Forever 21 is doing what it does best: Copying. This time its target is Marie Turnor and its Picnic clutch. Los Angeles-based Marie Turnor introduced its slouchy leather lunch bag clutch in 2009, and it created quite a buzz – ending up in the New York Times style section in July 2011 and in the arms of quite a few street style stars in the meantime. In addition to being one of Turnor's best-selling accessories, the clutch is one of its most widely-replicated styles. You have likely seen the iterations by Jil Sander, Zara, just about everyone on Etsy, and an array of other retailers. Well, recently, the Los Angeles-based fast fashion giant began selling its own version, the Faux Leather Roll-Top Bag, prompting comparisons to Turnor's designs. After so many copies have hit the market, we turned to Marie Turnor and its designer, Beth Goodman, to see how she feels about such imitation.
While seemingly obvious in its design, the widespread copying of the Picnic clutch suggests that there is, in fact, something to the simple design after all. The original Picnic clutch was designed by Marie Turnor in 2008 and brought to market in early 2009. Goodman says the style was conceived when she "spotted an elegant woman in Paris walking down the street with a paper bag in her hand." As noted above, the simple design has since become something of an industry favorite.
So, how does Goodman and her team respond to the extensive amount of copying that surrounds the brand's original Picnic clutch? She told us:
The Marie Turnor brand is, today, aware of many other established brands being inspired by our original design. While it is true that imitation is the highest form of flattery, it still hits us with unease each time we see one of our styles blatantly copied and passed off. Our main focus with driving awareness to said imitations is to educate the audience of these social media powerhouses that you can’t beat the original – the design, the Italian leather, local craftsmanship, and small business hustle that goes behind each Marie Turnor product is something that you just can't imitate. And we want all consumers to experience that luxury. Being stripped of the original concept recognition and our art is what we value the most.
The brand's education-driven focus is likely the result of not really being able to legally protect the bag in the first place. As we know, copyright protection is not a promising option, as it largely does not extend to useful articles, nor does it protect the depiction of something that can only be depicted in one way. For example, there are only so many ways to depict a lunch bag, and so, by awarding Turnor a monopoly over the manufacturing of lunch bag clutches, the public would be deprived of this, and that is not something copyright law is comfortable with doing. Thus, copyright protection is pretty much out of the picture.
Trademark protection is an option, but the coverage it provides is minimal. In fact, the brand has a federally registered trademark that covers its Greek cross logo that appears on its bags. However, the only way that they'd be able to use this as a way of preventing others from making the lunch bags is if other brands were to include the cross on their designs, which is unlikely given the rise in awareness of trademark infringement.
Lastly, if we were to consider patent protection, the bag stands a better chance, as utilitarian items are welcomed. The hurdle here, however, is whether the bag meets the patent requirement of non-obviousness, a topic we covered at length in a previous post.
Legality aside, fakes are never in fashion. Shop the real thing here.