Legalize the Runway: Calling out Copycats on the Catwalk
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Legalize the Runway: Calling out Copycats on the Catwalk

Legalize the Runway: Calling out Copycats on the Catwalk

As Fashion Week moves across the planet, with fashionistas and the alike moving along with it, there is one admiring eye that the fashion industry cannot shake; the copycat. However, the industry is not sitting quietly as their creativity is exploited in a retail world dominated by the World Wide Web and fast fashion. The fashion industry is fighting back; and what better battleground to flex their muscles than Fashion Week?

Yves Saint Laurent (the iconic fashion house that has recently flip flopped with its name) is proudly showcasing its famous three letters down the runway. Literally. The Spring/Summer 2017 collection includes items like earrings and shoes that are branded with “YSL”. However, this is not simply the inclusion of the three letters, “YSL” is part of the construction of the item, with a heel shaped in the form of the three letter logo. What this means is that should a retailer decide to provide a similar item, they will be forced to draw inspiration from the design rather than simply recreating it.1 By including the logo in the construction, the design becomes protected by trademark law. Why is this? To copy the design would be the unauthorized use of the logo.2

Gucci has been talking directly to its copycats with the inclusion of “REAL” graffiti-tagged on one of its bags during the Fall/Winter 2016 show.3 During the Spring/Summer 2017 show, Dolce and Gabbana (“D&G”) used the issue of copycats as a component of his designs. The collection included off-branded t-shirts with writing like “Dolce & Gabbaba” and “Docce & Gabbinetti” to pay homage to the copycat designs that can be found online and in the street.4 In Paris, the brand, Off-White, marketed their new handbag collection by creating a makeshift Canal Street of “fake fake” (a.k.a. real). The campaign could be a commentary on the excessive amounts of counterfeit purses sold on the streets that are quickly bundled up when the police are near.5

The question then becomes: why is the fashion industry incorporating the law into their designs and displays? The answer is quite simple: to send a message. Law has been a major player in the background of the fashion industry. There have been epic sagas of legal battles that have rumbled in the background of the runways and bright lights. It was simply not enough for these issues to be left in the dark, and perhaps designers needed to let copycats know that they are not blind to what is happening with their work. With online retailers and fast fashion changing the game, the fashion designers have had to change their attitude. As Darwin has most notably said, it is survival of the fittest; and although the heels may be sky high, fashion is not going down without a fight.

Krina Merchant

Krina Merchant is an LL.M student at Fordham University School of Law specializing in Fashion Law and a staff member of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. Originally from Canada, she is a licensed attorney in the province of Ontario. She has always had a great interest in the laws related to the fashion industry and moved to NYC to pursue this at the one-of-a-kind Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. Krina has a B.A.(H) in Criminology and Sociology from The University of Western Ontario in Canada, an LL.B from Leicester University in the U.K, and an LL.M from Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada.