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Location: Bi-coastal, United States

Working in the trenches of the fashion industry for years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Steal this Fashion Design?

An article in Salon Steal this fashion design: Sometimes, copying someone else's creation is the right thing to do by Andrew Leonard has an interesting take on intellectual property and piracy issues that plague software and other creative media businesses.

"Like the music, film, video game, and book publishing industries, the fashion industry profits by repeatedly originating creative content. But unlike these industries, the fashion industry's principal creative element -- its apparel designs -- is outside the domain of IP law. And as a brief tour through any fashion magazine or department store will demonstrate, while trademarks are well-protected against piracy, design copying is ubiquitous. Nonetheless, the industry develops a tremendous variety of clothing and accessory designs at a rapid pace. This is a puzzling outcome. The standard theory of IP rights predicts that extensive copying will destroy the incentive for new innovation. Yet, fashion firms continue to innovate at a rapid clip, precisely the opposite behavior of that predicted by the standard theory."

Citing a recent article published in Virginia Law Review The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design Leonard feels that the lack of protection in fashion is part of what spurs creativity. Designers must move on, in order to stay ahead of copyists and counterfeiters.

He goes on to say the authors of the piracy article
"offer a wide-ranging tour of the fashion industry in the U.S. and Europe and its relationship to IP law, but the most provocative point they make is this: The speedy copying of new designs contributes to the rapid turnover of the fashion cycle, which in turn boosts the profitability of the entire sector. The hot new elite thing becomes passé so fast that the cognoscenti must perforce move on to something even swankier, asap."

Christine Magdo's Harvard Law paper lays out what protections are currently available, especially in the area of trade dress, for designers. It is a very murky area, and hard to bring suit under trade dress statutes unless you have an established business and an established 'look'. Her discussion on laws that do not offer protection is informative for any designer or artisan looking for the answer to the question: "Can I make this [insert item/pattern you wonder if you can copy] and sell it [insert venue: on the internet/ at the craft fair/ to my local boutique].

An article in The Scotsman from last April lays out some of the issues for the fashion industry, now that the the CFDA "wants Congress to introduce a revision to US copyright law based on a recent statute that gave boat designers protection for their hulls for 10 years. Fashion designers are asking for similar protection for clothing designs for three years." Diane von Furstenburg and other American designers are looking for a path to legal redress for the most egregious line-for-line knock offs.

Some followers of design and fashion may remember Yves St. Laurents successful law suit against Ralph Lauren in the late 1990's under French anti-garment copy laws. Since Ralph had a shop in Paris, St. Laurent was able to prove that a garment on the rack there bore an uncanny resemblance to a registered St. Laurent design. Although St. Laurent was unable to stop the sale of the dress to the rest of the world, he did receive compensation and get the offending garment removed in France.

A paper published at the Boston University site "A Design for the Copyright of Fashion" by Jennifer Mencken, written in 1997 brings up interesting concepts of the "conceptual separability of fashion's artistic elements from the functionality of clothing". Mencken's proposal for design copyright protection merits consideration, now that the CFDA wants us to consider fashion design in the same category as boat hull design. It sounds like lots of new areas of employment opportunites for lawyers to me.
Leonard's Salon article wistfully concludes that
"More fashion goods are consumed in a low-IP world than would be consumed in a world of high-IP protection precisely because copying rapidly reduces the status premium conveyed by new apparel and accessory designs, leading status-seekers to renew the hunt for the next new thing."

Is there some kernal of truth in this? Is there a way to protect fashion design from the more egregious copying and still function freely in the rapidly evolving global market place? Stay tuned. Let's see what the new Democratic majorities in the US Congress cook up on this particular front. It is an issue that is not going away anytime soon.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Blast from the past

I did a collection for Paradise Clothing Company in Honolulu, way back when. Here's one of the strapless gowns with sleeves I did. It's made from bathing suit nylon/lycra and appliqued with dyed-to-match Glissenet down one side, with Glissenet sleeves. All of the the gowns had built in bodysuits, so you didn't have to wear anything underneath, and keep a smooth line.

