Greece-based footwear company, Dukas, appears to be the “inspiration” behind industry darling, Charlotte Olympia’s Pre-Fall 2014 collection. Dukas launched in 2003 and has been spotted on Rihanna, showed at Paris Fashion Week, and stocked by Luisa Via Roma, as well as at brick and mortar stores internationally, including boutiques in London, where Charlotte Olympia is based. The brand has made quite a name over the past several years for its “leg heel” design, which Dukas debuted for Fall/Winter 2011 and has reintroduced for several subsequent seasons. The designer took to his Facebook page to dispel the popular “imitation is the highest form of flattery” statement, saying: “IT IS FLATTERING TO INSPIRE FAMOUS DESIGNERS! NO COMMENTS…” followed by a link to an article by Shoeholics Club, accusing Charlotte Olympia of copying.
As for Charlotte Olympia, which has since deleted images of its potentially infringing Pre-fall 2014 collection from its Instagram account, the footwear and accessories brand was created in 2006 by “London-based British/Brazilian heiress” (Voguepedia’s word not mine), Charlotte Dellal. The collection, which stocks at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Net-A-Porter, as well as three Charlotte Olympia stores (think: London, New York and Los Angeles), has been well received. Dellal’s designs first appeared in American Vogue in 2010 and the following year, she won the British Fashion Award for Best Accessory Design. She is up for that same award again this year. The designer to British Vogue last month that “creativity and ideas are endless.” But this case of suspicious similarity has us wondering.
Legal nerds, read on … The extreme similarity in this case also has us wondering about the legality of the situation. I am by no means terribly familiar with Greek intellectual property law, and so, I will address this from a UK and U.S. law perspective, and considering that Dukas does business in both places, he may have standing to sue in either or both. In the UK, designs (even utilitarian ones) are covered in their entirety by copyright law. In contrast, in the U.S., garments and accessories, for the most part, are not protected by copyright law. However, it seems we have a special case on our hands here. Under the umbrella of copyright law, which largely excludes the protection of useful articles, there is a form of protection that extends to useful articles, as long as they are “separable” (physically or conceptually) from the useful function of the article. Because that standard is argument met in the instance (the “legs heel” is capable of existing independently of the functionality of the shoe), copyright protection probably applies.