4 December 2010

Fashion Copyright?



The Senate Judiciary Committee in America just passed the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prohibition Act (IDPPPA) granting limited copyright protection to fashion designs.  Whilst forms of protection exist within the European Union and Japanese markets they are rarely, if ever, enforced.  Although Diane Von Furstenberg may champion the call for intellectual protection for fashion designers in America, I do wonder whether if brought into being any such laws would actually be of real consequence.  Copyright is a very complex issue and with such a fast paced industry as fashion, getting caught up over a single garment from a single season, whilst no doubt the right thing to do could unfortunately end up being a pointless endeavor. 

Fast fashion has come to dominate in the past decade, and by its very definition it relies on a fast turnover.  By the time lawsuits are filed and cases brought before a judge, the knock offs in question will undoubtedly be long sold.  Whilst it may be of advantage to the mega labels to sue occasionally to make a point, I doubt it will be of any help to the independent designers - it costs too much and takes too long - even though they are the ones who most need such protection.  Personally I would have stricter controls and fines for high street labels that copy designs point blank, however I fear it would be far too hard to enforce given the quick turnover of certain stores, sometimes changing an entire stock in a matter of days. 

I agree with Blakely's argument that copying fosters creativity amongst designers, however I think it is too simplistic to think that designers copy each other point blank as high street stores tend to do.  Whilst most fashion designers are certainly inspired by other designers, historical pieces, works of arts, and more, it is still a unique creation and a re-imagining as opposed to a direct tracing.  The only designer whose work could be applied to such a blunt notion is Martin Margiela, who created his Replica line (14), taking found garments and recreating them using high end materials and construction.  However even then it is an artistic appropriation of classic designs, more akin to a painter taking a reference in their work.  Classic design is an important notion there, for the high street will copy what I would reference as a 'statement piece' rather than a staple.  In the case of the high street there are far too many cases of what are essentially knock offs as opposed to a cheaper alternative. 

Copying a highly designed piece, including say, the print of a t-shirt (hello Topman), or the design and embellishment of a dress (hello ASOS), or the profile and construction of a sneaker (hello Zara), is what I take issue with.  It is most often highly designed and individualized pieces (an odd paradox given the mass production of the high street) which help to create 'trends' that are entirely copied.  The trend is what fast fashion relies on, feeding on the inherent anxiety of the consumer of being behind the curve.  Whilst some could argue that the same idea can be applied to fashion designers, I would cite the designers who I most respect, as ones who work within their own aesthetic framework and care little for outside trends, such as Yohji Yamamoto or Ann Demeulemeester.  We are bombarded with messages from every angle that we need to have the latest and the newest things, and the way that the fast fashion market reacts to that is clearly evident.  Personally I am wary of fast fashion and its wider implications, and for various reasons no longer shop in H&M or Primark, although I shall save that for another post.  

I do believe that protection is needed against fast fashion replicas, especially when pieces are essentially knock offs, rather than pieces 'inspired' by an original.  Of course there is no such thing as a truly original idea, but blind copies are outrageous to me.  I think the idea of the 'democratization of fashion' is a lazy argument in terms of the high street copying a garment exactly.  An aesthetic is something that can not, and should not, be copyrighted, so that can quite easily find its way into the high street and people can buy into that.  However copying an individual garment down to the button placement and patterning sits very uneasily with me.  I do not mind seeing pieces reminiscent of certain fashion designers on the high street, in fact I find that highly refreshing and inspiring, however knock offs really do anger me.  And yet, I fear that for the majority of consumers it is not really an issue, the lure of an (ostensible) bargain is something very few can resist.

50% Wool, 40% Acrylic, 10% Alpaca
Topman - £42

50% Wool, 40% Acrylic, 10% Alpaca
3.1 Phillip Lim - £188

A quick example of what I would consider to be the grey area of copying.  The colouring and loose striped design is arguably something that is not particularly unique as a design, and therefore is available to be copied.  That is until you notice that the composition for both sweaters is identical (albeit with cheaper quality materials in the Topman example).  Whilst a blatant copy to my eyes, for many it is perhaps not as clear as say, the ASOS/Margiela fiasco.  It is however obviously a complex issue, and yet when I think about it, there clearly should be some form of protection for designers.  It may be idealistic to think so, but personally I would rather support the smaller independent designers (on a side note it is for a similar reason that although I may admire some of their designs I would not buy from a label such as Louis Vuitton or Balmain, I disagree as much with what they stand for as for what fast fashion stands for, but I fear if I got into that I may receive a rather fierce backlash).


xxxx

11 comments:

  1. To be honest I used to hate the concept of ripping off designs but then I started to realize that it's the way the industry works. I mean if designers didn't rip of other designers then one could theoretically wear the same pieces season after season as there would be no need to buy new things every season. But when everyone is wearing a cowl collar then we search for something else.

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  2. I just look at it the way it is. I'm really only bothered by the intentional buying of "real" fakes. As long as it doesn't have the logo or trademarks I'm fine. I know it won't compare in materials, quality, construction, etc... (And I admit I'm speaking from personal experience) Although even luxury labels knock stuff off from the street and smaller labels. I don't like seeing big labels copying another big label. I've seen Burberry do identical rings to Baccarat, though Burb's was resin, Baccarat is of course lead crystal. At the end of the day, it's that person's choice what they choose to spend their money on. I'm not in other people's wallet, so I don't want other people in mine. It's just clothing after all.

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  3. copyright does seem quite a silly thing to apply to fashion. The idea of "knock offs" is really similar to Andre Rieu. Its a claim of democracy and bringing culture to the masses but really its just driven by greed. And with that quality and authenticity is compromised. And all sincerity in anything is gone :(

    great post by the way!! and that ASOS ring is ridiculous.

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  4. Wow, impressive post. So hard to know what to think. Hmmm...a pattern is a pattern though. And some of us cut them out of Newpapers to make sleep pants or aprons..even Western shirts with fancy yokes (my grandfather did this). Very rare I know, but I'm sure there are a few around who will see something in a magazine and think..I can make that...I know I do.

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  5. I'm with you. There's a lot of grey area, but designers do deserve protection.

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  6. this is really an intriguing post!

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  7. Very nice design of wool sweater :)

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  8. Very nice design of wool sweater :)

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  9. velvet inset on jeans? wow, love that idea! nice to hear from you!

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  10. Fantastic post! It makes my head hurt thinking about the whole copyright thing! I agree, designers need a bit of protection but it's also hard to say when it comes to designer copies on the high street but I steer clear of identical copies.

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  11. Very interesting post, I think it's quite a tricky subject area. Whilst I would never buy a rip off bag, I might buy a more subtle item which resembles something designer. But I guess that's the way the industry works.

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