Coco Chanel is famous for a number of things; one of them is her famed quote, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” While the legendary designer’s underlying sentiment is accurate in theory, in practice it is not quite as simple, and with the rise of fast fashion retailers, copying appears to be at an all time high. Since a large amount of copying is completely legal in the U.S. (due to the way American intellectual property laws are framed), we do not see too many lawsuits when such copies are offered for sale. However, designers and fashion websites, alike, are not shy to call “Copy!” when the replication is egregious enough. Here are some of the most controversial instances of copying that occurred in 2015 …
Speaking of Chanel, the Paris-based design house came under fire (in a story we broke) for copying garments for its recently staged Métiers d'Art collection. Fair Isle, Scotland-based designer Mati Ventrillon says a number of knitwear garments that Karl Lagerfeld showed were copied of those that Chanel’s research team purchased from her this past summer.
And this is not the first time Chanel has been called out for copying. In 2012, the design house was ordered to pay upwards of 200,00 euros after a court found that its craftsmen "slavishly copied" a number of another company’s crocheted designs. Around the same time, we broke the news that for Fall/Winter 2012, Chanel showed bracelets that looked a bit too familiar to ones that New York-based designer, Pamela Love, had previously showed. After making headlines, Chanel agreed to include Ms. Ventrillon’s name in connection with its press materials for the collection.
Not surprisingly, the most epic copying fail of the entire year involves notorious copycat, Nasty Gal. This spring, the Los Angeles-based retailer took to its Instagram to share a photo of Taylor Swift on the Billboard Music Awards red carpet along with the caption: “One piece wonder. Taylor Swift in the Nasty Gal Frisco Inferno Jumpsuit.” The problem: Swift was wearing Balmain, and not Nasty Gal’s egregious Balmain copy. So, either Nasty Gal’s social media editor saw a marketing opportunity to trick consumers and boost sales OR was legitimately confused due to the very blatant nature of Nasty Gal’s copy. Either way, Nasty Gal lost when the entire fashion internet read our post (yes, we broke this story) and shared their own takes on the copying.
Self proclaimed amazing fashion designer and creative visionary, Kanye West, did quite a bit of copying this year for his latest Yeezy collection for adidas. In addition to copying Haider Ackermann, Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, Christophe Decarnin, visvim, and Damir Doma garments – more often than not in a blatant line-for-line manner – the rapper copied himself. Yes, for Yeezy Season 2, he showed nearly the same collection as he did for Season 1, prompting the industry’s most respected critic to write: “This second round of drab, broken-down basics proved he can’t be taken seriously as a designer.” Ouch but true.
2015 was the year that the adidas Stan Smith went viral, so to speak, and with such widespread acceptance inevitably comes copying. There were the cheap copies – courtesy of fast fashion companies and mid-market brands like Vince – and then there were the high fashion ones. Isabel Marant and Alexander McQueen, for instance, both released versions of their own, which very well may amount to trademark infringement.
Celebrated accessories brand, Mansur Gavriel, made its footwear debut this past September and subsequently made headlines, largely for the wrong reason. On the heels of Mansur Gavriel’s Spring/Summer 2016 presentation, designer Nassir Zadeh, who founded her owned label of shoes and ready-to-wear in 2012, launched an attack on the brand, alleging that Mansur Gavriel's shoe designs “not only replicate my signature block heel, but use it in combination with an open-toe mule and slide shapes, like my own.” While Zadeh lacked legal grounds to file suit against the New York-based design duo, which consists of Floriana Gavriel and Rachel Mansur, the fashion press was all over this story certainly putting a damper on their debut.
We are used to seeing fast fashion retailers copying high fashion brands, and yet, Saint Laurent managed to put a spin on that for us this year when it began offering an interesting dress for Fall 2015. The Pussy-bow lipstick-print crepe mini dress, which is retailing for $3490, is a dead ringer for one that (gasp!) Forever 21 introduced in 2013 as part of its plus size collection. Yes, we have seen Hedi Slimane, Saint Laurent’s creative director, look to the past for inspiration (usually his inspiration comes from the YSL archives or Roxy Music imagery), but this time, he may have gone a bit too far.
