While the fashion industry was busy praising Demna Gvasalia for his debut Balenciaga collection and/or condemning him for his white-washed casting, Thai citizens have been having a field day with one of the accessories that hit the runway for Fall/Winter 2016. Following widespread online chatter amongst Thai fashion fans – complete with side-by-side photos and claims of copying – stemming from the visual similarities between Balenciaga’s rainbow colored tote and a traditional Thai shopping bag, the Department of Intellectual Property Thailand has responded.
According that a statement from Nantawan Sakunkarn, who serves as the director general for Thailand’s Commerce Ministry’s Intellectual Property Department: “The rainbow bag has been used in Thailand for a long time. It’s not illegal to carry it to Europe as it’s not a copycat. If one intends to copy, the material, pattern, shape and color must be the same. As well, there’s usually a fake trademark which leads others to think it’s a brand-name item.”
While the price of the Balenciaga bag has not yet been revealed, it is sure to retail for upwards of $1,000. The Thai version tends to cost 75 baht (roughly $2), but according to sources, the bag has become something of an in-demand item following the Balenciaga show on Sunday. The bags are currently being offered for upwards of 100 baht ($3+).
Note: This is hardly the first time a high fashion brand has looked to the traditional shopping tote for inspiration. You may recall Phoebe Philo’s Fall/Winter 2013 collection for Céline, which was complete with stiff tweeds that seemed to mimic the famed French “Tati” totes. Much like in the case at hand, Philo was hardly on the hook for “copying.” Designs, such as the tote prints, tend to have existed for so long and originate, at least, at this point in time, from so many different sources, that they are more likely than not considered fair game.
Nantawan echoes this notion, saying that the designer of the rainbow bag, which is traditionally composed of plastic and nylon materials, is unknown but the bag has been used in Thailand and other Asian countries for decades. As such, she claims: “It’s also unlikely anybody can sue Balenciaga because the materials and shapes are different.”