May 20, 2008

Dressed for Success?

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

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

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

Ariella Furman's virtual Vuitton

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

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

April 23, 2008

White Knight or Snow Job?

As eBay awaits decisions on both sides of the Atlantic regarding its potential liability as a forum for the sale of counterfeits, eBay France has published a 300-page white paper on content-filtering measures.  Does the online auctioneer expect to have to alter its policies, or is this just an attempt to guard against future complaints?  Time will tell. 

Via pMdM

April 09, 2008

With Friends Like These...

When it comes to gift-giving, it's the thought that counts -- or at least a few recent Facebook apps seem to think so. 

Instead of buying an online friend a real-world gift, you can now send a virtual version guaranteed to fit perfectly, leave plenty of space in the closet, and never wear out.  My Dream Bags offers Prada, Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and more, while Send Louis Vuitton (tagline:  You know your friends want it....) caters to the consumer whose brand loyalty is absolute. 

No, contrary to recent rumor, this is not a viral marketing campaign from Louis Vuitton.  And yes, it looks an awful lot like trademark dilution, with a bit of copyright infringement thrown in for good measure. 

Many thanks to Suni Sreepada for catching this one.  Facebook users, she's definitely an online friend worth having!

February 04, 2008

Live Fast: Halston at Internet Speed

HalstonThe morning after Halston's first fashion show, socialite Babe Paley showed up outside his studio seeking to purchase her favorite look -- immediately.  Now you can do the same.

The latest reincarnation of the iconic designer's label will appear on a New York runway at 2 pm today.  Tomorrow, online retailer Net-a-Porter will offer 2 of the looks, a daytime dress and an evening gown, with same-day delivery in New York and London and next-day delivery elsewhere.  In an industry where the 4-to-6-month gap between display and delivery has been under increasing pressure from consumers who have immediate access to, blogs, and television coverage, the plan is both revolutionary and inevitable.  No, it won't work for every look from every show -- the 2 dresses had to be chosen and manufactured in quantity beforehand, as yet too great a commitment to become standard practice for high-end items -- but it's a fabulous "what's next" moment.  And great PR.

Even better, it's an answer to the ubiquitous copycat problem.  WWD quotes Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet:

"I am sure this will be a shock to the brands that specialize in knocking off some of the talent in the fashion industry,"  she added.  "They had their cake and have been eating it for a while, and we're now saying, 'We work with the brand to reclaim their ability to sell their product first.'"

Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of Scoop, NYC, concurs:

"For so long people have been knocking off and getting it out there and beating a designer that has to deal with craftsmanship, workmanship, and details that take time," she said.  "This allows the consumer to be part of our moment in fashion."

Presumably music to the ears of Harvey Weinstein, one of the current owners of the Halston name and no fan of fakes. 

By all accounts, the man born Roy Halston Frowick would've loved the idea, too.  Not only did he dress the stylish denizens of Studio 54, but -- following an idea that was well before its time -- he also created a line for J.C. Penney.  Although his mass-market move nearly destroyed the brand, as high-end accounts and clients fled the association, it was nevertheless a vision of the future.  Halston surely understood that instant gratification is always in style -- and what could be more modern than shopping for designer creations while wearing pajamas? 

July 12, 2007

To Catch a Thief

Jewel thieves are the world's most stylish criminals -- and Mike & Maaike are perhaps the world's most stylish jewel thieves.  Together they've "stolen" the Hope Diamond, the Golden Jubilee, the Great Chrysanthmum, Daisy Fellowes' Cartier "Tutti Frutti" demiparure, and Imelda Marcos' Van Cleef & Arpels ruby necklace, among others. 

But don't panic and lock up your family heirlooms yet.  The artists' "Stolen Jewels" line is an exercise in transformation, not literal appropriation.  Or, in their words,

an exploration of of tangible vs. virtual in relation to real and perceived value.  using google image search, we browsed through some of the most expensive and often famous jewelry in the world, the low-res images we found were stolen, doctored, then transfered to leather, creating a tangible new incarnation.  with the expense and intricacy of the jewels stripped away, their essence and visual intensity are extracted.

While the Queen may not abandon her Crown Jewels, Mike & Maaike's results are quite striking (and presumably less expensive to insure):

Great Chrysanthemum Diamond

Hope Diamond

Surely a mere copy of an image of the Hope Diamond doesn't carry a deadly curse -- but might Mike & Maaike's project nevertheless involve legal liability?

Jewelry designs are, of course, subject to copyright.  The Hope and Great Chrysanthemum diamonds, however, are notable not for their settings' originality but for the size and value of the stones, so they would be unlikely to qualify for protection.  Moreover, the Hope Diamond's current setting is old enough that even had it once qualified for copyright protection, the design might now be in the public domain.  So far, Mike & Maaike are in the clear.

