actresses in question object to their images being used to hock fashion schlock.  Some of these leading ladies are reportedly paid a pretty penny to appear in the real thing, and it's unlikely that any one of them would agree to pose for a Faviana ad or to deputize a double to do so.  Perhaps the fashion houses can't take direct action against blatant copyists -- but there's nothing to say that they can't persuade their lovely mannequins to do so. 

For the moment, however, sweatshop season is in full swing -- and Counterfeit Chic has another pressing question to ponder.  Have I spent too much time staring at various trademarks, or (no offense to the charming and talented Proenza Schouler boys here) does the bodice of Amy Adams' gown recall the silhouette of Mickey Mouse? 

Many thanks to Steven Kolb for the links!

UPDATE:  Some wise words from Professor Rebecca Tushnet:

You know I respect your work, even if we may disagree on some things.  So I hope you'll take this as a friendly question:  did you really have to suggest that the decidedly skinny model in the last Faviana picture was fat?  Aside from accuracy -- and I admit, I don't follow fashion and I don't see such huge differences between the glowing stars and the nameless models -- I wish you wouldn't suggest that having an extra dessert is a problem.  When I see something like that, I have to wonder how fat you think I am and what you think that means about my moral standing.  Criticize the copyists all you want.  But it's hard for me to read attacks on the models for being, in my eyes, a perfectly reasonable -- skinny actually -- shape. 

And a response:

Point taken, Rebecca -- you're quite right, esp. with the skinny model debate and issues involving eating disorders in the industry and among the young women it influences still unresolved.  The model certainly isn't fat or even particularly curvy, though as I looked at the picture, I didn't like the shape created by the belt on the copy -- a straight belt or waistband in general is apt to create a strange tummy bulge even on a thin person where a curved belt or waistband won't (but requires more fabric and care in construction).
There's no moral implication about extra dessert, though -- just make mine chocolate.  I was  thinking of the various ways in which one's carefully constructed look can degrade over the course of an evening out -- mussed hair, lipstick re-applied after a few drinks, the need to loosen the belt after a gourmet dinner, etc. -- and I still find it amusing that the knockoff company tried to find doubles for the actresses but did such a sloppy job of styling them. 
Still, there are too many attacks on women based on unrealistic standards of body shape and size, and I don't mean for this post to be taken as one of them.  For the record, womanly curves and angles are both fine, and healthy is the ultimate ideal.  Thanks for the reminder that we're not yet living in a world where we can take that for granted.

February 26, 2008

Loss of Cachet

With so many actresses playing it safe at the Oscars, it was a lean year for the red carpet scavengers seeking knockoff fodder. 

Michael Ruff of Cachet, however, has gone on record with WWD about his top targets.  Naturally, there will be long red dresses -- a trend that will be noted by real designers seeking inspiration and design pirates alike.  The soon-to-be Cachet copies include Heidi Klum's John Galliano, Anne Hathaway's Marchesa (red carpet bait as soon as it came down the runway; it was just a matter of which actress), and Katherine Heigl's Escada:

The company also announced plans to replicate Jessica Alba's aubergine Marchesa (though presumably not in pregnant proportions), as well as Jennifer Garner's Oscar de la Renta and Penelope Cruz's Chanel:

Ruff may be barking up another tree, though, if Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul and now spouse of Marchesa co-designer Georgina Chapman, hears about his plans.  Last year, when another manufacturer boasted of his intent to copy a Marchesa straight off the red carpet (this one, perhaps?), Weinstein played the good boyfriend and beat up the guy called his extremely famous trial lawyer.  Somehow, the would-be copyist changed his mind.  Now Cachet claims it's going to copy two Marchesas...

The copying is, of course, legal in the U.S. -- at the moment.  Perhaps Harvey's bulldog invoked trade dress protection, since the dress was immediately famous; perhaps he considered the probability of distribution to a foreign jurisdiction where the copying might be actionable; perhaps he simply threatened to dog the copyist's footsteps with various legal challenges for the rest of his natural life.  Whatever the tactics, they're unlikely to be successful -- or even available -- in most cases.

For the moment, then, Cachet is simply cackling over its Academy Awards loot and calculating its prom-season profits.  The beading and other details on some of the gowns are too expensive to copy, Ruff notes, "But with the others, especially the one-shoulder dresses, we will be able to do something more exact."

February 16, 2008

Law of the Lipstick Jungle

It's not a good season for powerful, high-achieving women.  The buzz has gone out of Hillary Clinton's campaign, leaving one to wonder how the first serious shot at nominating a woman for President could seem, well, boring.  And the two TV shows vying to be worthy successors to Sex and the City, but with elite career women as the main characters -- Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle -- seem to play the crying game as often as Hillary in New Hampshire.  And New Haven.  And....

Behind the veil of televised tears, however, there is one plotline of potential interest to Counterfeit Chic.  In the original Lipstick Jungle novel, a flashback shows the fashion designer character facing down a copyist early in her career before going on to fame and fortune.  In the TV version, the designer, Victory Ford, has all but lost her business -- and, as a final parting gesture, her assistant rips pages from Victory's sketchbook and presents them as her own at a new job. 


As of episode 2, the designer hadn't yet discovered her assistant's treachery.  When she does, however, will she have any legal recourse?   

Since the designer told the assistant to "take anything you want," it might be difficult to argue that the pages were stolen.  And since the assistant didn't trace the designs but simply took the pages, there's no copyright issue.  As for the assistant presenting the sketches as part of her own portfolio, and telling her new employer that she'd actually been the design force behind the Victory Ford label, she could lose her job for essentially lying about her resume -- but that's up to her new boss, not her old one.  If the designs were actually produced by the new employer and were so recognizable that the public assumed they were Victory's work, the designer could have a trade dress argument -- but it would be an extremely weak one.  How could the public be confused as to the origin of specific designs it had never seen? 

In some non-US legal systems, however, Victory Ford could call on her lawyers to take action against her former assistant.  As the artist responsible for the sketches, Victory would be entitled to have them attributed to her and not to someone else.  Moreover, turning the sketches into clothing -- making 3D copies -- would be actionable as well, since fashion designs are subject to protection in the EU, Japan, India, etc. 

Presumably the story will be continued in future episodes of Lipstick Jungle.  Whether Victory is ultimately victorious or not, however, she's certain to cry. 

February 03, 2008

Super Fakes

Every year, sales of Super Bowl memorabilia total over $100 million.  That's a lot of T-shirts -- and a major magnet for counterfeiters.

According to an article in the New York Times, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials headed to Arizona in advance of football's big game to sweep up fake tees and tickets, and even a $2,000 counterfeit jersey allegedly signed by members of the Patriots' offense. 

ICE freezes football fakes - by Doug Mills for the NYT

Happily for Giants fans, their opponents' celebrated offensive line turned out to be almost as flimsy as the jersey. 

P.S.  For more on the Patriots and false -- or at least overly optimistic -- trademarks, check out The Trademark Blog's just slightly gloating commentary.

January 22, 2008

Sartorial Spider Sense

These days Spiderman comic fans are (more or less) relieved to see their favorite superhero looking his red-and-blue best.  Over the past weeks, however, a Marvel comics crossover series entitled Civil War has seen Spidey, a.k.a. Peter Parker, unmasked and imitation Scarlet Spiders wearing copies of a new suit designed especially for the original webspinner.  Needless to say, our khaki-clad hero was not happy: 

Not only did Spiderman refuse to take this sartorial offense sitting down, he even invoked the power of intellectual property law in his defense:

The choice of copyright law is an interesting one here.  Apparel in general is not eligible for copyright protection, although some costume elements -- surface designs, for example, or fanciful masks -- may qualify.  In the case of the new spider suit, however, the garment includes so many functional elements that patent protection might be more appropriate.  Alternatively, Spiderman may have a right of publicity claim against the imposters, since they've attempted to replicate his personna.

Of course, Spiderman is correct in one sense:  Unless we suspend disbelief and enter his virtual world, he's just a 2-dimensional drawing --  and thus subject to copyright protection (and, on other grounds, to trademark protection as well).  Not that this would hamper Marvel artists in their decision to copy his suit for other Marvel characters.  But don't expect D.C. Comics' Superman to be borrowing the web design any time soon.

