Monthly Archives: June 2017

The new pirates

The vendors on Santee Alley are going underground with the good stuff — the $300 knockoff designer handbags so close to the real thing, they could fool an Hermes salesgirl.

Most of the bags displayed out in the open on downtown L.A.’s most infamous retail street (the No. 1 hub for counterfeit fashion goods in the U.S., according to the LAPD), are half-hearted, vinyl versions of “It” bags, crafted on the cheap in Chinese factories. And contrary to popular belief, these bags — bearing comical labels such as “Prawa” (Prada) and “Channel” (Chanel) — are legal to manufacture and sell. They aren’t, under current laws, considered counterfeit goods.

“If there’s a copy of a Chanel bag that has a logo that’s double-Os instead of double-Cs, we can’t do anything,” said Rick Ishitani, one of the five detectives on the Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-piracy task force. “But once the vendor cuts the Os into a double-C logo, that’s a violation.”

Under the federal Copyright Act of 1976, the line between design piracy in fashion (co-opting the cut, shape and silhouette of an item) and counterfeiting (faux goods posing as designer merchandise) is razor-thin. Only artwork is protected: brand labels, logos, original prints and embroidery. The patterns — or blueprints — for garments and accessories are not. But many in the fashion industry consider the classifications ludicrous and are trying to have the law changed.

“There is no counterfeiting without design piracy,” designer Diane von Furstenberg said in an interview at her Beverly Hills estate. “It’s counterfeiting without the label.”

As the president of the New York-based Council of Fashion Designers, a nonprofit trade organization, Von Furstenberg is backing a bill pending in the Senate that would amend the Copyright Act. Dubbed the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, it would extend the protections in fashion design beyond artwork to encompass “the appearance as a whole” (the cut and silhouette) of an article for three years.

Though the bill has garnered strong support from Seventh Avenue, many L.A. fashion professionals have voiced doubt as to whether the bill could really make a dent in design piracy — or if it will increase litigation in an already hyper-litigious industry.

Indeed, some of Los Angeles’ most established fashion companies have good reason to hope the bill falls short. Companies such as Bebe, ABS by Allen Schwartz and Forever 21 regularly cull design “inspiration” from New York’s runways, and if passed, the legislation may greatly curb this practice. Additionally, many of the West Coast’s biggest fashion exports fall into the denim and sportswear categories, genres that are less concerned with silhouette and shape than they are with flashy branding and artwork — elements already protected under current laws.

But if passed, the bill could profoundly alter the way trends trickle down in the marketplace on both coasts. Last year’s ubiquitous tent dress, for instance, made its debut on the runways, but by early this year, versions of it were seen in every level of retail. Would there have been so many to choose from if a few top-brass designers had registered their takes on the design early on?

Von Furstenberg, for one, said the bill wouldn’t restrict designers from latching onto major trends in fashion, only deter them from copying looks verbatim. “It’s like locking your door,” she said. “Once people know you have locks, they won’t try it.”

Designers would be required to register garments with the U.S. copyright office for them to be protected, and all designs in existence before the passage of the bill (such as bell-bottom jeans) would be considered public domain. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), among others, is expected to come up for a vote early next year.

The U.S. is one of the only Western nations that doesn’t protect the overall design of garments and accessories. (In most of Europe, a garment doesn’t have to be registered for its cut and silhouette to be protected under copyright laws, though registering can afford up to 25 years of protection against design piracy). And other creative mediums here, including music and film, are more fully guarded against copyright violations.

Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Assn., a nonprofit organization based in downtown Los Angeles, called pattern-making “a craft, not an art. There is only so much you can do with a silhouette, a collar, a drape. For the little designers who have that one great idea and it’s knocked off — well, welcome to the real world, guys. Make another one.”

Metchek also cited the potential for more than one designer to conjure up a nearly identical idea within a small window of time. “Then they end up suing each other, depending on who registered it first,” she said. “This is not the way the fashion industry works.”

LA. Represented well in the upcoming CFDA / Vogue Paris showcase show

Southern California-based brands account for half the lineup in an upcoming “Americans in Paris” initiative organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue magazine and sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger.

Past West Coast CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists tapped to participate include Jennifer Meyer, George Esquivel (Esquivel Shoes), J.C. Obando, Andrea Lieberman (A.L.C) and Elder Statesman’s Greg Chait, who won the most recent CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award last November.

The other five designers in the mix (also past Fashion Fund designers) include Wes Gordon, Sofia Sizzi (Giulietta), Daniel Silberman and Justin Salguero (Illesteva), Jennifer Fisher and Patrik Ervell.

As part of the program, the 10 designers are set to occupy shared showroom space at Le 8 Valois from Sept. 28 through Sept. 30 during Paris Fashion Week. The night before, Hilfiger is scheduled to host a roundtable conversation with, followed by a dinner in honor of, this year’s group.

The “Americans in Paris” program, now in its fifth season, was created as a global showcase for emerging American designers and leverages the exposure that comes with Paris Fashion Week’s international retailers and fashion industry media.

Paris Fashion Week spring and summer 2014 Saint Laurent review

Based Hedi Slimane, the most controversial designer working today, threw the fashion world into a tizzy with his first two collections for the storied French house of Saint Laurent. And he did it again Monday night in Paris.

After paying homage to 1970s rock goddesses and 1990s grunge for his first two women’s runway outings, he showed a spring 2014 collection that seemed to be deliberately tacky, and elicited yet another collective “Huh?”

