Behind the Scenes

In defense of Gucci: Intellectual Property in Fashion.

Recently it was announced that design powerhouse Gucci were going to tighten their lawsuit on the American fast-fashion chain, Forever 21. The latest in the onslaught of claims from Gucci is that Forever 21 have copied their trademark ‘blue-red-blue’ and ‘green-red-green’ stripe cuffs and webbing. As your style editor I’m going to put out the argument for Gucci, and to take a deeper look into the ‘borrowing’ of high-street and fast fashion brands more generally.

As this is an opinion piece, feel free to discuss anything in the comments; Head of Lifestyle Elle Magill will be taking the contrary position to mine next week! For my part, I’m going to break the article into sections:

The case in hand…

Gucci placed the first straw of this suing saga back in 2016, where they essentially dropped the polite-but-stern acknowledgement that Forever 21’s clothing is oddly similar to some of Gucci’s and they fear that association with a fast-fashion brand, if consumers made the connection, would be devaluing and could even dilute their equity. Since then there’s been a rapid back-and–forth set of more serious threats, protections and actions, mainly instigated by Gucci and reacted to by Forever 21 (except for that memorable time where Forever 21 actually decided to sue Gucci for suing Forever 21 so frequently, which we still find hard to fully make sense of).

In this most recent chapter of the Gucci-Forever 21 lawsuits, Gucci have called out at Forever 21 as follows:

“Forever 21’s reputation for being accused of profiting from the trademarks and copyrights of others, including Gucci, is well established. Now, in an effort to distract from its own blatant infringements, Forever 21 is attempting to attack some of Gucci’s most famous and iconic trademarks. This will not deter Gucci from pursuing its own claims against Forever 21 as port of its ongoing commitment to the vigorous protection of its valuable intellectual property rights and distinctive brand identity.”

Forever 21’s response has been that it it’s absurd for Gucci:

“to claim that Gucci, alone, has a monopoly on all blue-red-blue and green-red-green striped clothing and accessory items” adding that “Any use of stripes or color bands on clothing sold by Forever 21 is ornamental, decorative and aesthetically functional”.

In defense of Gucci:

As Business of Fashion have pointed out, the coincidence that Gucci feel cheated of their ideas and are posting a sales increase of over 43% for the first half of 2017, isn’t really a coincidence at all. If you want to make money, you’re going to play into the consumer’s desires. For Forever 21, this was likely a simple task of seeing which high-end brands do well and making copies of the trends with the hope of copying the sales stats over from Gucci in the high-end to themselves in the high-street or ‘low-fashion’ (which is a bit of a shitty term) market.

Additionally, if we plainly consider the garments at hand, it’s quite hard to suggest they are not copies — perhaps this is why Forever 21 also do not really deny their replications as being so, opting to campaign for the right to copy trends instead. For Gucci these stripes, which anyone who flicks through a fashion mag or keeps an eye on the catwalk will be familiar with, are a Gucci staple and have in fact been in Trademark since the late 1980s.

The question I beg to ask Forever 21’s creative director and co. in this case is why not at least choose different colours? Light pinks and pastels are this year’s summer trend; why not make a cream-baby pink-cream stripe as opposed to using the exact same iconic colour schemes of Gucci? For me, this is laziness and the ruthless attempt to just replicate success and not be inspired by a brand, which is neither a positive action for customers (who therefore know Forever 21 just want money and not craftsmanship) and it’s quite obviously damaging for the high-fashion industry. This is therefore one of the plethora of reasons why fast-fashion is problematic and furthermore one of the reasons why Gucci have every right to take legal action.

High verses low: A broader look.

Being in favour of Gucci in this instance does have more of a point than purely playing a game of spot-the-(lack of)-difference between brands. Forever 21 are a brand notorious for being called out as a fashion parasite and though they are not alone (Zara and Urban Outfitters have both recently been been in the spotlight for similar issues), they are the brand I will be using as a case study for this, along with Gucci on the other end.

The problem with stealing an idea from a high-fashion brand stretches far beyond just being a lazy and money-driven ‘creative’ decision. For sake of word count, I’m going to simply list and briefly explain some of the reasons Copycat brands are damaging. IT:

Creates more divide: In order to stay exclusive the high-end brands are going to push their own boundaries to make it harder for their designs to be copied; consequently their prices will rise with their innovation.

Discourages brands from doing catwalks: Whereas it’ll take Gucci months to take their concepts away from the fashion show and into the stores, Fast Fashion can just watch the show and replicate it within weeks, meaning in many cases the original is on sale after the copy.
By discouraging catwalks we also discourages future talent: Putting it simply, who won’t get a confidence knock knowing that their ideas can be snapped up and stolen? Interestingly, we actually saw a case of this where Gucci were accused to have stolen a CSM student’s idea, so it can indeed work both ways.

On a more societal level, it also Encourages consumer, throwaway and disposable fashion cultures: This might sound strange, but if a brand has to keep proving its innovation due to people emulating their style, they are going to create more ‘seasons’ in the year. Additionally Fast Fashion brands can quite easily make 52 ‘seasons’ a year due to their production, and if they have a plethora of ready-made ideas to find in the catwalks, magazines and the rest, this is incredibly achievable. Both of these facts sadly ensure s a focus on the new and not always the quality — Goodbye longevity, hello disposable culture.

(and finally) In the case of forever 21 I think there’s actually a very evil attempted to discourage people taking legal action against intellectual property altogether:
If they can kick up a fuss and make Gucci spend serious sums of money whilst knowing Gucci are likely to win the case, perhaps it will make other less established brands far more reluctant to go into the courtrooms: If you have the choice between protecting your ideas or staying financially secure, what are you likely to do? Mhm.

That’s my part of the argument over, tune in next week for Elle’s viewpoint and feel free to comment opinions below.

Rhys Thomas

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Images Courtesy of Mathieu Lebreton and CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES respectively, via Flickr. Lisence here and here 

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