Back in Peter Parker's world, even thugs aren't impressed by the Scarlet Spiders' attempt to copy the costume and to steal Spiderman's image:

Which only goes to show that while there may be honor among thieves, (intellectual property) thieves are accorded very little honor. 

P.S.  Should anyone else out there be thinking about knocking off Spiderman, think again.  I've met Spidey's lawyer, and while I've never seen him climb walls or spin webs, he definitely rocks.

January 14, 2008

Project Runway: Pattern Recognition

Were the Project Runway judges on last week's episode blinded by the bedazzling on Season 4 contestant Victorya Hong's winning prom dress (right)?  Jennifer at, who noted the similarity between Victorya's design and a dress designed by PR Season 3 finalist Mychael (formerly Michael) Knight (left), thinks so. 

Of course, the jeweled neckline also resembles that of Season 3 designers Kayne Gillaspie and Robert Best for Miss USA, Tara Conner (below).  Could it be that Victorya, rather than inadvertently copying Mychael, has cleverly nailed the judges' style?  Or adapted a general trend?  Or perhaps simply tapped into our collective desire to see the same thing over and over again, but with a twist --the pushmipullyu psychological phenomenon explored by Murketing genius Rob Walker in his latest Consumed column? 

Whatever the source of the resemblance between Victorya's and Mychael's dresses, at least the desire of Project Runway viewers for a seasonal copying scandal has been satisfied.  For a walk down memory lane, check out the duplicative moments from Season 3 and Season 2

And in the meantime, sign me Counterfyt Chic. 

November 19, 2007

Oops! She Did It Again: Britney Spears' Flying Fake

What cosmic counterfeiting conspiracy has compelled mention of Britney on this page twice in a month?  It's a vision best avoided -- as is Britney Spears' 2005 video "Do Something," which features the singer and friends in a flying pink Hummer upholstered in Louis Vuitton Murakami cherry blossoms.  Counterfeit, of course.

A French court has levied a fine of 80,000 euros (nearly USD $120,000) against Sony BMG and its subsidiary Zomba Label Group, as well as MTV Online, which displayed the clip on its website.  In addition, the court ordered the video removed from distribution, including via the internet, with additional fines of 1,000 euros per day until the companies do so. 

At that rate, Britney could've hired Takashi Murakami to draw the flowers personally....

November 12, 2007

Britney Spears: Gimme More Fakes

Britney may have fallen low on the celebrity food chain -- and even been accused of carrying a fake bag herself -- but who knew that she would be endorsing counterfeits on YouTube? Check out "her" brazen new video before it disappears.

Truth be told, PerfectionBags' videography may be more self-aware, and offer more commentary on consumer culture, than the original. Not that it's legal or anything.

September 25, 2007

Teach Your Children Well

If you've taught your children to read using brightly colored shopping bag logos or spent more on the latest diaper bag than on the babysitter's salary, there's a new developmental toy for your beloved accessories offspring.  Check out Atypyk's new wooden peg puzzle, featuring baby's first brands, a bargain at only USD $32.10.

Of course, the French company's luxury edition will no doubt replace American fashion, fast food, technology, and porn with continental counterparts -- priced accordingly. 

Via Core77

September 21, 2007

Vendetta against VO5?

"V" is an anarchist revolutionary created by graphic artist Alan Moore and also the title character in a Warner Brothers film (logo, left).  Now, it would seem, he's selling hair products

Hey, it's a living.  But why, exactly, would you want to encourage the anarchic tendencies of your tresses?

Via Newsarama and Kung Fu Rodeo.

September 07, 2007

In Hot Pursuit: Paris Hilton Sues Hallmark

For modern celebrities, talent is optional.  Having a catchphrase is not.

This phenomenon has let to the trademarking of any number of short phrases, including Paris Hilton's, "That's hot!"  She holds or has applied for registration of the phrase in several categories of goods, including clothing, electronic devices such as cell phones, and alcoholic beverages -- in other words, everything a girl needs for a night out.  (Readers will be relieved to know that the scope of the clothing registration includes underwear.) 

Today the Smoking Gun reports that Ms. Hilton has sued Hallmark, alleging that one of its greeting card designs not only misappropriates her image for commercial purposes in violation of her rights of publicity but also infringes her trademark. 

Not so hot for Hallmark.

September 01, 2007

BMW Driving Shoes

If you're going to make an omelette, you've got to break a few eggs. 

And if you're going to make a TV commercial in which a determinedly stylish woman saws off the right heel of a brand-new, red-soled pair of pumps in order to wear them while driving her BMW, you've got to ruin a few Louboutins.  Or do you?

Louboutin BMW ad

Take a look at the commercial, then examine the frame above.  As satisfied as our ruthless fashionista looks with her new purchase, the shopping bag is a knockoff.  Real Christian Louboutin bags are indeed a color close to grocery bag brown (remember paper bags?  the evil tree killers that were replaced by more virtuous plastic bags, before they too became public enemies?), with a subtle tone-on-tone horizontal stripe.  However, Louboutin bags have the designer's logo printed in white on both sides.  Moreover, the real things have white rope handles, not ribbons. 

The shoes themselves are a tougher call.  The logo on the insole is unreadable, even magnified and sharpened (hi-def, anyone?).  Its shadowy form doesn't match the printing that would appear on a real Louboutin insole, in most cases consisting of the designer's name and the word "Paris" in gold.  It's possible that the logos in the ad were deliberately obscured, either manually or digitally.  The insole of the shoe in the model's left hand, in particular, is suspiciously dark in the middle where the logo should be. 

That leaves us with the signature red soles, an immediate indicator of the master's work -- except when they're not

So, real or fake?  At a visceral level, I'd like to think that the shoe in the ad is a knockoff, and that the horrified reaction of shoe-loving viewers is mere media manipulation.  After all, the bag is fake, and destroying a few copies while filming would be much less expensive than sawing through heel after heel of the real thing.

On the other hand, one estimate sets the average cost of producing a 30-second commercial at USD $350,000.  In addition, the price of air time during the last Superbowl reportedly topped $2.5 million.  With that kind of budget, why not go for the expensive thrill rather than the cheap one?

If actual Louboutin pumps were harmed in the making of this commercial, however, why would BMW change the bag and obscure the logos?  One possibility is to focus viewer attention on only the most relevant details, namely the red soles and the BMW logo.  A more likely reason, however, would be that Louboutin didn't give permission for his logo to appear in the ad, which essentially elevates the car over the shoes as an object of desire -- not exactly an intelligent designer endorsement. 

As for the red soles, they're not registered trademarks.  Yet.   

Postscript to ad folks:  OK, you've succeded in getting at least one woman to notice a car commercial.  However, the action is so eyebrow-raising (yes, really) that I watched the ad several times before remembering what make of car was involved, and even now I couldn't name the model.  Just in case you were wondering.

August 19, 2007

Tyra Teaser

Tyra BanksAs a law professor, very few of my professional engagements require false eyelashes. 

On Friday, however, I taped a segment of the Tyra Banks Show on -- what else? -- fake fashion, and her talented hair and makeup team definitely raised the glamor quotient beyond the usual academic levels.  I can't reveal the details of the show yet, but after watching Tyra, you may never look at a Gucci bag the same way again.

The episode will air this fall; I'll keep you posted on the specific date. 

August 03, 2007

Lock Diary, Lose Key

After one fashion assistant's roman a clef became a best-selling novel and a hit movie, knockoffs inevitably followed.  The lastest entry is The Fashionista Diaries, a reality TV show that drops 6 interns into Fashionworld, including the offices of soon-to-fold Jane magazine. 

One of you will have to tell me if there are any featured fakes, since after 20 minutes of manufactured enthusiasm, awkward on-the-job flirting, and staged performance reviews, I doubt I'll tune in again.  In the meantime, one intern has already declared her allegiance to knockoffs in her online profile:

Right now, I'm loving my Steven by Steve Madden black patent leather Mary Janes --- because they look like Manolos!

