Our Head of Intellectual Property, Wayne Beynon, shares his thoughts on copycat fashion and Gucci v Forever 21, in an article co-written with Isabella Brasnett, who recently joined us on work experience.
‘If you want to be original, be ready to be copied’ – the timeless words of fashion house founder Coco Chanel have never been truer – especially for Gucci – who’re currently suing Forever 21 for trade mark infringement (yes, they’re at it again).
Gucci is known for their signature blue-red-blue and green-red-green stripe that adorns many of their garments and forms a major part of its brand. Forever 21 have been shamelessly imitating it.
High street brands are often heavily influenced by luxury fashion houses, drawing upon premium designs and bringing similar styles to the masses more affordably. However, there is a fine line between taking creative inspiration from another brand, and infringing on trade marks, or, like Forever 21, simply copying.
It can be difficult to retain originality while staying on top of the current styles. This is made even harder as high-end labels often set the season’s trend, and high street brands quickly manufacture similarly styled products, trying to keep up.
Gucci and other industry leaders are vulnerable to copyright infringement if other brands take inspiration from them a little too much. Gucci has already fallen victim to some unflattering imitation, when Guess had to award them $4.7 million in damages for infringing on their trade marked footwear designs. Luxury fashion houses are even threatened by each other. In 2012, Christian Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent for copyright infringement of their signature red soles.
Gucci’s distinctive stripe patterns have been part of the House of Gucci image since 1963, and were first trademarked in 1979. Forever 21’s recent collection featured the similar stripe designs on the borders of several items.
When these derivative products first came out, Gucci issued multiple cease-and-desist letters, warning Forever 21 that they would take legal action. In response, Forever 21 pre-emptively filed their own motion to disprove any infringement claims made by Gucci.
Forever 21 has become notorious for its trade mark infringing designs, having been sued over 50 times for trade mark infringement. The label has faced legal action from power house brands such as Adidas, Puma and Sorelle. The chain store has also been accused of ripping off designs from smaller, more indie labels, like Wildfang, Alala and Valfré.
Although copy-cat styles might seem harmless, or even helpful to those of us who want Gucci styling for high street pricing, trade mark infringement is a serious issue. It can undervalue the brand of the original designs, resulting in customers trading down and not buying the original item – problematic for the designers and the Gucci brand itself.
While Gucci, as a global business, can survive this loss of revenue and brand devaluation, this sort of imitation can be the death knoll for smaller, independent businesses who can’t compete with their prices being undercut by such a commercial giant, and even artists, such as Sam Larson, who aren’t paid for their ripped off designs.
The people and companies, large or small, who use their creativity to produce interesting, unique and iconic designs, deserve to profit from their ingenuity – the people who copy their hard work should not. Fashion has never been so easy or accessible and we all want to look our best. But, going for cheaper ‘knock-off’ versions will only dilute the level of creativity and quality of clothing that is available to us.
Isn’t being different what fashion is all about anyway?