The inspiration: It’s hard to tell, because Slimane does not really speak to the press. But obviously, the Saint Laurent archives were a rich source.

Key pieces: Lip prints, originally a homage to 1960s Pop artists like Andy Warhol, appeared on a wrap dress and sequin top. An olive drab military jacket, worn over a leather miniskirt, was a reminder of how Saint Laurent took clothes out of the Army Navy store and elevated them to couture. Several iterations of Le Smoking also came down the runway, some with sheer blouses, others with skinny ties that brought to mind the slim line menswear aesthetic Slimane himself created at Dior Homme in the early aughts.

But mostly, the broad-shouldered, wedge-shaped jackets, super-short black leather skirts, one-shoulder sequin tops and zebra stripe skirts, all worn with glitter ankle socks tucked into kitten heels, seemed to be deliberately cheap-looking and garish.

The verdict: It was as if Slimane were trying to channel Saint Laurent at his most subversive when he presented the 1971 “Vichy Chic” collection of 1940s-inspired garb that evoked strippers and drag queens.

Here, the clothes definitely had a Frederick’s of Hollywood quality. (It’s worth pointing out that the L.A.-based designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte evoked a similar vibe with their spring runway collection shown at New York Fashion Week. Angelenos are creating outsider fashion all the way.)

Even the models were behaving badly — less dutiful mannequins and more petulant teenagers, hellbent on stomping to the end of the runway, turning, and high-tailing it out of the Grand Palais as fast as possible.

What about the clothes? Well, what about them. They weren’t much. But this week in Paris we’ve seen plenty of shows where the clothes have been beside the point. (Rick Owens’ step dance ode to joy for one, and Comme des Garcons’ psychological assault on the senses with whiplash-inducing looks and scratchy, stopping-and-starting music for another.)

It’s obvious Slimane is thumbing his nose at the fashion industry, but perhaps he’s also thumbing his nose at the haute bourgeoisie.

Any hedge fund manager’s wife can sling a $10,000  Birkin bag over her wrist and buy good taste. But buying bad taste? That’s not your mother’s couture.

Fashion needs provocateurs. There aren’t many of them left. I just hope that in addition to looking to Yves for inspiration, Slimane also starts to develop a design vocabulary of his own.

Olsen Mary-Kate’s twin, Ashley talks ‘Full House’ fashion influence

The Olsen twins have made a new name for themselves in the fashion industry with their luxury brand the Row, but Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen actually sashayed into the world of fashion at a much earlier age when they donned designer duds on the set of their hit sitcom, “Full House.”

The fiercely private twosome explained to Net-A-Porter magazine the Edit that their start in the industry coincided with their acting career while the pair alternated playing Michelle Tanner, the youngest daughter of the Tanner family when the now-syndicated comedy aired from 1987 to 1995. They were 9 months old when they were cast, allegedly because they didn’t cry when a TV exec carried them.

On “Full House” “we’d be in six-hour fittings three times a week, because we had to wear 12 different outfits,” Ashley told the mag.

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Wardrobe pieces came from Chanel and Marc Jacobs’ adult lines and were cut to fit the tiny actresses. Très chic, dude.

“We were designing clothes for ourselves as we were so petite,” Mary-Kate added. “So I think that is when we became obsessed with fit, and now the obsession has become a profession.”

The 27-year-old “Full House” stars went on star in their own films, turning the Olsen twins into a franchise, and became executives at the production company Dualstar. They haven’t provided as much tabloid fodder as their contemporaries, save for Mary-Kate’s connection to the death of actor and friend Heath Ledger in 2008 and her current relationship with Olivier Sarkozy, who is 17 years older than she is and the half brother of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Though they grew up in the spotlight, they stepped away from acting and worked to redefine cool in the fashion arena. However, their younger sister Elizabeth Olsen is carving out a career for herself these days with starring roles in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Very Good Girls” and “Kill Your Darlings.”

But the twin California natives have looked east, moving to New York in 2004 and inadvertently helping revive grunge chic with their layered “hobo” ensembles. Apparently, their seemingly haphazard looks came simply as a reaction to the East Coast’s cold weather, the mag reported.

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Now they’re making a name for themselves in the fashion industry as “proper” designers rather than being relegated to being called “celebrity designers,” and it seems to be working. In 2012, the sisters won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s honor of Womenswear Designers of the Year for their work on the the Row, which Mary-Kate said “they’re really focused on … at the moment.”

“Anonymity is a word we talk about all the time in life and in clothes,” Ashley said.

“We were 9 months old when we started, so fame has always been part of our lives. There wasn’t any weirdness where we decided that we wanted to be famous,” she added. “Then as we got older, we were very fortunate that we could hire and work with amazing people who want to protect us.”

As for their design aesthetic, it came from a 2006 excursion to find the perfect T-shirt, one made of great fabric with great fit, the mag said. That evolved into a brand of luxury basics with 23 collections under their proverbial belts and a Manhattan atelier that employs 60 people. They also work on other brands of their own: Elizabeth and James, Olsenboye and StyleMint.

“We saw a space in the market,” Ashley said. “We knew there wasn’t another brand offering basics in a luxurious and contemporary way. If I wear certain designer brands, or too much of something, I look crazy, and I need something to break it up. If you are wearing a Chanel jacket and you need an anonymous piece that will show just how special that jacket is, I hope that is what the Row gives you.”