The photos of the originals, however, might be copyrighted -- in which case Mike & Maaike's efforts could be considered unauthorized derivative works.  As a practical matter, however, the pictures have been so altered that it's hard to tell which of many images of these famous gems the artists' might have used -- even with Google searches as a clue.  Moreover, "Stolen Jewels" hardly interferes with any potential market for the photos.  So Mike & Maaike, even with their online "confession," can probably rest easy. 

And the rest of us can enjoy their work, currently on view at the Velvet da Vinci Gallery in San Francisco. 

(Via Angela Gunn -- who offers some amusing speculation about potential knockoffs -- and Oh Gizmo!  And while we're at it, let's not forget the Trademark Blog's prediction that our future includes a "Napster for jewelry....")

May 15, 2007

Knowledge Economy

Are Chinese counterfeiters hacking the computers of European designers in search of the next "it" bag?

The most recent edition of Gnosis, a publication of the Italian intelligence agency SISDe, warns that the "yellow peril" is spreading via the internet -- and that industrial espionage is one of its dangers.  The article quotes Roberto Preatoni, the founder of an international computer security company, as saying, "At one time the Chinese came to the West to take pictures of the windows of shoe stores or fashion boutiques in order to copy the products.  Today, instead, they steal designs directly from the manufacturers' servers and are thus in a position to introduce a counterfeit product into the marketplace even before the original has been commercialized."   

According to the Washington Times, a spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, dismissed the report. 

Then again, perhaps a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.   

April 30, 2007

Foolproof fingerprints

The current issue of New Scientist has an informative article on the latest developments in using product fingerprint technology to detect fakes.  Of course, long-time readers of Counterfeit Chic know that the fingerprint metaphor in anti-counterfeiting tech has a more literal prototype: Madeline Vionnet's inked thumbprint pressed into her clothing label!

Vionnet fingerprint label

April 04, 2007

Welcome WWD readers!

In today's WWD, fabulous fashion and technology reporter Cate Corcoran scopes out the multi-billion-dollar issue of online sales of counterfeit goods.  But never fear, software is here.  Companies like MarkMonitor, OpSec, and Envisional have developed programs that crawl the internet on behalf of their name-brand clients, searching for suspicious patterns and products.  In addition, brands such as Seven for All Mankind and DVF are turning their customers into detectives by promoting online reporting of fakes. 

As your humble blogger noted, TV and the internet have made customers more brand-conscious, and online retailing promotes broader access to these brands -- and their imitators.  Or more succinctly, "As customers go online, the counterfeit sellers will follow." 

Thanks for the shout-out, Cate!

January 27, 2007

The Mirror Neurons Made Me Do It

Ever wonder why yawns are contagious, or why we feel the pain of a fictional onscreen character (at least until the credits roll)?  It turns out that a team of neuroscientists at the University of Parma in Italy know the answer, or at least the beginnings of it. 

It turns out that our brains are laced with "mirror neurons," which fire not only when we perform an action but also when we see someone else perform that action.  These neurons thus play a role in everything from learning to walk and talk to demonstrating feelings of empathy.  Some scientists have even theorized that the development of human culture, from making tools to visiting the same websites, is the product of advances in these neurons' mimetic capacity.  Even some negative behaviors, like copycat crimes, may be related to the activity of mirror neurons. 

So the next time you're tempted to pay a hefty price for the latest celebrity-endorsed "it" bag, or to buy a knockoff of a style you don't even particularly like but everyone is wearing, don't blame the machinations of the advertising industry.  Just look in the mirror. 

Alfred Stevens La Parisienne Japonaise

January 13, 2007

Diamond Conflicts

If there's a sparkle in your eye that can only be matched by a certain stone, but you're concerned about the evils of conflict diamonds, don't sigh and reach for that cubic zirconia yet.  You could opt for a certified rock with peaceful provenance -- or you could wait for the latest crop of lab-grown diamonds to be harvested.

As Counterfeit Chic discussed last spring, several companies have developed cost-efficient methods of creating gem-quality diamonds without waiting millions of years for Mother Nature.  They're physically and chemically identical to the real thing, not associated with bloody civil wars, environmentally friendly, and less expensive.  An update in the Wall Street Journal also indicates that their size and commercial availability are increasing -- watch the red carpet this Hollywood awards season for details.

