Isabel Marant Under Fire Over Copyright of Traditional Mexican Design

Paris-based designer Isabel Marant is causing quite a media storm after her legal team reportedly filed to register a copyright in a print she is believed to have stolen from the indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico. The print at issue was derived from the traditional designs of the Mixe, a group inhabiting the eastern highlands of Oaxaca, and found its way into Marant’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection, initially causing controversy on the heels of the release of the designer’s collection.

According to a Change.org petition that has been circulating the web, "Oaxacan designs were kidnapped a few months ago by French fashion designer Isabel Marant and Antik Batik, which began a lawsuit to claim the copyright of textile design originating in indigenous Mixe of Oaxaca. They have started legal proceedings to obtain a [copyright] and start the exploitation of Oaxacan design."

Other reports suggest that either French intellectual property authorities and/or Marant’s team has issued a cease and desist letter to the “authority of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca,” demanding that its inhabitants immediately and permanently refrain from selling goods bearing the indigenous designs that appear in Marant’s collection (such as the blouse, picture below, right).

Other reports suggest that Marant and fellow French brand, Antik Batik, hold legal rights in the embroidered garments at issue - and are requiring the Oaxaca to pay a licensing fee in order to legally sell them. However, the French IP Office has not confirmed this, and Marant has denied that any such copyright registration or cease and desist action is being taken.

A spokesman for Marant released a statement this week saying: "Isabel Marant formally denies owning any [copyrights] to the Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec embroided blouses," Isabel Marant also formally denies having sent - or asked any French authority to send or issue - any document to the authority of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, to prevent the inhabitants of the municipality from selling their indigenous designs. On the contrary, Isabel Marant is fighting before the district court of Paris to set the record straight."

Maybe most interesting, however, is that Antik Batik, a French fashion brand know for its eclectic mesh of European and Indonesian influences, has actually asserted that the design is original to its brand. According to an article published by the Guardian this past June, Isabel Marant alleged that Antik Batik filed suit against her brand in connection with a similar design that Antik Batik showed prior to Marant’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection.

According to a statement from Marant’s team in connection therewith, Marant does not claim ownership in the design: “Before the district court of Paris, Isabel Marant is fighting to set the record straight: she has presented submissions which expressly point out that these designs come from the village of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec in the province of Oaxaca, in Mexico … Moreover, Ms. Isabel Marant, after tracing the true origin of these clothes, officially informed the court: ‘For her part, Ms. Isabel Marant does not claim to be the author of this tunic and these designs.’”

With this in mind, it seems that Marant is undeniably at fault for taking far too much "inspiration" from an existing Oaxacan design and passing it off as her own her not citing her source of inspiration (as the brand did with these shoes that very clearly embody Adidas' trade dress rights), and Antik Batik is just as guilty.