Well, maybe. 

The Steve Madden shoes that most closely resemble both those on said intern's feet and the beautifully balanced creations of Manolo Blahnik (left) are the "Vyxen" style (right) -- but the master has little to fear.  Apart from issues of craftsmanship, placement of straps is a tricky matter.  Perfect location highlights the instep and makes arch reference to the flat, round-toed Mary Janes of childhood; a too-high strap merely shortens and widens the leg.  Unfortunate -- but internships are about learning, I suppose.

Manolo Blahnik (left) and Steve Madden 

There is one good thing to come out of the not-terribly-revolutionary show, however:  great ad graphics. 


June 04, 2007

Knockoff Moment at the CFDA Fashion Awards

Derek LamAt the Swarovski crystal-studded and carbon-neutral CFDA Fashion Awards this evening, the fashion was real -- even if one of the celebrities was fake. 

Your humble blogger almost spilled her champagne laughing when, in a nod to the organization's continuing legislative efforts to fight knockoffs, an Ellen DeGeneres impersonator took the stage to present the Accessories Award.  MADtv's Nicole Parker wore a white pantsuit reminiscent of Ellen's Oscar attire and draped authentic handbags designed by nominees Derek Lam, Marc Jacobs, and Michael Kors around her neck and over her arms.  Happily for winner Derek Lam, the statuette was genuine as well. 

Congratulations to Derek and all of the other honorees -- and to the CFDA on the 25th anniversary of the Fashion Awards.  (Just don't call them the fashion Oscars -- unless you're speaking Italian.)

March 07, 2007

Canine Couture

Apparently our stylish canine companions aren't satisfied with copycat accessories anymore.  Now they're demanding couture knockoffs -- and Little Lilly is ready to oblige, with a "Red Carpet Collection" for polished and pampered pets. 

Does your dog fancy herself a JLo type in bejeweled "Marchesa"?  If not, how about a version of Nicole's Balenciaga, Penelope's Versace, or Reese's Nina Ricci?  And your little stud will surely make an impression at the dog park in "The Leo," an elegant tuxedo sans bow tie.  One wonders, naturally, about the gowns that didn't make the cut -- presumably the real dogs here.

Is all of this legal?  The outfits, certainly.  If the designers can't prevent the creation of knockoffs for two-legged fans, they won't be able to control the four-legged versions.  The use of celebrity photographs?  Probably not, unless the photos are licensed and their subjects have agreed to the use of their images to sell doggie duds.  And the golden image of Oscar himself?  Once again, not likely.

Still, the costumes alone are a revealing monument to capitalist culture -- and a whole new way of worshiping the "bitch-goddess, success."

February 26, 2007

Vintage Celebrity Knockoff

Amid this morning's post-Oscar chatter about which gowns were so safe as to be almost knockoffs themselves and which ones are likely to be knocked off for prom season, here's a look at a celebrity knockoff from an earlier era:


Peanuts, 11 April 1951

February 10, 2007

The Littlest Counterfeiter

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Kay Jewelers is running a 15-second spot in which an adorable little moppet turns to counterfeiting in order to impress his equally tiny girlfriend:


If this were a public service announcement rather than a jewelry commercial, the next scene might involve federal agents jumping out from the bushes next to little Mandy's front door and arresting young Charlie for his crime of passion -- or at least our besotted protagonist going home to find a C&D letter from the nice lawyers at Kay Jewelers.

But would Charlie have a defense?

If the charges involved criminal counterfeiting, Charlie might argue that his lovingly handwritten "Kay" trademark was neither "identical with" nor "substantially indistinguishable from" the real trademark.  Moreover, he was arguably not trafficking in counterfeit goods -- unless Mandy's kiss could be construed as valuable consideration for the delivery.

In the realm of civil offenses, Charlie might have a more difficult time attempting to prove that his trademark did not create a "likelihood of confusion."  Same name, same type of packaging, same category of product -- how much does it matter that Kay Jewelers usually goes with commercial printing over crayon?  Perhaps a survey of Mandy and her friends would be in order here.

As for copyright, Kay can certainly protect its original jewelry designs under U.S. law -- but we have no evidence at present that Charlie's paper-and-glitter heart pendant was substantially similar to Kay's diamond baubles. 

So what will be the fate of our little Charlie?  The young lad's life has clearly reached a crossroads.  He may grow up to be a successful jewelry designer, inspired by the material evidence of his parents' affection for one another and the memory of his first love.  If he learns the wrong lesson, however, he may one day find himself in court, accused of trademark infringement or worse.

Whether Charlie's ending proves happy or tragic, Kay Jewelers has certainly captured a moment -- and planted the seed of a Cupid-worthy drama.

Maybe it would be safer to just go with flowers.

February 01, 2007

Fashion Week Follies

Knockoff artists make a substantial profit on copying creative designers' hottest looks straight off the runway, thus skipping both the process of developing new looks and the expense of creating and marketing an entire line.  But how do they know which items the fashion press -- and more importantly, the consumer -- will anoint as this year's must-have pieces? 

Ugly Betty, ABC television's knockoff of the Columbian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea, offers a fictionalized version of how discount chain "Century 21 Eternal 18" sneaks a peek in to the fashion pack's seasonal fetishes:


Of courses, the Mode staffer's scam isn't actually criminal -- unless the scheme is to steal the item itself.  But why settle for a clandestinely emailed photo or two when you could build a whole subplot around getting hold of "it"?

December 15, 2006

Study Break

For most of you, it's the holiday season.

For academic types, it's exam season.  My students are (presumably!) studying for exams, I've been composing exams, and I have a stack of term papers on my desk, all ready for the red pen.  (Actually, I usually use green.  Red ink makes the papers look a bit too much like I've attacked them with a stiletto -- as in knife, not shoe.)

However, a study break is in order -- not just to celebrate Hanukkah (with whatever combination of h's, ch's, and k's you prefer), but also to shop for last-minute gifts and festive apparel.  If you're in New York, head down to Emmett McCarthy's Nolita boutique, EMc2, tonight to meet Chloe Dao of Project Runway Season 2 fame, or on Tuesday to meet America's dean of fashion, Tim Gunn. 

In between, drop by Kelima K's nearby boutique for limited-edition dresses or -- if the holiday season has prompted a long-awaited proposal -- a made-to-measure wedding gown.  Kelima's creations are so cleverly draped that they're virtually impossible to knock off, but more on that another day.  In the meantime, good things come in 3's:

Happy holidays!

November 12, 2006


incredible (adj.)

1.  so extraordinary as to seem impossible

2.  not credible; hard to believe; unbelievable

The following message, featuring superhero Captain Rochester and villain Count DerFitter, was created by Hatchling and Rochester Electronics "to clearly illustrate the potential disastrous result of a counterfeit device in a critical application." 


The incredible part?  Captain Rochester is a knockoff of writer/director Brad Bird's Mr. Incredible, right down to the theme music.  Lest you doubt, check out the tags accompanying the clip on YouTube.

November 09, 2006

Faking It

Here's proof that in our modern media culture, ads are often more revealing than the editorial content:

Tab ad in Vogue

Apparently the Coca-Cola company's ideal woman prefers her fashion accessories real but is willing to fake her, er, other sensory experiences.  What better to fuel this fabulous lifestyle than the latest version of the Totally Artificial Beverage?  (No, that's not the official explanation of the name, but if the shoe fits....)  Pity that pink beverages went out of style with the finale of Sex and the City.

Click here for the full-page ad.

October 31, 2006

Trick or Treat?

Channel your inner Edna Mode with this superhero costume contest from Project Rooftop!  You redesign and don one of the classics, and if you win, graphic artist Dean Trippe will make your three-dimensional dream a 2D reality:

Does the contest promote the creation of potentially copyright-infringing derivative works or the unauthorized use of trademarks in superhero characters?  Well, probably.  But like fan fiction, the contest entries are more likely to benefit than harm the holders of rights in the original works.  (Just beware of engaging in commercial production.)  And for more on copyright in costumes themselves, click here.

