ON THE RUNWAY ~ The New Yorks Times
Style & Fashion
By ERIC WILSON
FAMILIAR LOOK Copies of royal wedding attire by ABS by Allen Schwartz.
Let’s see here. On Wednesday, ABS by Allen Schwartz began selling a series of royal-wedding-inspired dresses that includes a fairly good copy of the Alexander McQueen gown worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, for $1,100. That same night, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, reintroduced legislation seeking to grant copyright protection to designers, presumably discouraging exactly that kind of knockoff fashion. And on Friday, the Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez went to Washington to plead their case before Congress.
Do you get the feeling we’ve been down this road before?
Now five years into a campaign by the Council of Fashion Designers of America to enact some sort of protection for original designs, the proponents of such legislation say they have their best chance yet at seeing a bill become law. But it is a far cry from what they proposed in an earlier bill that was deemed too broad. After manufacturers complained that the bill could lead to frivolous lawsuits over who had what idea first, the designers agreed to a more narrow definition of what would be protected, with a very high burden of proof on the designers.
One of the biggest differences in the new bill is that designers would have to prove that a copy is “substantially identical” to their originals, rather than “substantially similar.” And they would have to prove that their designs were truly original, that the defendant’s design was an infringement and that the defendant indeed had knowledge of their work. Also, similarities in color and patterns would not count.
“It is going to be a very limited number of items that are going to be protected,” said Steven Kolb, the executive director of the fashion council.
In fact, it is difficult to imagine what exactly would be protected, though Mr. Kolb said that Kate Middleton’s wedding dress would probably be a good example, or anything you might see at the current Costume Institute exhibition of Alexander McQueen. But passage of the bill would be a symbolic victory for designers, especially those who have suffered financially by the widespread copying of their work. Cheaper versions of Proenza Schouler’s popular PS1 bag, for example, have appeared throughout the market, including at Target, where the designers once created a less expensive line.
“The passage of the bill, in many ways, would be a powerful deterrent,” Mr. Kolb said.
Mr. Schwartz doesn’t think so. Pretty much anything that is created in fashion, he argued, is the result of what is in the air, so if two people are doing the same thing, it means they are both on trend. With his red-carpet-inspired dresses, he usually makes enough small changes that it would be hard to call them identical to the original, even when they look alike.
“It’s hard to prove because it’s not the truth,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Can you imagine? These people would go around saying they made the first asymmetrical dress. It’s egocentric and it’ll never fly.”
But the designers are determined to make their case heard. Mr. Hernandez, in an e-mail, said: “We spend over $3 million to develop and produce each of our four collections. Our ability to profit from this investment is hurt when our stolen designs are in stores before we can even manufacture them ourselves.
“We understand that most of what is designed is not going to be protected,” he wrote, “but in the instances in which we and other designers come up with something unique and special, we and those designers should be able to benefit from those ideas. Our unique items are what have established Proenza Schouler’s identity. To have our creativity stolen dilutes the value of what we have worked so hard to build.”