The Legal Implications of New York Fashion Week
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The Legal Implications of New York Fashion Week

The Legal Implications of New York Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week Spring 2017 has just wrapped up, and members of the industry are reeling with excitement over the newly introduced trends. However, the legal sector of the industry is currently dealing with any fallout from the many runway shows that just took place. The fashion industry has entrenched itself in midtown Manhattan, and although it may strike many as a fun and carefree field, the legal issues involved are widespread and touch on all aspects of intellectual property.

The field of fashion law follows a garment from its initial conception in the mind of a designer through it’s manufacturing and sale; all the way to the consumer’s closet. 1 The legal issues that can come up at any given step of this process span across the legal industry from corporate law to employment law. Perhaps the most important issues arise from intellectual property law. The nature of establishing a clothing brand requires that a designer have exclusive control over their products. This is accomplished by utilizing a combination of patent, copyright and trademark protection to establish the exclusive rights of a designer.

Copyright law is used to protect the creative and artistic aspects of an item. 2 However, with the rapidly changing trends in fashion, it is only helpful to copyright a design if the brand intends to use variations of this design for seasons to come. Many designs remain unprotected, since they will only be in use for a short period of time. Trademark law is used to establish a brands unique, source-identifying mark.3 Fashion brands are very keen to identify any competitors who may be using similar marks and creating consumer confusion. Patent law is used to established rights to a specific aspect of a product that is new, useful and non-obvious. 4 This will often be associated with sports apparel that has a unique, new functional quality. Major fashion brands have teams of lawyers who spend their time seeking out parties who are infringing on their rights and ordering them to stop. However, the unique setting of live fashion shows can pose an increased risk to brands.

The live and public nature of New York Fashion Week gives rise to other legal implications. Unique designs that were seen on the runway in New York will quickly be replicated by inferior brands and sold at a lower price.5 Starting in 2016 the industry saw a new trend, dubbed ‘See now, buy now.’ 6 Designers have started to sell their products directly to consumers at New York Fashion Week. While this strategy eliminates the period between the runway shows and the arrival of these lines in stores, it also could hinder the creativity displayed on the runway. This technique forces brands to display and sell a ‘ready-to-wear’ version of their lines, which will likely be much less extravagant than a piece designed with only the runway in mind.

The field of fashion law is steadily growing, and many firms have developed fashion and apparel practice groups. An industry that was once regarded as inferior has established itself as a revenue-generating giant with a wide range of job opportunities. While the idea of New York Fashion Week may only conjure up images of models and designers rushing around midtown Manhattan, the legal implications are complex and far-reaching.

Katarina Varriale

Katarina Varriale is in her second year at Fordham University School of Law and will be joining Greenberg Traurig LLP this summer. She plans to focus on transactional intellectual property work.