Many thanks to Marty Schwimmer over at The Trademark Blog for this Halloween treat!

October 26, 2006

Parade of Horribles

Radar's Dale Hrabi has "discovered" the inspiration for some of this season's most horrible handbags -- in horror movies.  Below is Exhibit F, one of seven sartorial creations that bear strange resemblence to cinematic creatures:

Charm and Luck purse with Predator

Copyright concerns?  Hardly -- even if Radar had tapped designers' secret source of new styles, any actual copying would be too minimal to raise the spectre of infringement of the moviemakers' right to prepare derivative works.  And while I'm not an expert on extraterrestrial rights, I doubt that this Predator could claim rights of publicity with respect to his (her? its?) image. 

So banish the ghoulish rules, and get to work on accessorizing your Halloween costume!

Many thanks to my creative Georgetown student David Barzelay for the link.

October 21, 2006

Who's the Most L.A. of All?

As talented Project Runway Season 2 contestant Andrae Gonzalo notes, Los Angeles is the city that has "raised artifice to an art form."  So perhaps his warning that his infamous "I'm so L.A." T-shirt -- the one that he as wearing during his emotional runway meltdown -- and been copied and copied again is not unexpected.

Andrae Gonzalo T


Legal?  Unfortunately for Andrae, probably.  Although graphic designs are copyrightable subject matter, short phrases are not.  Could he have trademarked the phrase, "I'm so L.A."?  Possibly, if weren't considered too common.  Of course, the design itself could certainly serve as a trademark -- think New York State's battle to protect its "I [heart] NY" logo.  The alleged knockoffs in this case, however, are too different to fall into that trap.

Interested in an Andrae original?  He guarantees that it is "100% made and printed in Los Angeles....  No overseas kids in China sewing these shirts for 50 cents a day.  It's the real deal."  So head over to Andrae's blog or look for his signature on the T's. 

And coming soon for female fans:  Genuine L.A. fake breasts to fill out the authentic "I'm so L.A." T's.  Abs not included.

September 27, 2006


Do indie designers -- fashion and otherwise -- mind being copied by large commercial enterprises?  Especially without attribution?  Rather than hang around debating the question, check out the forthright and righteous site You Thought We Wouldn't Notice... for direct responses to "biters" (and great pictures). 

September 21, 2006

Project Runway Fan Favorites

Project Runway fan April Winchell received a copy of Entertainment Weekly featuring Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum...

... and was inspired to recreate them in the form of stuffed dolls, put them for sale on eBay, and offer to donate a portion of the proceeds to charity.  As April says, "It's uncanny, isn't it? Well, I mean besides the fact that Heidi Klum has two eyes in real life, and Tim Gunn's eyes aren't on one side of his head like a flounder. I mean overlooking all of that, it's pretty dead on, right? Not only that, but the Heidi doll is pregnant. And barefoot. Now how much would you pay?" 

Are the "Winchies" amusing?  Sure. 

Legal?  Well, as long as neither Tim nor Heidi objects.  When it comes to "rights of publicity," the quasi-intellectual property rights of a celebrity to control the economic exploitation of his or her own image, state laws are all over the map.  In one well-known and frequently debated case, Samsung's use of a robot in a blonde wig and evening gown to evoke Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White was considered an infringement.  White v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc., 989 F.2d 1512 (9th Cir. 1993).  Of course, Samsung in that case was using the "Vanna" character to sell consumer electronics, whereas April is arguably parodying the Project Runway folks and the celebrity hype of the magazine.  And are Tim and Heidi likely to object?  One would hope not -- they'd lose far more in terms of reputation by antagonizing fans than they could hope to gain by challenging their felt and glue avatars. 

As for Entertainment Weekly or Project Runway, they could advance copyright and trademark claims regarding the eBay listing -- but their lawyers, too, probably have better ways to spend their billable hours.  So my guess would be that our google-eyed friends are safe for now.

Hat tip to Blogging Project Runway.

P.S.  For an authorized -- and far more flattering -- toy likeness of Tim Gunn, check out his bobbleheads, now adorning stylish desks everywhere.

September 15, 2006

Television Time Out 2

If you've followed Project Runway and the speculation regarding a copying scandal earlier this season -- or even if you haven't -- it's time to take a break from reality television and get back to actual reality.  Head to Season 2 contestant Emmett McCarthy's EMc2 boutique in New York tomorrow and meet Emmett and fellow Runway alumni Chloe Dao, Kara Janx, Alison Kelly, and Nick Verreos as they show off their new fall lines. 

Best of all, America's dean of fashion Tim Gunn has been cloned -- as a bobblehead doll.  He'll be there in person tomorrow from noon until 3pm, dispensing his characteristic words of wisdom and nodding and smiling along with his plastic pals. 


September 12, 2006

Noteworthy Knockoffs

Love 'em or hate 'em, fakes are a cultural phenomenon, celebrated (or reviled) in song and story.  Scroll down for three bands that have apparently eschewed the philosophical quest for authenticity and embraced their inner fraudulence...and one in the intellectual property equivalent of suspended animation.  No question about what to wear to these concerts!

  Hong Kong Counterfeit

Hong Kong Counterfeit


The Knockoffs

The Knockoffs (cf. this logo, which copied this logo)


The Counterfeits

The Counterfeits


Patent Pending

Patent Pending

September 02, 2006

If Ibsen Were a Project Runway Fan

Blogging Project Runway reports that the garments created on the reality TV show have been knocked off and sold -- in miniature.  Fans are apparently buying elaborately costumed dolls (where else?) on eBay. 

From this season's first episode, here is former Barbie designer Robert Best's dress (front and back views):

And Robert's former client all dolled up:

Episode 2 winner Kayne Gillaspie dressed Miss USA Tara Conner for her trip to the Miss Universe competition, and inspired a small-scale counterpart as well:

Legal?  Sure, apart from any misuse of the show's trademarked name or copyrighted images in the auction listings, or perhaps rights of publicity concerns in the case of Miss USA.  So long as full-sized knockoffs are legal, so are the doll-sized versions. 

Of course, in Ibsen's version, the doll would someday awaken and design her own outfit....

August 29, 2006

Fake Film Fest

In A New Kind of Love (1963)probably Paul Newman's worst film ever, his real-life wife Joanne Woodward plays a notorious fashion design pirate with a photographic memory. After an excruciating couple of hours, she forgettably finds love in Paris -- but her scenes as a knockoff artist are definitely cultural artifacts worth viewing!


The idea for Woodward's knockoff artist character was presumably ripped right from the headlines, since in the late 1950s and early 1960s the fashion industry was engaged in one of its periodic quests for legislative protection. 

August 25, 2006

Project Publicity

Several Project Runway stars, including supermodel Heidi Klum, Parsons Professor Tim Gunn, and Elle Fashion Director Nina Garcia, appeared on Larry King Live this evening.  Although the camera couldn't take its eye off Heidi, Nina had the most interesting quote of the evening -- at least as far as the innovation v. imitation question is concerned.  When asked what she liked about the Season 1 winner, Nina answered:

He doesn't borrow any ideas.  Everything you see is Jay McCarroll, 100 percent.

Sadly, the show ended before the judges were asked to comment on Larry's signature suspenders.  Then again, the 80s are back in fashion. 

August 17, 2006

Eye of the Beholder

As the Emmy-nominated television show Weeds returns for its second season, Counterfeit Chic takes a look back at the first episode of the series.  The star of this clip is not actress Mary-Louise Parker as a pot-dealing widowed mother of two, but rather her lime green handbag.  It's a designer Rorschach blot, revealing more about the characters looking at the bag than the bag itself. 


August 10, 2006

All that Glitters

Apparently starlets' gowns aren't the only things being knocked off on Oscar night.

The online auction of an Academy Award, expected to sell for more than $100,000, was canceled after the golden boy was determined to be a fake.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences holds both a copyright and trademark and service marks in the statuette and strictly controls its distribution. 

Although its base was real, the faux Oscar wasn't quite his chiseled self, weighing in at over a pound more than the original.  As if a real actor would dare gain a pound before a major public appearance! 