After Los Angeles-based sneaker brand, Buscemi, debuted its namesake sneaker and managed to not get sued by Hermès, it decided to take its heavily-influence by Hermès designs a step further. The result: its namesake backpack, which incorporates a number of elements of the Paris-based design house’s famous Birkin bag trade dress. So, by copying nearly every distinctive element of the Hermès Birkin bag, has Buscemi created a likelihood of confusion in the ordinary shopper? We think Hermès can certainly make that argument.
In what was certainly the most ironic case of copying and subsequent litigation this year, notorious fast fashion copycat, H&M, sued fellow fast fashion copycat, Forever 21 … for copying. The design at issue: a canvas tote bag that reads “Beach Please.” It is a pretty run of the mill lawsuit, in which H&M alleges that Forever 21 began manufacturing and selling the bag knowing full well that H&M was selling it. The best parts, however, are where H&M un-ironically alleges that Forever 21 is a known copier that manufactures low quality clothing and accessories. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
After settling the copyright infringement lawsuit that graphic artist, Jimbo Phillips, filed against him in 2012, Jeremy Scott and Moschino, the Italian design house, where he serves as creative director, were sued for copyright infringement. This time, Scott allegedly copied “Vandal Eyes,” the famed mural by graffiti artist, RIME. The artist was particularly bothered by the fact that in addition to the “literal misappropriation” of his mural, “Moschino and Jeremy Scott did their own painting over that of the artist—superimposing the Moschino and Jeremy Scott brand names in spray-paint style as if part of the original work.” That lawsuit is still underway and getting uglier by the minute.
Michael Kors has made a name for his MICHAEL Michael Kors collection thanks to its affordable “luxury” accessories – including copies of an array of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Prada bags, among others. While such copying has become pretty routine for Kors, particularly problematic is when the brand copies Paris-based design house, Céline, as we saw this year with its Addington bag, which is part of the brand’s main collection (as distinct from the lower priced MICHAEL Michael Kors collection). As you may know, Kors served as the creative director of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned Céline from 1997 to 2003. With this in mind, the brand’s Céline copies are all the more damning. So, while Kors’ fur-covered Addington is not its most egregious copy, it is worth noting because of the parties’ history.
Cementing both its status as a fast fashion copycat and Gucci’s status as the “it” house of the year, Mango introduced a collection of egregious Gucci copies, many of which subsequently sold out (a testament to their similarity to the real things). On the heels of announcing that it would revamp its model to produce even more collections each year and do so on a sped up timetable, the Spanish fast fashion brand took a bit too much inspiration from Alessandro Michele’s coveted floral prints for the Italian design house, where he took the helm roughly a year ago. From the hydrangea prints and the colors to the styling, Mango was very obviously attempting to tap into the mass appeal of Michele’s transformation of the Florentine house, and its attempts did not go unnoticed.
Celebrated London-based brand, KTZ, came under fire this fall for misappropriating a traditional and “sacred” Inuit design for its Fall/Winter 2015 menswear collection. Salome Awa, a Nunavut woman based in Toronto, says she was “furious, in shock and angry” to discover that KTZ, which has a celebrity fan base consisting of Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, MIA, Kylie Jenner, and A$AP Rocky, among many others, had copied a traditional Inuit design without permission and for the sole purpose of profiting off of her culture. After being called out, KTZ pulled the garment (at the end of the season) and issued an interesting (read: completely lame) apology.
It seems that not a year goes by without accessories brand, Steve Madden, getting sued for replicating the original designs of high fashion houses. Balenciaga sued the brand for copying its Lego shoe and its Motorcycle bag. Alexander McQueen sued in connection with one of its booties. This year, Stella McCartney filed a strongly worded complaint against Madden for its "poorly-made copy" of her best selling Falabella bag. Place your bets on who will file suit against Steve Madden next year.