On the heels (no pun intended) of Mansur Gavriel’s New York Fashion Week presentation of their Spring/Summer 2016 collection, which served as their first foray into footwear, there is quite a bit of controversy at issue. The New York-based design duo, which consists of Floriana Gavriel and Rachel Mansur, who are known for their break out “it” bags, has been accused of “copyright infringement” by fellow designer, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, who has spoken out, saying that Mansur Gavriel’s shoe designs are “way to close to my own designs to be an accident.”
Per WWD, Nassir Zadeh, who spawned her private label of shoes (one of which is pictured below, left) and ready-to-wear in 2012, alleges that Mansur Gavriel’s four shoe designs (one of which is pictured below, right) “not only replicate my signature block heel, but use it in combination with an open-toe mule and slide shapes, like my own.” She said many of the colors presented in Mansur Gavriel’s new shoe line are similar to her styles. Zadeh also told WWD that she has had numerous people contact her to point out the similarities.
The designers behind Mansur Gavriel disagree. They claim there is no discernible similarity between the two shoe lines. “I think it’s a large range in terms of the form and the heel,” Gavriel told WWD at the brand’s presentation.
So, what exactly are we working with here … legally? The vast majority of fashion sites have been quick to label this an infringement of some sort, even suggesting that Mansur Gavriel’s designs may be illegal. However, that is simply NOT the case. In fact, this is actually a pretty simple case. Copyright law is not really a friend to fashion. This is a blanket statement but it is quite true, nonetheless. Because copyright law does not protect useful things, such as shoes, it provides little protection for those things in their entirety. Elements of a garment, such as a print that covers it, or of a sculptural element of a shoe (such as the highly ornate heels of the shoes that Alexander McQueen showed for Fall 2010, pictured below) may be protected but this does little to help Zadeh. This is why fast fashion retailers make hundreds of millions of dollars by copying high fashion designs and only very, very, very rarely are sued for doing so.
Given that we can very clearly rule out any form of copyright protection, Zadeh’s only other remedy would be design patent protection and even that likely does not apply because honestly, the shoe designs are not all that novel, which is a required element for design patent protection. In fact, it would probably take Mansur Gavriel’s attorney about five minutes to show that the styles of shoes at issue here have been done a number of times in the past – long before Zadeh introduced hers – and that the current designs do not make any notable innovations thereto. As a result, design patent protection is just not an option.
We can certainly debate whether or not Mansur Gavriel has evaded some kind of ethics in terms of design (which I think is very unlikely given that slides and mules are extremely common footwear silhouettes), but otherwise, this is perfectly legal. Any questions?