Welcome to Counterfeit Chic!
FASHION LAW. Who knew that a field of law could be launched by a blog? As long as there have been fashion houses — and almost as long as there have been people making clothes — there have been occasions to consult lawyers. But when Counterfeit Chic first put pixels to page, schools didn't teach fashion law courses, bar associations didn't recognize the subject, and law firms didn't specialize in it as an area of law. The words "fashion" and "law" weren't linked, and fashion law as a recognized legal field simply didn't exist.
Some of you already know the story of fashion law's origins and road to respectability: my longstanding interest, the myopic senior academics who all but forbade research on the topic — "too girly; too frivolous; no one will take you seriously" (never mind the fascinating theoretical issues and the fact that fashion is a trillion-dollar industry) — my post-tenure return to writing on the subject, including the creation of a website that was welcomed with amazing warmth by both fashion bloggers on one hand and legal bloggers on the other.
Then it was on to the classroom and a law school that would risk adding a newly imagined course to its curriculum. It took a fair amount of convincing — and a place where students who'd read the blog championed the course, faculty members supported it (as one said, "We have sports law. In fact, we have two sections of sports law. Why can't we have fashion law?!"), and, to seal the deal, the dean's spouse had spent years working at Saks Fifth Avenue.
A combination of cultural trends and timing helped further the cause as well. Fashion is having a cultural moment. Once little kids wanted to grow up to be celebrities; now celebrities want to grow up to be fashion designers. Large screens and small ones bring us not only images of gowns on the red carpet but also aspiring designers sitting behind sewing machines. On the legal side, I learned shortly after I started speaking publicly on the then-obscure issue that had first captured my attention, the relative lack of intellectual property protection for fashion designs under U.S. law, that the fashion industry had decided to revisit the question as well. Despite the many hours involved, it's been a privilege to share my original research with members of Congress and the proponents of reform, first the Council of Fashion Designers of America and more recently the American Apparel and Footwear Association, and also with so many of you. Whatever your position, it's an issue that was too long ignored — though far from the only one.
But the most persuasive force of all, the one that did the most to silence the skeptics, was you. That is, the millions of readers who celebrated Counterfeit Chic. Designers and lawyers, students and scholars, creators and copyists, fashionisti and ultimately friends.
Fast forward to today, when fashion law has shed the question mark ("Fashion law? Really?") and added an exclamation point ("Fashion law — cool!"). One day soon it will be like health law, entertainment law, banking law, and other industry-specific fields — simply "fashion law." Period. There are a growing number of forward-thinking bar association sections and blogs, lawyers and law firms that focus on the field. Additional schools have begun to follow suit, renaming and refocusing previous courses or creating new ones. And the Fashion Law Institute, a nonprofit and the world's first academic center devoted to the field, was established in 2010 with the help of the CFDA and its president, Diane von Furstenberg. The Institute is based at Fordham Law School, and it's a source of information, training, and assistance. From blog to org in five years — talk about fast fashion!
So what is fashion law? It's the field that embraces the legal substance of style, including the issues that may arise throughout the life of a garment, starting with the designer's original idea and continuing all the way to the consumer's closet.
And why call the website "Counterfeit Chic," inviting frequent misspellings and the occasional online visit from law enforcement? While fashion law encompasses many issues, the ones closest to my heart (and the core of my expertise) involve intellectual property. Hence my original explanation of the name:
The history of fashion is a tale of innovation, but also of imitation. Trendsetters create and embrace new styles, but without copycats there would be no trends. This tension lies at the heart of Counterfeit Chic.
Long before the digital revolution enabled the downloading of music and movies, the industrial revolution enabled the rapid copying of couture garments — and provoked similar public debates. U.S. intellectual property law, however, has traditionally been reluctant to engage the world of fashion. While large luxury retailers have begun to test the power of law enforcement personnel and the courts against blatant counterfeiters, these high profile handbag wars are only part of the story.
This site is about law and fashion, and especially about the culture of the copy within the multi-billion dollar global clothing and textile industry. It's about New York's Canal Street and Beijing's Silk Alley, but also about the cognitive and sociological reasons that make us want to buy or reject knock-offs in the first place. It's about political and legal developments, but also about why both technological efforts and the social norms of the fashion industry continue to be more effective than law in supporting creativity. It's about the centuries-long, arguably productive battle between designers and copyists, and also about why the modern world threatens to upset that balance. It's about the universal phenomenon of copying, and about the law's limited response.
Counterfeit Chic is a multivalent concept. Is it "counterfeit chic" or "counterfeit chic"? Does it imply a false claim of elegance, assert a defiant redefinition of style, or make some other social/legal statement? Rather than begin with an answer, let's start a conversation.
Many thanks for visiting — and for becoming a member of the growing fashion law community.
Obligatory disclaimer: Nothing on this site is legal advice, nor do I offer online legal advice or referrals.