In anticipation of New York’s Fashion Week (September 5 - 12), I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of intellectual property laws that can potentially protect the original work of fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Zac Posen. You may have read about the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this month, which if passed could bring designers closer to being able to sue for copyright infringement on dress and other designs.
What will this mean for “fast fashion” companies, such as H & M and Zara? Perhaps designers will just keep “knocking off” themselves, partnering more with budget-conscious stores and creating less-expensive lines under their own labels, getting their signature styles into the hands of consumers rather than seeing copycats profit from making slight tweaks to their runway designs. Think of Vera Wang’s new line for mass-market store Kohl’s, which debuts this fall. Some of the pieces look a lot like her previous fashion-week offerings. They’re distinctively in synch with her vision, but made affordable thanks to fabric choices.
But will high-end designers then run the risk of diluting their brands? Could their collaborations with lower-end stores be parallel to the licensing fiascos of the 1980s and 1990s, which brands such as Calvin Klein and Gucci suffered through when their labels became ubiquitous?
What will be interesting, too, is to see how less-expensive stores will cope — and whether they will push in-house designers to come up with truly innovative new clothing designs that are budget-friendly, too, and not simply derivative and rendered in cheaper materials than what was seen on the catwalk.
But given the fact that so many runway styles pay “homage” to vintage clothing or other “inspirations,” including casual clothing, could the Design Piracy Prohibition Act actually lead to lawsuits against high-end designers, too? Who, after all, is the designer who can say that wide-legged trousers or a flouncy skirt is his or her original creation? How will we define true originality in fashion? By cut, color, fabric — or something more?
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.