August 03, 2006

Project Runway: Reap What You Sew

Keith MichaelMystery revealed!  Project Runway reality show contestant Keith Michael, the subject of intense speculation about a copying scandal, was ousted from the program -- for a different offense.

The rules violation turned out to be not a fashion design sin, but the near occasion of one.  Namely, the possession of a contraband patternmaking book, use of the internet, and sneaking away from the production without permission -- all of which could have given Keith the opportunity to copy his design from an outside source.  As the oracular Tim Gunn explains:

Why are fashion-related books against the rules? They offer references and points of departure that the designers can borrow, thereby compromising the integrity of their designs. Imagine if these books were to be allowed and later we discover that so-and-so’s design for the “X” challenge was a copy of the Alexander McQueen dress on page 184 of “20th Century Fashion Design.” That would present a huge issue.

Tim also took the opportunity to put to rest the earlier rumors about one of Keith's sketchbooks, submitted as part of his application to become a contestant -- and at the same time to draw a distinction between inspiration and copying. 

Although the sketchbook included drawings copied directly from photographs of other desginers' work, the judges were apparently cognizant of this at the outset and assumed that the sketches were just for inspiration.  This is a common practice; indeed, in Tim's words, "Fashion designers have a responsibility to look at the design work around them." 

Just not to copy it. 

July 19, 2006

Culture Crash

An astute observer of cultural appropriation in all its forms, my Georgetown law student Jacob Howley, sent me this "breaking news" yesterday:

NEW YORK—More than 11,000 trendsetters, tastemakers, movers, and shakers gathered in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood Monday to declare a strike against the broad segment of the American population that they say routinely copies their fashions, musical tastes, and sensibilities. Should the strike persist, experts said, it could bring the pop-cultural life of the nation to a standstill.

Amused?  Plant your tongue firmly in your cheek, and continue reading the entire article from The Onion.

Culture Crash

An astute observer of cultural appropriation in all its forms, my Georgetown law student Jacob Howley, sent me this "breaking news" yesterday:

NEW YORK—More than 11,000 trendsetters, tastemakers, movers, and shakers gathered in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood Monday to declare a strike against the broad segment of the American population that they say routinely copies their fashions, musical tastes, and sensibilities. Should the strike persist, experts said, it could bring the pop-cultural life of the nation to a standstill.

Amused?  Plant your tongue firmly in your cheek, and continue reading the entire article from The Onion.

July 18, 2006

Tempest in a Tube

All the world's a reality TV show, and all the men and women merely players -- or so it would seem from recent message boards.

The previews following Project Runway's Season 3 opener piqued the interest of fashionable viewers nationwide when it suggested that one of the designer contestants had behaved in a manner unbecoming to television and would be asked to leave.  But who?  And what was the infraction?

And could it have anything to do with copying?

The obsessively perceptive "Viktor Rolf" posted the following on a Television Without Pity forum:

I believe Keith will be ask to leave since he copied runway images from several different designers and used it as his own. He used runway pics from Giambattisa Valli, Lacoste and possible Marni for his book. I noticed the Valli pic right away, but really didn't make anything of it. Passing other designers work as your own is so not cool. Say adios to the poor man's Jude Law.

Elsewhere, "The Hepburn" promptly and most resourcefully juxtaposed screencaps from Keith Michael's sketchbook portfolio, submitted as part of his application to become a PR contestant,  with photos of the original outfits in their respective runway shows (also here): 

L-Keith R-Giambattista Valli Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Giambattista Valli, Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Lacoste, Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Marni, Spring 2006

Interested parties in the blogosphere did not react kindly, but Keith sent the following explanation/defense to Blogging Project Runway:

for the record, i submitted 5 portfolios for the judges review. the one you seem to be focusing on was a research assignment i did for a client in which i reviewed key fashion trends. i'm very proud of all the work that i do. the panel of judges that reviewed my work had many years of experience behind them. i found them neither ignorant, uninformed or in any way confused about their own profession.

Although quite a few commenters were skeptical of the explanation, Counterfeit Chic prefers to withhold judgment pending more information.  From a sociological perspective, however, it is interesting to note the negative response of fashionisti to the alleged copying of others' garments.  The practice may be legal, albeit not within the rules of a competition, but that doesn't make it respectable.  A designer's credibility and status are based on his/her production of original, creative work.

There's another potential legal issue here, however.  Keith is not alleged to have copied the actual garments, merely the runway photographs of the garments -- right down to the poses in which the models were captured on film.  Those photographs are protected by copyright.  Yes, the copies are sketches of the photos rather than exact, mechanical reproductions of the photos themselves, but despite the change in medium they are still quite literal.  Moreover, Keith claims to have produced the copies for a commercial purpose, thus actually competing with the market for the photos.  It's possible that Keith licensed the images, but if not, they may violate copyright law.

Is it odd that U.S. copyright law protects the two-dimensional images of a garment, but intellectual property law does not protect the actual designs?  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."

Viewers will soon learn whether the same is true for reality TV.

July 13, 2006

Straight Shooter

In an interview with New York Magazine this week, Project Runway's Tim Gunn (and now America's dean of fashion) opines on the counterfeit question:

What about knockoffs?  Can you spot one at twenty paces?

Not that often -- there are some awfully good knockoffs out there.  I hate to say this because I'm so respectful of brands, but why spend $2,000 on the Chanel bag?  I don't believe in jewelry for men, but women's jewelry -- what's wrong with cubic zirconia?  I say, if it looks goods and it works, do it.

Thanks to a senior official  a reliable source  an anonymous but fabulous reader for the tip.

July 12, 2006

Say It Ain't So, Michael

In today's earlier post, Counterfeit Chic noted that esteemed Project Runway judge and fashion designer Michael Kors may have had self-interested reasons to be a bit soft on Marla's knockoff in Season 2. 

"Surely not Michael!" came the response.

Oh no?  Take a look at the signature Jack Rogers design below:

And then at the Michael Kors:

Differences?  Of course.  Heel height, as noted earlier, as well as toe ring versus thong, wooden heel, and greater separation between the toe decoration and the band over the arch.  Still, not much of a creative leap.

I must say that I actually quite like Michael Kors' work.  He designs elegant sportswear that is on trend but not trendy, appropriate for women over the age of 16 but not frumpy.  Even his diffusion lines are on point. 

However, his accessories designer apparently cut a few corners this season -- which may be why the sandals ended up at a discount store (albeit with a higher pricetag than the Jack Rogers originals). 

Project Runway: Life Imitating Art, or Vice-Versa

Once upon a time, every tale began with "once upon a time" -- and every story had a moral.  That neatly scripted world is a bit more difficult to reproduce in the era of "reality" television, despite the transformative editing.   (Thanks to my Georgetown student Rowan Morris for exploring this genre.)  Still, audiences seem to yearn for a happy ending, or at least one that sees justice done -- the best man (or woman) wins, the bad guy loses, and all is right with the world.

Today, on the eve of a new season of Project Runway (if you missed the contestant selection special last night, click here for the preview video that PR's nice PR folks sent me), here's a video clip from last season.  In it, both the oracular Tim Gunn and the talented and pragmatic Emmett McCarthy warn Marla Duran that sending a knockoff down the runway isn't a winning strategy. 


Alas, despite no fewer than 9 separate scenes mentioning Marla's appropriation of a Chloe dress already owned and worn by her celebrity "client," she survives the round.  Apparently, at least in the eyes of judge Michael Kors, it's a greater sin to land your client on the worst-dressed list than it is to send her out in a copy.  (Of course, this may have something to do with the Michael Kors sandals on sale at DSW in New York a few days ago; they were strikingly similar to the ubiquitous Jack Rogers Navajo sandals, but with higher heels.) 

Still, all's well that ends well, and PR Season 2 winner Chloe Dao is a true original, with a compelling success story to boot.  And she's not the only worthy candidate who's enjoying post-Runway life. 

If you happen to be in New York TODAY, don't forget to join Chloe, Kara Janx, Nick Verreos, and Tim Gunn at Emmett's Nolita boutique for a summer sale and fall preview (details here).  Why just watch the designers when you can actually wear them?

