Sunday, March 16, 2008

copyright and fashion design in Australia

While in Melbourne, a copyright infringement case involving two dresses got a bit of press. Melbourne brand Review managed to convince a judge that a dress by Sydney label Lili was a copy of one by Review. You be the judge (Review on left, Lili on right; image from The Age):

Whatever, I say. Copyright infringement is rampant in the Australian industry, but forgive me for saying this: neither of the above dresses are worthy of litigation given their lack of originality, in my humble opinion. Every high street label has done something similar over the last couple of years; I've made quite a few patterns in that time that would be 80-90% like either of the above, and I can assure you neither dress was copied. I'd guess something Marc Jacobs did in 2002 or 2003 would be the original source and since then the idea has been regurgitated more than an episode of M.A.S.H on mid-afternoon television. Fashion design in Australia is in a long-term crisis; for many designers, magazines, overseas buying trips and websites such as and net-a-porter are the primary sources of ideas: to copy is to design, apparently. It takes me back to 1999, when I was completing my undergraduate collection. We were required to find an industry mentor, and mine was a high-profile Australian designer, still very successful in business today. Everything he did was based on bought samples and magazine photographs. You say inspiration, I say rotten potato. His exact words to me: "There is no time to design in Australia." I would beg to differ. Of my graduating year, two unique and original friends stand out: Therese Rawsthorne and Fiona Buckingham of Kyotap. Over the past few years I've had the pleasure of making patterns for both, and it's been a delight to see the two actually make full use of the creative skills bestowed on us during our education. I should also note that both are very capable of making their own patterns, too; I've come in when they've been too busy to do so. Both have dedicated clienteles that go back for more. Perhaps because I know Fiona's work better, I can usually recognise a Kyotap piece without checking the label because Fiona's own, original handwriting is inherent and explicit in every single garment. The two are my beacons of hope.

What worries me is the precedent the two dresses above set. What next: a similar case over some god-awful smock dress with a jewelled neckline? Because to me, they all look the same.

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