Of course, the diamond industry is preparing for a war of its own, not least over nomenclature.  Are the new stones "cultured" or "synthetic"?  Expect an administrative and legal battle over that one, all in the name of consumer protection.  If the history of pearls is any indication, however, devising a retronym for what we now call simply "diamonds" is an equally compelling task -- "mined diamonds" or "real diamonds"? 

Of course, the industry would probably find almost anything preferable to "blood diamonds."

July 14, 2006

Inventive Steps

Washington, DC, is my original hometown.  However, it isn't the most fashion-forward of cities, despite the efforts of Pulizer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan and the weekly column of The Manolo.  The Metro is filled with men and women in conservative suits and sensible shoes, and the city's most characteristic fashion statement is the ubiquitous lanyard with government-issued photo ID attached. 

This summer, however, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is stepping out in style. 

Although fashion design ordinarily isn't protected by intellectual property law, technological innovation in the field -- as in any other -- can qualify for patent protection.  An exhibit opening today at the USPTO Museum, "Shoes:  Innovation at Your Feet," highlights technological accomplishments of the footwear industry from the 19th century to the present

So if you're visiting the nation's capital this summer, grab the kids, hop on the Metro, and head out to Alexandria.  It may not be the ever-popular Air & Space Museum, but it's certainly a great idea for an exhibit.  Who knows?   It may even be a step towards closing the gender gap in science and engineering.  And above all, remember to wear cute -- and comfortable -- shoes.

June 11, 2006

Human See, Human Do

Anthropocentric cliches are a bit beleaguered of late.  Animal lovers  take umbrage at various unflattering references to humans acting like denizens of the barnyard, and now psychologists have banished that withering dismissal of copycats (oops, make that copyists):  Monkey see, monkey do.

While organizing some files this morning, I came across an essay by Carl Zimmer about the work of two research scientists at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, Victoria Horner and Andrew Whiten, and Yale grad student Derek Lyons, who was inspired by their findings.  In a nutshell, it appears that when learning how to solve a puzzle, humans will watch others and imitate all steps -- even the unnecessary ones -- while chimpanzees will simply figure out the most efficient method and skip extraneous steps. 

According to Zimmer, Lyons "sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation.....  As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore.  Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them.  They needed to imitate."

Presumably the next step would be to decide which cool, cutting-edge hominids to imitate. 

All of which may help explain why so many people end up following trends, flattering or not.  It's only human.

Dr. Jane Goodall & friend

May 19, 2006

Luxury Bricks & Clicks

In today's Wall Street Journal, Christina Passariello reports that luxury brands are finally warming up to the idea of direct sales on the internet, albeit a decade late.  Sure, and have been around for a while, but most high-end designer websites are useless merely artistic. 

Not only are brands like Dior, Gucci, and Bottega Veneta finally realizing that websites offer the possibility of big profits and low overhead costs, but they may also play a role in the war on counterfeits:

E-commerce sites could also help fashion houses combat what they see as a troubling phenomenon -- fakes sold over the Internet.  One of the reasons the Web has become a major venue for sales of counterfeit handbags, experts say, is that fashion houses weren't offering the originals online.  "The lack of availability directly from the brands could drive consumers to online auction places and other sites, where it is mch harder to verify whether the item is genuine or not," says James Lawson, director of London consulting company Ledbury Research. 

OK, the customer buying a $29.99 Birkin on eBay probably won't go for the real thing, but some shoppers might be willing to pay a bit extra to ensure authenticity and condition. 

So what's next, Nicolas Ghesquiere hawking Balenciaga on the Home Shopping Network?

One of Tomas' Picks at Bottega Veneta

May 12, 2006

Big Brother is Watching You Get Dressed

Quick, take off your clothes!

According to privacy activists, your favorite jeans may actually be secret agents, tracking your every move.  Levi's has apparently been testing controversial radio frequency identification (RFID) technology on hangtags "on a few of our larger-volume core men's Levi's jeans styles" at at least one U.S. retail location.  RFID has broad potential for monitoring inventory, ascertaining authenticity, and many other things.  The problem is that it also has the potential to track an unsuspecting consumer's every move. 

Who knew that naturists would one day enjoy more privacy than the rest of us?

March 24, 2006

Combating Copying on the Eastern Front

In a report on Japan Fashion Week, Suzy Menkes recognizes that competitive runway creations may originate as much from the lab as from the atelier:

Japan's inventive technology informs many aspects of its fashion.  A fabric display at the runway venue showed ultra-light synthetic fabrics, prints looking as though they were handcrafted and denim in myriad textures and weaves.

While the contribution of science to fashion is nothing new -- from spindles to sewing machines, buttons to velcro, clothing has long been the product of technology -- invention has taken on a new urgency. 

