Counterfeiting, copyists, and piracy

Copying another designer's work dates as far back as the Middle Ages, when styles created for the royals and other nobles were frequently "reinterpreted" by other designers, usually with less expensive materials. The feudal society of the Middle Ages brought an increase in the number of workers who looked to the lords and kings for fashion inspiration and aspiration.
Today, we know a great deal about what the clothes looked like in many countries, from the Middle Ages and beyond, thanks to the many paintings made during the Italian Renaissance and other artistic eras. This has allowed us to see the wonderful clothing worn at the time by royalty and wealthy merchant families. Many designers copied the clothes depicted in paintings, often creating hot fashion trends. In 1770, the Lady's Magazine published its first fashion edition in England. The periodical Gallery of Fashion first appeared in England in 1794. Publications such as these kept men and women current on new fashion trends and were often the prime source of blatant copying. Godey's Lady's Book, distributed in the United States, and Ackerman's Repository of theArts, both of which were published in the early 1800s, whet the appetite of the American fashion elite. For those who could not afford to make the voyage to purchase the originals, their dressmakers and later their local specialty shops began copying them.
By 1850, the United States had 4,278 clothing manufacturers. Much of what they made were fashions that were copied or bought from Paris. Copying became so rampant that, to combat the problem, Charles Frederick Worth (1856) resorted to selling his patterns to several U.S. department stores. However, other designers felt that selling patterns was not the answer and chose to bring lawsuits against the copyists, which brought the matter into the courts. Designers Madeleine Vionnet, the Callot Sisters, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Cheruit, Charles Frederick Worth, Jeanne Lanvin, and Drécoll formed an anticopyist society in 1923 called Association pour la Défense des Arts Plastiques et Appliqués. Its mission was to lobby for international copyright laws. In 1928, another Parisian group known as the Société des Auteurs de la Mode tried to curb the rising trend of copying at French fashion houses principally by American department stores. Then, in 1930, another group was formed, L'Association de protection des industries des saisonnières (P.A.I.S.). This anticopying group, headed by Armand Trouyet of Vionnet et Cie, succeeded in conducting counterfeiting raids and bringing about laws regarding the illegal copying of designs from the couture. A landmark case, involving Vionnet and Chanel against copyist Suzanne Laneil, ruled that couturiers were entitled to the same copyright protection in France as artists and writers. They later succeeded in banning from their shows sketchers and model-renting services, that is, firms that purchased styles for the sole purpose of renting them to manufacturers to be copied. In 1934, the concept of admission cards began, whereby, for $200, a department store or manufacturer could attend the couture showing but had to promise not to copy.
Even after the much-publicized case in the 1970s between Yves Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren involving Saint Laurent's "Le Smoking" suit (a case which Ralph Lauren lost), "knocking-off" still exists. The problem of stealing or illegally taking an idea or product design and passing it off or selling it as your own continues today. Counterfeiting or product piracy in 2005 accounted for approximately $600 billion in lost revenue globally. It also accounted for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. China and other developing countries are the biggest offenders of trademark infringement today. Groups such as the World Trade Organization (1993) and legislation like the proposed Doha Agreement (2003) are addressing the issues relating to trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and international trade law.

Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry. .

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  • Counterfeiting —    The problem of stealing or illegally taking an idea or product design and passing it off or selling it as your own. Counterfeiting, or product piracy, in 2005 accounted for approximately $600 billion in lost revenue globally. It also accounts… …   Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry

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