At what point does referencing and inspiration turn into blatant copying? It's a question that is increasingly on the minds of designers -- particularly young designers and small brands -- who don't have the legal muscle (read: cold hard cash) and time to defend the integrity of their designs.
In other creative disciplines like music, writing and visual art, it is much easier to defend copying. In fashion, referencing, inspiration, and trends form the backbone of our industry (just check out this long list of adventures in fashion copyright). So, where do we draw the line?
Case 1: Steve Madden
Sometimes it's quite straightforward to see what is going on. A post on Manolo's shoe blog alerted us to this blatant copy of the Balenciaga sportiletto shoe. Some may find it amazing that anyone would even wear these shoes, but I find it amazing that any company would be so brazen as to rip designs off in this way.
As Manolo points out, it's not the first time that Steve Madden has been seen to blatantly copy the designs of other brands. It really makes me lose all respect for Steve Madden. Perhaps if the company's executives saw the passion, perseverance and energy that go into innovative designs like these, they would understand why anyone who respects the creative process would be aghast at these actions. It's unacceptable.
Case 2: Diane von Furstenberg
On the other hand, sometimes it's a lot more tricky to prove that designs have been copied.
"What if a very well known designer, one that say, would be on the vanguard of copyright protection (and going as far as lobbying Congress), were to be discovered to have, shall we say 'dipped a toe into the knock-off pool as well?' "
This was the note we received from an anonymous reader, lets call her Freda, with the accompanying photo. While Freda didn't identify any of the designers or brands in question, it wasn't too difficult to determine that garment B is from Diane von Furstenberg's Spring/Summer 08 collection, which is in stores now.
What is a lot more difficult to determine is whether there is a case for copying here. While Freda was very careful to underline that she is not making any accusations at all, she did note that another designer had put out garment A a full year and a half before garment B came out. Freda also asserts that she is not directly connected to either of the two designs in question.
"Throughout my career as both a textile designer and clothing designer and merchandiser, I have been continuously exposed to knocking off and being knocked off," she said.
"But, there is also such a concept as the public domain. Did Gucci do the flat ballet slipper with the big medallion before or after Tory Burch? Did Prada's 2-tone ballet slippers so popular a few seasons ago infringe on Chanel's original concept? Did Versace's status prints of the 80's infringe conceptually on Gucci and Hermes? Where does one draw the line? And if the line is so blurred, why lobby Congress?"
Freda wanted to float these questions in the most "neutral court of public opinion," and we were happy to oblige. It makes for a very interesting discussion, especially when someone who is representing the CFDA in order to stop copying can be accused of doing the same.
So what do you think? Is this copying or coincidence? And where do we draw the line?