[Naoko] Munakata [director of the fashion policy office at the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] believes that with China taking over the fabric industry and copying clothes with cheap manufacture, there has to be a new initiative from Japan.

"And that is where technology can help," she says.  "We need to expose Japanese fabrics to designers to create high end brands."

When it comes to Sino-Japanese conflict, at least fashion is a good theatre.

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 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.

February 22, 2006

Marking Territory

When the law fails to stop knockoffs -- most of the time, in the case of fashion -- manufacturers turn to technology.  In the 1920s, couturiere Madeline Vionnet borrowed a hot tip from criminology and stamped her thumbprint on clothing labels:

This century's technologies are being put to similar use.  Today's Wall Street Journal reports that luxury goods company Fendi had incorporated holograms into its labels:

Meanwhile, scientists are developing DNA technologies to identify consumer goods:

What's next -- "smart" handbags that will recognize and hail other genuine goods?  Embedded microprocessors that will give the wearer access to retail VIP rooms or sample sales?  Geek chic is no longer science fiction; it's fast becoming retail reality. 

February 06, 2006

From Air Kisses to Double Clicks

Ten years ago, the internet was still a relatively new phenomenon.  And the venerable house of Chanel was not pleased when photographs from its collections appeared online immediately after the shows, enabling copyists around the globe to deliver those styles to stores even before the real merchandise was available.  Before the Fall 1996 collection, audience members received the following warning (in hard copy, of course):

Unless duly authorized, any use, directly or indirectly, through any intermediate or not, with or without charge, in any part of the world, specifically on the Internet, on CD-ROM and on any other multimedia networks and devices, of any images of all or any part of the collection presented in this show, including any images of the models appearing in this show, is strictly prohibited. 

Not satisfied with mere legal warnings, Karl Lagerfeld deluged the audience with so many looks and silhouettes that knockoff artists couldn't select an iconic image from the collection.  The next season, the designer received boos from photographers when he sent his looks for Chloe down a maze-like, difficult to shoot runway. 

Fast forward a decade to the Fall 2006 collections.  Cutting-edge sites like Fashion Tribes are podcasting daily, and IMG is streaming the shows.  And Kaiser Karl himself has teamed up with Apple to offer a free podcast of the first runway show for his eponymous line.  (Look for quilted, logo-stamped Chanel earphones next.)

Karl Lagerfeld

When Fern Mallis, executive director of New York Fashion Week organizer Seventh on Sixth, was asked whether the the increased access would contribute to counterfeiting, she replied:

With media being so fast now...people can get on websites and see collections instantly.  This is really about the entertainment value and the energy and buzz of it. 

So let a thousand flowers bloom -- and keep the lawyers ready just in case.

How would the quintessentially modern Mademoiselle Chanel herself respond to all this?  In her words, "Fashion does not exist unless it goes down to the streets."  Or merges onto the information superhighway. 

January 28, 2006

Like Beauty, These Knockoffs are Only Skin Deep

The Italian word for makeup, "trucco," is the same as the word for trick -- a linguistic connection that always makes putting on foundation, etc. seem cleverly subversive.  The thing is, I prefer to think of a consumer choosing to create an illusion, not being fooled.

A range of new mass market beauty products, however, are imitating more expensive versions sold only at department and specialty stores, essentially free riding on the goodwill generated by the originals.  Compare Hylexin (left) with Nulexin (right).  Obviously, the packaging is similar, with inverse use of the same colors.  On their respective websites, both claim to be "the first product specifically developed to reduce the appearance of serious dark circles" under the eyes.  The marketing for both versions recalls pharmaceutical ads, with identical information about "clinical trials," but without ever actually naming the "functional compound" used in the product.  Both prominently feature the names of their parent laboratories, Bremmen Resarch Labs for Hylexin and Generix Laboratories for Nulexin.  And there's the twist:  the slogan for Generix is "Providing Affordable, Generic Versions of the World's Most Popular Formulations."  Oh, and the other difference?  $95 for Hylexin v. $39.99 for Nulexin.

Can Nulexin get away with copying Hylexin like that?  Well, the question, like so much of trademark and trade dress law, rests on whether the product creates "consumer confusion."  And that can be a tough call.  True, the boxes look alike, but Nulexin makes a point of proclaiming, "Same dark circle ingredients as Hylexin!"  So the design is clearly intended to make the consumer recall Hylexin, but with a disclaimer.

But wait, why can Nulexin use Hylexin's name, given that Hylexin claims trademark protection?   Under U.S. law, a series of cases dating back almost a century to Saxlehner v. Wagner, 216 U.S. 375 (1910), allows a trade name or trademark to be used for purposes of comparison with a competing product.  Copied perfumes have been notorious in this regard.  "If you like [insert Brand Name here], you'll love [Knockoff Name]!"

