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Image: Louis Vuitton

An $18,000-plus chair has pitted the world’s largest luxury brand against artists in Hidalgo, Mexico. In a letter dated July 5 and addressed to Louis Vuitton, the Mexican culture ministry questioned the Paris-based brand’s use of a traditional Mexican pattern for the upholstery of the chair (above, left), which is part of Louis Vuitton’s “travel inspired” Objets Nomades collection, specifically inquiring about whether Louis Vuitton had “sought and, in this case, worked together with the community and its artists” in furtherance of the creation and manufacture of the pricey furniture.

Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton has since stated, “We are currently in a relationship with artisans of Tenango de Doria in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, with the perspective of collaborating together to produce this collection. The French luxury goods conglomerate did not, however, clarify when – exactly – that collaboration came to be.

The letter to Louis Vuitton – which has come under fire in the past in connection with an unauthorized Maasai-inspired menswear collection – comes less than a month after the Mexican government penned a similar letter to Carolina Herrera and its creative director Wes Gordon for its use of indigenous patterns and textiles in the New York-based brand’s Resort 2020 collection. Garments from the brand’s latest collection that “feature a traditional flower embroidery known as ‘istmo de Tehuantepec,” as well as those with “a colorful ‘Saltillo Sarape’ stripe pattern” led the Mexican culture ministry and the fashion media, alike, to call foul.

Due to a lack of traditional intellectual property protections for indigenous design elements, particularly since individual ownership is rarely at play in connection with traditional designs – ones that are historically associated with certain indigenous communities (intellectual property laws typically grant protection for inventions and original works created by named individuals and/or companies), the Mexican government has resorted to communicating directly with brands.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Mexican copyright law, while providing protections for literary or artistic works, works of popular art, and craft works against distortion, explicitly states that “the use of those works shall be free, provided they are not deformed, intended to discredit the works, or prejudice the reputation or image of the community,” as Managing IP has previously reported.

With such recurring instances of alleged misappropriation in mind, Reuters notes that “Mexico’s ruling leftist National Regeneration Movement has been planning legislation to protect indigenous communities from having their work used by others without receiving fair compensation.” However, as of now, no such legislation is in place.