This week brought the news that retailer Mango is not ditching the fast fashion model anytime soon. In fact, the Spanish fashion giant announced that it plans to embrace an even faster business model, with an increased focus on its digital presence. As for what “even faster” entails: the retailer said in a statement that it will manufacture and offer 26 new “drops” per year in stores and online, and plans to do away with its catalogs, in an effort to shift its focus to e-commerce. (Note: Mango’s new sped-up model still does not put it at pace with Zara, which delivers new shipments to its individual brick and mortar stores twice every week – a model of 104 “drops” per year – depending on each store’s specific demand).
And true to the fast fashion model, Mango has released its “Floral Print Flowy Dress,” which is an undeniable copy of one of Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele’s most noteworthy designs since he took the helm of the Florence-based house almost a year ago, the printed silk-georgette mini dress. It seems Mango has not only co-opted the color and flower (that would be the hydrangea), but it has also utilized the length and general airiness of the original, as well. Also note that the Spanish fast fashion retailer’s copycat ways do not stop there; it has splashed the print on a number of other styles, including two additional dresses and a top, and utilized it against a blue background, much like Gucci also did for Fall/Winter 2015. And just to make sure we get the point that its absolutely copying Gucci, Mango is offering a pleated leather skirt, sheer lace tank top look – also taken directly from the Gucci Fall/Winter 2015 runway. This is bad.
Interestingly, the two brands’ lookalike garments are currently being offered for sale. This is not surprising since Mango obviously aims to imitate the real thing – in a very on-trend timetable – and certainly hopes to tempt a few otherwise high fashion shoppers with its very affordable wares. And the latter point is an interesting one. While there has long been an argument that high fashion shoppers and fast fashion shoppers firmly remain in very separate camps and never leave the comfort of such distinctions, the way many luxury consumers shop is changing. Designer x mass-market collaborations, for instance, are viewed much differently than they were in the past. (You may recall that when Halston teamed up with JC-Penney for an affordable collection in 1983, Bergdorf Goodman immediately dropped him from its store. No questions asked). Such collabs are no longer shunned in this manner. Moreover, with brand loyalty at what is probably an all time low, it is no longer taboo to mix high and low when it comes to garments and accessories.
With this in mind, the argument that someone might opt for the $80 dress from Mango, instead of the $2,900 Gucci version, is not completely absurd. Unlikely? Absolutely. Completely outlandish? No. And even if no one does shop Mango instead of Gucci, there is some damage in the fact that fast fashion shoppers will be shopping these Gucci lookalike garments. And considering that the “Floral Print Flowy Dress” alone is already sold out in three sizes, it seems consumers are definitely interested. And why wouldn’t they be? Everyone wants in on Michele’s new look for Gucci.
Before we outline the damage that these fast fashion copies cause, let us note primarily that an influx of pretty accurate Gucci copies, such as “Mango’s Floral Print Flowy Dress,” and their appearance on personal style sites and the like may benefit the house – especially if consumers are confused into thinking they are the real thing. Their presence may impart some sense of acceptance of the house’s new direction and its new creative director in the minds of consumers in a critical time for Gucci – when Michele’s garments and accessories are just hitting the market for the first time.
However, this is not a long-term benefit by any means at all. In fact, much like the problem that designer bag makers had when logo-fatigue kicked in, high fashion houses do not benefit from an excess amount of their goods and those that look a lot like their goods in the market. One of the underlying tenants of luxury fashion is – or at least is supposed to be – exclusivity. You buy a $3,000 dress because the quality is better than a $300 one, but also because you expect that fewer other will have that dress. If the market is saturated with that dress and/or ones that look a lot like it, the desire to have it goes down. In this way, Gucci stands to lose if brands like Mango churn out a lot of cheap copies that look like the real thing because market saturation and post-sale confusion is not a friend to high fashion.
The question remains: What can Gucci do about these Mango copies? Well, there is a chance that the Italian design house can sue for copyright infringement. The floral prints that Mango is using, particularly when placed against the same color backgrounds, look a lot like Gucci’s original prints. As for whether a court would side with Gucci is up for debate. What we do know is this: In terms of copyright law, the scope of protection depends on how many ways there are to express a particular idea. If there are only a few ways to do it, there will be very little protection for the design at issue – in order to prevent monopolization. However, if there are many different ways to express an idea, the copyright holder will receive “broad” protection for its original version.
So, for example, in L.A. Printex Indus., Inc. v. Aeropostale, Inc., 676 F.3d 841 (2012), the plaintiff, a textile company, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against teen retailer, Aeropostale for copying a floral print. The court held that L.A. Printex had broad copyright protection because “there are gazillions of ways to combine petals, buds, stems, leaves, and colors in floral designs on fabric, in contrast to the limited number of ways to, for example, paint a red bouncy ball on black canvas.” With this in mind, Gucci probably could sue Mango and win. We’ll see if the design house files suit …