June 28, 2006

Television Time Out

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Fashionisti across the country have followed Project Runway for the past couple of seasons, and on July 12 the competition begins again with Season 3.  To kick it off, Counterfeit Chic will eschew the search for fakes for a few hours and visit the charming Nolita boutique of Season 2's Emmett McCarthy, EMc2.  (Already been?  Just wait and see what Emmett has done with the back garden!)

Not only will there be summer sales and a preview of the fall collections, but Emmett will be joined by fellow contestants Nick, Kara, and Chloe -- and America's dean of fashion, Tim Gunn!

All are invited!  And fellow fashion bloggers, please feel free to copy and post the invitation.

June 19, 2006

Midsummer Magicks

As Midsummer approaches, the power of witchcraft takes on a would-be counterfeiter (from the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker, 1975):


June 09, 2006

Is Wal-Mart Imitating Art?

There are many metaphors for happiness and true love, but perhaps none as trendy as a Fendi bag. 

On an episode of Sex and the City set in L.A., the sexual gourmand Samantha boasts of finding a fabulous fake Fendi, everywoman Carrie goes hunting for the perfect knockoff but ultimately decides that faux won't do, and aspirational Charlotte reveals the truth about her sexless honeymoon by bursting out with the memorable line, "My marriage is a fake Fendi!"  Ultimately Samantha gets SATC foursome thrown out of her idea of paradise -- the Playboy mansion -- by accusing one of the "bunnies" of stealing the bag.

As it turns out, Samantha may have been able to stay home and go to Wal-Mart.

Today Fendi, a division of LVMH, filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, alleging that the giant retailer has passed off counterfeit Fendi handbags and other products as genuine.  According to the complaint, Wal-Mart has never purchased products directly from Fendi nor sought to acertain the legitimacy of the trademarked items.  In one instance, a Wal-Mart Sam's Club store in Miami allegedly sold a black, logoed "Fendi" bag, retail price $930, for $508.25 -- a nice discount, but not a price low enough to make a consumer realize that she's not necessarily buying the real thing.

Who knew that Sam Walton was a SATC fan?

Sex and the City episode 44

P.S.  Are large, international retail chains the new battlegrounds in the anticounterfeiting crusades?  This isn't the first time that a division of LVMH has alleged that shady merchandise is for sale in otherwise well-lit venues. 

May 24, 2006

It's All About the Clothes

Paul Noth, in The New Yorker, May 29, 2006, p. 47.

May 16, 2006

Counterfeit Coffee Break

This afternoon, faced with a daunting stack of final papers and exams to grade, Counterfeit Chic slipped out to a local coffeeshop (which shall remain nameless) for a restorative cup of tea.  Naturally, I paused to consider the latest sugary temptations -- and did a double take.  There, displayed behind glass, were row upon row of chocolate cupcakes with a bold black-and-white label:  Faux Hostess.

As the survivor of a nutritionally strict childhood, I'm not much of an expert on branded snacks -- real or fake.  My esteemed colleague and spouse, however, has considerably more experience in this regard and offered his palate in the service of research.  According to his analysis, the copycake was visually a dead ringer for the Hostess original:  chocolate cake, shiny chocolate ganache icing, signature 7-loop white icing stripe, cream-filled interior.  More detailed examination revealed a superior taste (more intensely chocolate) and denser texture.  While he expressed a certain nostalgic longing for the cellophane wrapping around the original, not to mention the lower price, it seemed that the copy was actually a sweeter treat.

Back online, it quickly became apparent that my favorite caffeine merchant is not the only producer of contraband carbohydrates.  Recipes (and accompanying trademark disclaimers) abound, leading one to wonder:  what is the point of spending extra money and time in the kitchen to imitate an inexpensive, mass-produced, convenience food available from virtually any grocery store?

And are the superfake bakers likely to get burned by the Hostess legal department?

April 30, 2006

Kaavyat Scriptor

When the Harvard Crimson reported last week that sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan's novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life (2006), contains a number of passages that are "strikingly similar" to two books by Meghan F. McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts (2001) and Second Helpings (2003), the alleged plagiarism drew national attention.  On Friday, the New York Times reported that publisher Little, Brown would recall the offending book, which had apparently been part of an extraordinary $500,000 two-book deal and had been optioned by Dreamworks for a movie.  Viswanathan has apologized to McCafferty.

Deliberate or not, the plagiarism was obvious.  But apart from the money and publicity, it was nothing that doesn't happen among students every day.  The academic year is ending, final papers are due, and professors (some of whom have been known to be a bit sloppy about citation themselves) are on the lookout for suspiciously familiar works.  The resources available online are all-too-tempting for some students, but the web also makes them easier to catch.  My experience, unfortunately, is that most students who copy are genuinely sorry -- that they've been caught.

The more interesting issue, however, is what constitutes illicit copying within a specific genre.  Even while apologizing, Kaavya maintained that she was writing about her own experiences.  When the book was withdrawn, she and the publisher announced that they would republish with the offending passages rewritten.  As one publishing executive noted in the Times on Thursday, "The teenage experience is fairly universal." 

Had Meghan McCafferty filed a copyright claim, however, a federal court would've been called upon to determine not only how literally certain passages had been lifted (not exactly a challege here), but also the relevance of the similar plots (girl trying to get into elite college), which cannot in the abstract be copyrighted.  This inquiry takes on additional significance in the postmodern era (nod to Foucault) and in light of the involvement of a "book packager" like Alloy Entertainment.  (Check out Professor Laura Heymann's engaging article, "The Birth of the Authornym.")  Can we still tell an "original" from a "copy," assuming that we ever could? 

Actually, yes.  Authors, professors, lawyers, juries, and judges manage this all the time, whether the component parts of the creation are words, musical notes, or lines of software code.  Despite the near-universal fashion among U.S. law professors of attacking intellectual property protection as too extensive -- a position with which I have some degree of sympathy -- even academics don't usually argue that literal copying can't be identified.

In the case of fashion design, however, some people seem to be arguing exactly that.  Communications Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan, for example, told the Marketplace radio program that if fashion is subject to intellectual property protection, "there will be so many ridiculous lawsuits where courts will have to decide between the differences in ruffle (a) and ruffle (b) or hemline (a) and hemline (b)."    

My guess is that Vaidhyanathan wouldn't have found a copyright lawsuit involving words rather than ruffles "ridiculous," even if he has joined many others in disputing the legitimacy of intellectual property protection overall.  Personally, I'd find hemlines easier to distinguish than I would musical progressions.  But the point is that a copy is a copy.  And while pointy-headed intellectuals (myself included) and lawyers may engage in lofty debate about what constitutes copying, a creator's peers -- at Harvard or on Seventh Avenue -- know the score.

April 17, 2006

Designer Identity Theft

Some people steal fashion designs, others steal entire identities.  You can find Project Runway contestant Kara Janx and her unmistakably cool designs online -- but not at "her" MySpace site. 

According to a reliable source, the already copied downtown designer has NOT in fact developed a sudden affinity for rainbow "Louis Vuitton" wallpaper, lip-shaped cursors, and unflattering photos.  Which is good news for her fans. 

March 23, 2006

Counterfeit Chick Flicks

In the forthcoming movie "Slammer," Sarah Jessica Parker stars as a publicist sent to prison -- mistakenly, of course -- for taking designer swag meant for clients and passing it on to knockoff artists intent on mass production.  Musical comedy ensues.

Can't wait for the release?  Well, even counterfeiters can't get the DVDs on the streets before filming, but SJP is hardly the first to encounter knockoffs on the big screen.  In the 1963 movie "A New Kind of Love," Joanne Woodward works for a knockoff guy who decides to take his staff to Paris for "inspiration."  She meets Paul Newman on the way, and you can predict the rest. 

And if you find a recording of the original Broadway play "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," you'll have to laugh at the song "Paris Original."  In it, the secretary trying to land the up-and-coming young exec splurges on an "irresistible" and ostensibly one-of-a-kind designer creation, only to see every other woman who walks in wearing the same dress.  Unfortunately, the song was cut from the 1967 movie version. 