The artwork was developed in my studio, looking out at the tropical plants in the yard. I got inspired by the Art Deco brickwork in Waikiki. Most of those old one and two story buildings in the "Jungle" as that part of town was known, are gone now. I wish I had photographed those references. I keep looking for tropical architectural photos, in vain, searching for that style of brick. If I had a name for it, searching would be easier.

My mom transferred the flower silhouettes to oaktag and cut stencils with her handy Exacto knife. I still have all of those stencils. I have thought of using them for devore velvet designs. Someday, in my copious free time!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Going global

In addition to the embellished metallic mesh pieces I sent to Cynthia for her Global Caravan show in Honolulu, I sent an appliqued sweater - a sample rejected from a Holiday collection I worked on a few months back. It was supposed to be coral on green, but a communication glitch caused it to come out a very Christmas-y deep red.

Since I wasn't able to be there for the gallery opening I sent along an 'artist's statement' to hang on the rack along with the garments. Here is part of the text:

"I have included one special knitted sweater design in the show. The artwork for the embroidery and appliqué design was taken from a photo of one of my favorite carpets Cynthia carried back from Turkey. Carpets were piled high at her special showing, and magic color combinations colored my dreams for sometime afterwards.
Soon after, my travels took me to Yingkou in northern China near the Mongolian border, where I spent several weeks designing a knitwear collection. I slipped my Turkish carpet design onto one of the sweaters. The Chinese interpretation of that design, with its beaded accents, is truly a child of Global Caravan."

The red is appliqued on top of the green sweater, then embroidered over the applique. Afterwards, sew-thru rhinestones were scattered over the design, with a few seed beads for good measure. I loved working on this piece - finding the right shape and color of stones was a challenge. It's too bad that it was a bit too dramatic for the line I was working on, and will remain one-of-a-kind. In the sample room in China, this piece was known as the 'Chinese Opera' jacket. Funny how that Turkish carpet design seems to fit right in to the Mongolian vibe there in northern China

G. L'amour

I used my overstock of fancy embroidered and embellished metallic mesh from Kashi at Metro Fabrics to make some pieces for my dear friend Cynthia to sell at her annual Global Caravan pre-Christmas gallery sale in downtown Honolulu. Each piece had to be handcut around the idiosyncrasies of the fabric. Some are one of a kind, and others I managed to cut 2 or 3 pieces. It was more a labor of love than a commercial enterprise. I did want to recoup my investment in the fabric though, or it was slated to be inherited by whoever comes into my textile estate.

This piece was hacked out of 3 yards of silver mesh that had been embroidered with medallions sprinkled with heatset rhinestones and embellished with a serpentine pattern of silver soutache cord. (Could we add anything more to this fabric??) The fabric had a double border with a scallop edge on both sides, so I had to work to make a style that would cut into the fabric the least amount possible.

There are a few patterns out there for this type of shawl jacket - KwikSew has a rudimentary one; Vogue has a much more sophisticated version with some shirring at the neck. I felt that neck shirring was what was going to make this piece work, so I incorporated it into the final design.

There is very little seamwork on this - shoulder, armhole, sleeve, and neck. I used a silver organza to finish the seams and made an inside neckband for a more elegant finish. Not to mention that the metallic mesh is kind of rough, and it needed at great couture finish.

Wouldn't you know that an embroidered medallion fell just at the shoulder seam and I had to cut around it and applique it over the shoulder seam? It would have been a shame to cut in the middle of it. Not to mention that its very heavy and tough to sew through. Fortunately I had studied my Susan Khalje "Bridal Couture" book recently and had no problem sewing around the motif with tiny hand stitches.

The hem is slightly lettuced with a 'pearl' edge overlock stitch. Most of the bottom edge is the scallop border, but the ends of the front panel needed a finish. I don't have the right machine, so had to go beg someone with an industrial Merrow machine to do it for me.

As the old Hawaiian auntie said "Don't give it away, honey". Here's hoping someone can appreciate this piece enough to buy it so I can recoup the fabric cost.