What about other intellectual property protections?  Isn't there a copyright problem with the identical language on the websites? That might be Hylexin's best argument against Nulexin, even though there are only a limited number of ways to express the same facts, but it won't keep Nulexin off the shelves.  As for patent, it's not clear that Bremmen has applied for one on their "functional compound"; they're certainly not announcing it if they have. 

So "lex" (right, Latin for "law") plays little role in the Hylexin v. Nulexin battle.  Consumers hoping to fight dark circles just have to keep their eyes open.

January 09, 2006

FashionTribes: Advice on Originals from an Original

Just before the holidays, New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn took the fashion industry to task for being "two clicks behind" the digital revolution, at least when it comes to marketing. 

The addictive, interactive online magazine FashionTribes, however, is at least two clicks ahead.  And when the originator of this original site, EIC/Publisher Lesley Scott, gives advice on avoiding cheesy knockoffs and choosing affordable originals instead, it's more than worth a click.

One further thought.  In the ongoing battle against counterfeits, which is the doomsday weapon:  (1) an army of pinstriped intellectual property lawyers filing briefs, or (2) a select company of disgusted fashion editors armed with fiery words of scorn for the pretenders?  In other words, legal threats or social pressure?

January 05, 2006


The fabulous expert patternmaker Kathleen Fasanella has very generously mentioned Counterfeit Chic in her blog, Fashion-Incubator, and (even better!) has allowed me to answer a few questions about IP from her readers.  Fashion-Incubator is a wonderful read, even for a non-expert in technical matters, and Kathleen is extremely entertaining and informative.  Check it out! 

January 04, 2006

Trends are "In" for 2006

Hemlines are up/down for spring.  Flats/platforms/wedges are the new "it" shoe.  White/brown/griege is the new black. 

We dress to express, but at the same time we want to be au courant.  Nobody likes a copycat, but nobody likes an oddball either.  Pity the designer who is accused of being unoriginal; pity her even more if she shows color when the fashion gods have declared that neutrals are the way to go.  And thank heaven for the various glossy fashion bibles that keep us up to date on the latest rules.  Without collective change, there would be no fashion industry.

The only sure prediction for 2006 is that somehow, most of us will figure out how to dress like everyone else does.  Trends are "in."

As the superfabulous Manolo reminds us, "The fashion it is not the nuclear rocket brain surgery."  Still, there may be something to the whole cognitive science thing.  Some 30 years ago, animal behaviorist Richard Dawkins came up with the idea that bits of cultural information in our minds, or "memes," are like our genes -- they want to replicate.  If an idea is unappealing, nobody copies it and it dies; if it's a good one, it gets passed around.  So we all end up humming the same tunes, repeating the same buzzwords, and wearing the same fashions.  Or -- if you believe Dawkins -- the fashions wear us.

Of course, nobody likes to be colonized by a collection of self-replicating ideas.  As the brilliant Almost Girl -- a woman destined to be the preeminent fashion theorist of Gen Y -- reminded me yesterday, we should take our celebrity academic theorists with a grain of salt.  So, go ahead and wear whatever you like in 2006.  Then the trends will have to follow you.

December 23, 2005

Pearls of Great Price

In 1917 Pierre Cartier purchased a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York from financier Morton Plant.  The price?  $100 plus a string of pearls coveted by Mrs. Plant and valued at $1 million.

In 1957 the same necklace was sold at auction for a mere $151,000.  The mansion still serves the Cartier jewelry company's flagship in New York, and were it ever to be sold, its value would be far greater than the 1917 figure.

The reason for the pearls' decline in value?  The scientific development of extraordinary knockoffs.

In the 1890s, several Japanese scientists were competing to develop a method of inducing oysters to produce round pearls.  Kokichi Mikimoto (yes, also a familiar name today on Fifth Avenue and elsewhere) was among these scientists.  By the 1920s, Mikimoto became the first to develop a commercially successful method of culturing pearls.  Despite an initial outcry against the "fake" pearls -- presumably from those lucky enough to own them -- the extreme scarcity of pearls harvested from coastal waters quickly made cultured pearls the industry standard.  Women everywhere could aspire to own what only a few decades before had been a means of displaying great wealth or royal status.

Kokichi Mikimoto

Today, it is a safe assumption that "pearls" offered for sale are cultured rather than natural.  And modern faux pearls have never seen the inside of an oyster. 

So, are those pearls in your Christmas stocking real?  It depends on who's asking -- and during which decade.