Roll 'em!


March 21, 2006

Meat & Greet

Emmett McCarthyAt its core, the Big Apple is just a small town.  Last weekend, I attended the grand opening of Project Runway contestant Emmett McCarthy's new boutique at the invitation of none other than my extraordinary octogenarian butcher, Moe Albanese, who also happens to be Emmett's landlord.  Although the obvious pun would involve meat markets, Emmett's St. Paddy's Day launch was actually an enthusiastic family affair, complete with his proud mother passing hors d'oeuvres and collecting compliments. 

Also on hand at EMc2 was another PR contestant and the champion of geek chic, Diana Eng, whose new website with fellow designer Emily Albinski will be going live in a couple of weeks. 

The presence of two such creative but different designers (along with fellow contestant Kara Janx, who's already been copied) made me think about -- what else? -- the uneven levels of protection against knockoffs.  Emmett designs beautiful and classic pieces that, apart from their labels, have barely a hope of intellectual property protection.  (It's a bit ironic that scientific formulae like the store's moniker aren't subject to protection either.)  Diana's technology-meets-fashion pieces, on the other hand, may qualify as "inventions" eligible for patent protection, assuming that the length of the process (a couple of years, give or take) and the expense don't make such applications impractical.  Query:  assuming the law doesn't change, how will such incentives affect the future of the industry? 

Diana Eng buttonCongratulations to both Emmett and Diana -- and be sure to check out the boutique! 

March 09, 2006

Project Knockoff

This year's Project Runway contestants are just launching their careers -- and the knockoff artists aren't far behind. 

The resourceful Cookie at Knitters Anonymous (for a reason, perhaps?) loved the hats that Kara Janx sent down the runway during New York Fashion Week (left) so much that she sourced the yarn, knitted a copy (right), and published her instructions. 

A commenter on Blogging Project Runway is also "rocking kara's hats" -- so much so that she posted the following offer:

if you dont have enough money to afford kara's hats, you're welcome to recruit me for cheap labor... ;) well, i do knit a lot, so if you're BPR and want a handknit piece, lemme know! i do it out of love.

Legal issue?  Not with respect to copying the hat, and probably not with respect to using Kara's name (provided that customers aren't confused as to whether the copies are authorized and that the name isn't used as a trademark on unauthorized copies made for sale). 

Moral quandary?  Perhaps not for a home knitter inspired by Kara to make her own version (in Cookie's case, sans ear flaps).  But is professing admiration for a startup designer consistent with potentially undercutting her market and her attractiveness to much-needed investors?  Knitting a Chanel-style sweater jacket -- for which I recently saw unauthorized instructions in a magazine -- won't overturn Lagerfeld's empire, but the effect on a young designer could be much greater.  Viewed in property terms, "stealing" designs from the rich or the poor is indistinguishable -- but the actual impact is potentially quite different.

So congratulations to Kara on finding a fan base -- now she just needs paying customers and capital.  

March 07, 2006

More Simulacra and Simulations

In response to the Sims' Oscar knockoffs, Marty Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog asks succinctly, "Right of publicity issues?"

The short answer:  Of course. 

The longer answer:  Welcome to the state law morass that governs rights of publicity.  In general, celebrities who have developed valuable personnae have the right to protect it from unauthorized commercial exploitation.  (Everyone's favorite case on this subject, for the amusing facts if not the outcome, seems to be Vanna White v. Samsung Electronics America, 971 F.2d 1395 (9th Cir. 1992), in which Vanna sued the company over an ad with a robot representing her.) 

What does that have to do with a Sim knockoff of an Oscar gown?  If the virtual gown for sale is depicted on the actress who wore it to the Academy Awards, that's an interesting question.

Designers don't compete to dress celebrities out of concern that the poor girls can't dress themselves -- there are stylists for that.  Rather, the free gowns, shoes, handbags (and rumored monetary compensation) are offered in the hope that the celebrity will be photographed and the image will be frequently editorialized.  Money simply can't buy the kind of exposure that a Best Actress winner's dress will receive for free.  So the nominees, presenters, and other beautiful people are in effect renting their celebrity status; their bodies become billboards advertising fashion houses.  The ultimate idea is to draw attention to the brand and sell more dresses -- real, not virtual. 

So, if we view the agreements between designers and actresses as a financial transaction, the use of an actress' image to sell a virtual gown might violate her right of publicity.  After all, what if Reese Witherspoon wanted to make money by modeling virtual gowns (as a Sim, she's certainly tall and thin enough)?  It's a good thing that at the moment her real world far eclipses any virtual one.

For more on law in virtual worlds, check out James Grimmelman's interesting and intelligent article and blog.

And for further reflection on the philosophy of copying, see Jean Baudrillard -- whose text also has a cameo in The Matrix


From Silver Screen to Computer Screen

Maybe you wouldn't wear a knockoff -- but would your avatar?

The Academy Awards are a bonanza not only for knockoff apparel manufacturers hoping to sell copycat prom dresses to starstruck teenagers, but also for clothing designers in the virtual world.  And they're even quicker than their real-world counterparts.  According to USA Today, fans of The Sims video game were already trading knockoffs of Oscar gowns yesterday, with Keira Knightley's aubergine Vera Wang (below) the most popular ...

... and Reese Witherspoon's winning vintage Dior not far behind.

What's next, the Isaac Mizrahi for The Sims collection?  (If Barbie can be a client, why not a Sim?)

The real-world knockoff trade is aided by the fact that designers can't protect their creations through U.S. intellectual property law, but what about the wearable 2-D copies?  Well, strangely enough, designers can claim copyright in sketches of their clothes, though not the garments themselves.  And if a clothing designer chose to work online with design software, like an engineer or an architect, those online creations could also be protected -- as could so-called derivative works adapted from them.  But since the Oscar gowns at issue here aren't protected to start with, and the copies are drawn from life, it would be hard to argue for protection.  So, ironically, it would be easier to protect virtual clothes than real ones. 

But for the moment, how cool is it for Vera Wang or the house of Dior to have even virtual characters vying to wear their Oscar gowns?  These ladies don't demand exclusives with the house, seek compensation for wearing a dress (forget about actually paying for one), fail to show up for fittings, change their minds at the last minute, refuse to return loans....  Long live the virtual couture client!

Many thanks to Marty Schwimmer at the interesting and clever Trademark Blog for giving me a heads-up. And don't forget to check out his new joint venture, the Shape Blog, on design protection -- it even has a section on clothing!

March 04, 2006

Virtual Counterfeits

Can you sell counterfeits of an imaginary object?  Absolutely, if demand exists in a virtual world -- like that of EverQuest2. 

According to New Scientist, prices for equipment like the Dark Shield of the Void dropped precipitously after some gamers discovered a way to make unauthorized copies.  And when we say "prices," we're not just talking Monopoly money -- armor, weapons, and even characters are bought and sold for real as well as virtual cash. 

So are the virtual cops on the case, or is this the online equivalent of Canal Street?  Apparently programmers try to catch and correct bugs in the system as soon as possible, but in the meantime gamers themselves play the role of fashion police:

Computer gaming expert and keen gamer Edward Castronova at Indiana University, US, says duplication flaws are not uncommon in online games and notes that the virtual communities in such games can often regulate themselves, agreeing not to exploit such flaws to maintain playability.

"Sometimes social norms can be effective," he told New Scientist. "Everyone may know that a dupe exists but it's like 'who cares?'"

In other words, fighting with a fake Wand of the Living Flame is like showing up at Fashion Week with a knockoff Vuitton

Could there be real-world legal consequences?  Well, software is subject to copyright, so its possible that if hackers copied and modified code there could be a cause of action.  In addition, such behavior could violate licensing agreements. 

But illegal or simply illicit, the concept of distinguishing a "real" virtual object from a "fake" one is a mindbender.

March 01, 2006

Knockoff Shopping with Tim Gunn

America's Dean of Fashion, Tim Gunn, told that he really is a big fan of Project Runway sponsor Banana Republic -- or at least of its knockoffs.  Here's his story:   

I had been associate dean for years and I wore Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. I wore suits every day and that’s just the way it was. I came to the department of Fashion Design. I had been here for about a year and a half and I thought I was an old stick in the mud. I needed to slightly edge it up. So I thought, I need a black leather blazer. So I went to Saks Fifth Avenue and I found one. It was Hugo Boss. It was gorgeous, and it was $800. I gasped and I bought it, and I thought, There’s my clothing budget for the whole year. So I walked across the street into Rockefeller Center where the Banana Republic flagship store is. I hadn’t been in Banana Republic for years. There was a black leather blazer for $400, and the two of them were indiscernible from each other. So I bought it and took the other one back.

So, my guess is that Hugo Boss wasn't a Parsons alum.  But on Tim Gunn, Banana Republic is definitely counterfeit chic.

P.S.  Hat tip to Blogging Project Runway.

February 24, 2006

The Man of ... Silk?

In honor of the first New York Comic-Con this weekend, here's a look back at Superman's triumph over one of Metropolis' most nefarious villains -- The Dude!  Note the measuring tape whip, the white tie & tails, the phalanx of unhappy women in lookalike dresses....

Superman #23

Never heard of The Dude?  Well, neither had Superman -- until the summer of 1943, when Clark Kent was forced to accompany Lois Lane on a shopping expedition.  She bought an expensive, one-of-a-kind dress (French, of course), only to see a cheap imitation in a dress shop in a "down-and-out neighborhood."  Shocked, Miss Lane demanded her money back -- and mustered both her feminine outrage and her journalistic instincts to expose the knockoff racket.  Naturally, she endangered herself in the process, requiring Superman to come on the scene, avoid a not-so-clever trap, and vanquish The Dude. 

The story has it all -- our favorite gendered industry (and its seedy side), class issues, French styles, creativity, copying, a smart woman on the case....  But if the Man of Steel was uncomfortable in a women's clothing store, why was Jerry Siegel, one of the original creators of Superman and the author of "Fashions in Crime!" so concerned? 

Well, knockoffs were perhaps an even more widely discussed issue back then than today.  (In the comic, after Lois Lane publishes her original story, "Feminine readers flock to the Daily Planet in droves.")  And Siegel's mind was on copyright issues.  He was already uncomfortably aware that he and his partner, Joe Shuster, has signed away the rights to Superman for a song; moreover, DC comics was engaged in a series of ongoing legal battles, claiming that other companies' superheroes infringed on Superman.  So perhaps he had some sympathy for upscale fashion designers, or at least the women who wore them.

The real question is why a guy in tights and a cape felt the need to deny an interest in fashion.

February 23, 2006

Thinly Veiled Strategy

Is J.C. Penney's promoting anorexia?

The department store recently announced the debut of "a.n.a," a new private label collection.  While the company claims that the initials stand for "a new approach," the term "ana" is also used to refer to the eating disorder, and "pro-ana" websites are common.  The fashion industry has a habit of appropriating questionable subcultures -- remember heroin chic? -- and this one calls into question both taste and corporate judgment.

While I'm no fan of excessive litigation, if tobacco companies can be sued for promoting smoking and fast food companies for promoting obesity, isn't the department store tempting fate? 

In any case, "a.n.a" is definitely a label to be knocked out, not knocked off.

February 06, 2006

Why Cloning is Evil

André may be inimitable, but unfortunately Paris Hilton is not.  Page Six reported yesterday that this year's favorite New York Fashion Week sighting is Natalie Reid, an employee of Screaming Queens Entertainment who looks so much like the notorious heiress that she is ushered to front rows amid paparazzi pandemonium. 

Could the real Paris sue her doppleganger, who charges $750 - $2,000 for appearing at parties and corporate functions, for appropriating her image?  Probably.  But when the two met recently, Paris seemed amused rather than upset.

It seems that no matter what, we'll always have Paris.

January 24, 2006

Runway or Catwalk?

If the contestants are designing "frocks," wearing "trainers," pulling on "jumpers" when it gets chilly, and occasionally getting their "knickers" in a twist, it must be Project Catwalk, Project Runway's British twin. 

So far, the Brits seem to party a bit harder than their Yankee counterparts, and some of the hardware store designs from the first episode veer further toward the conceptual art side of the art/fashion divide.  But the biggest difference seems to be a straight male camera crew and editing team.  Project Catwalk is all about the cleavage, and not just Elizabeth Hurley's infamous twin assets -- insured with Lloyd's of London perhaps? 

No word yet on whether further international cloning experiments are in the works.

Project Catwalk

January 23, 2006

Double Take

Last Monday at the Golden Globes, Reese Witherspoon looked lovely in a Chanel couture dress.  The problem was that another young, blonde acress, Kirsten Dunst, had also looked lovely in the same dress, at the same event, three years earlier.

Why should RW be upset that Chanel -- or her own stylist -- hadn't warned her of the earlier borrower?  After all, the idea behind fashion houses loaning gowns to frequently photographed starlets and socialites is to sell more of those gowns (as well as to draw attention to the brand as a whole).  And for those who can't afford the original, the knockoff artists who stalk winter awards shows will provide replicas in time for the prom.  A measure of the loan's -- and the celebrity's -- success is the number of people who covet the dress.

But wait.  Even a teenage prom-goer in a knockoff Oscar dress doesn't want her chief rival -- or even her best friend -- to show up to the same event in the same dress.  (And as McLuhan would remind us, the all-at-onceness of a modern media world reduces a three-year gap to naught.)  Just like RW, the prom-goer's cache comes in part from being the first among her peers to claim a particular design as her own.  As a celebrity actress, RW is more valuable if she presents a unique image.

In that case, why did Chanel pimp the same dress?  Well, the repeat play was likely a mistake, since Chanel doesn't want to send the message that wearing its gowns is a ticket to embarrassment on the red carpet, whatever the reason.  (A week later, rumors abound regarding which other "vintage" Chanel dresses have had multiple recent outings.)

On the other hand, Chanel is more interested in its own image than RW's, and the house is known for repetition of iconic designs.  If a dress is worn by an interchangeable series of young starlets, that perfect dress becomes the star.  The response of the Chanel publicity machine to the situation is revealing in this regard:  "A Chanel dress never goes out of style.  It's timeless."

Unlike the actress of the week.

January 15, 2006

True Love, Fake Photos

Elton John was presumably a fabulous bridegroom -- but perhaps not quite as fabulous as the photo spread in the Daily Mail would suggest.

Photographer Alison Jackson created the image, using lookalikes in place of Sir Elton and Donatella Versace (arranging the gown). 

Can she do that?  Don't celebrities "own" their images?  Well, yes, depending on the jurisdiction "rights of publicity" can limit use of celebrity attributes -- but the law does have a sense of humor.  And my guess is that the photo hasn't been used to sell too many wedding gowns.   

January 05, 2006

Project Runway: The (A)moral of the Story

Last week on Project Runway, Daniel Franco was praised for acting like a responsible team leader -- and then cut.

This week, the elimination came down to Lupe, who created an original design that unfortunately might have landed socialite Nicky Hilton on the worst-dressed list (refrain from catty comment here),

Project Runway - Guadalupe's dress

and Marla, who was strongly criticized for copying a Chloe dress that Nicky had worn previously.

Project Runway - Marla's dress

So who's out, the original risk-taker or the safe knockoff artist?  Exactly.  The copyist stays.  What kind of a lesson is that for future designers (or their lawyers, for that matter)?

December 22, 2005

Project Copycat?

In Project Runway previews the past couple of weeks, the oracular Tim Gunn has admonished the competing designers, "Don't be copycats."  Apparently someone skipped kindergarten. 

Now some insist that Project Runway itself may be a knockoff.  Two separate lawsuits claim that ideas for "America's Runway" and "America's Fashion Designer Search," respectively, were pitched to defendants later involved in the development of Project Runway.

You can't copyright an idea, only its specific expression -- but it is alleged that the show is a bit too similar to the plaintiffs' pitches to be a coincidence.  But perhaps Heidi Klum et al. should be pleased.  Nobody ever sues a flop.