Fashion Law Symposium, Part 1

Each year, Fordham Law School’s Fashion Law Institute puts on their annual fashion law symposium. This year there was 6 highly engaging topics. With so much to say about each one, my symposium posts will be in 3 parts. So this is Part 1, enjoy!


First up was the topic – Purchasing Power: Mergers & Acquisitions and Fashion Investment. The panelists for this discussion were as follows –

Busines graph with money and arrow


I was not present at this particular panel, but the goal was to discuss investment opportunities as related to the fashion industry. Important questions for this topic area were — “How has the market for fashion houses changed in half a decade?”; “What are the factors to consider in acquiring or investing in a fashion company?”; And from the designer perspective or that of an independent label, what are the pros and cons of working with an investor, how do you identify the ideal suitor, and when is the timing right? I’m positive this was a riveting discussion and it presents many legal and business issues that designers and brands must consider.


Next up, a very enlightening panel discussion, Power Centers: Battling Across Jurisdictions in World War IP. The panelists were as follows –


So as we know, a great deal of effort has been made in standardizing IP protection in a global sense, harmonizing the formalities. However, it is still very much a reality that rights holders are making the same claims against the same or similar defendants when it comes to IP protections, and they are getting different results in different jurisdictions. A few examples of this –

  • Gucci winning against Guess in the U.S., but losing in their home territory of Italy
  • The Chinese government and its adverse administrative action against Burberry’s widely protected signature tartan
  • Christian Louboutin’s country by country campaign to save their red sole from copyists


All in all, what we are left with is unpredictable IP laws, especially in the areas of trademark protection. The global shopping market is ever-present and highly accessible. So how do fashion companies and their counsel view this power struggle, and what strategic maneuvers are most effective?

Vince Castiglione began this discussion, going over the overlap of IP & technology. He specifically looked at patents, the different approaches and how the rise of technology has impacted patent laws. With the industry of fashion becoming very tech-driven, more and more brands, designers, and companies are weighing these varying costs of utility and design patents against the time to market. The ultimate goal being to protect the underlying technology. So more and more attorneys are now working very closely with the design teams to streamline this process. When looking at this in an international context, there are some major differences to remember. For various IP protections, unlike here in the U.S., the right holder is protected as first to file, not first to use. Internationally, you have to make sure any public disclosure will not have barred one from achieving trademark or patent protection.


Roxanne Elings went on to discuss the internet and the ongoing issues this presents, especially counterfeiting. Sites are popping up all the time and with a lack of IP respect in a global sense, to just the sheer amount of these sites, brands and designers are often stumped as to their options. It’s now more important than ever to make sure you are aware of the laws here in the U.S., but also the protections available to your business abroad. At this point, where a one, fully effective law is not an option, you have to make what’s existing, law-wise that is, work, whether that’s here in the U.S. or abroad say in France. Just being aware and know the protective scope are already steps in the right direction.

Michelle Marsh continued on with IP protections, what sorts of options and programs are available. You have to look at the protections again not just based on the U.S., but if your plan is to sell globally, you have to include international protections in your budget. It’s a game of risk since there is no universal trademark application or the like. Strategic plans have to be implemented on what sorts of protection would work best for you and then where you want to have those protections. Of course after time, you re-visit these plans and make appropriate changes if need be. When looking at the global marketplace, looking at where you want to gain the most protection, you likely will consider hot spots, where you are selling, where you might end up at in the future. Another point to keep in mind in the trademark realm, is when it comes to your mark, what is available in the U.S. might not be available elsewhere, so make sure to give yourself options — think differentiation.


The discussion came to a close with Pamela Echeverria discussing the specifics of IP law in Argentina. Pamela is a major player in the context of fashion law in this county. She developed the first fashion law blog and she has taken a part in publishing of the first fashion law textbook.


This Thing Called Fashion Law…..Take 2!

I am often asked about my fashion blog, Fashion Nexus, mainly how it all started and what do I blog about? Law school and specifically Fashion Law is the main reason my blog even exists. And I of course say my blog is different than others out there because I not only discuss fashion, but also fashion law. This inevitably brings out the questions — What is fashion law??


I’ve briefly written about this topic before — discussing how it’s a multi-disciplinary type of law that encompasses contracts, corporations, intellectual property (trademarks, copyright, design patents, etc.), and more. I then went onto discuss the growing programs solely dedicated to this type of work, this type of practice, from schools on the east coast such as Fordham or NYLS, to schools on the west coast, such as Loyola. I discussed the types of courses you could expect that relate to fashion law — Fashion Law & Finance;  Fashion Ethics, Sustainability, & Development; Fashion Modeling Law; Fashion Retail Law; and Fashion Law Business Transactions.


I now want to further discuss the issues that arise with fashion law, specifically some hot topics from recent panel discussions and future ones. The NYC Bar held a panel in March, with a focus on “Preparing for the Runway”, a discussion of various legal issues related to preparing for and producing fashion shows and presentations, including intellectual property, employment, contractual and financing concerns.


Actually, I plan on attending the Fashion Law Institute’s 5th Annual Fashion Law Symposium thru Fordham University. The topics to be discussed will be as follows —

  • Purchasing Power: Mergers & Acquisitions and Fashion Investment
  • Pulling the Plug: Fashion Companies, Dissolution, & Bankruptcy
  • Power Dressing: Politics, Dress Codes, and the Public Eye
  • Power Centers: Battling Across Jurisdictions in World War IP
  • Connectivity: Modeling and the Power of Social Media
  • The Power of 2: Licensing and Wearable Technology

I plan on fully reporting on the event and look forward to having my Fashion Nexus readers learn even more about this area for which I am so passionate about. The Fashion Law Institute, in addition to various events throughout the year, also conducts a Fashion Law Bootcamp every summer. It’s now a bi-coastal summer session. The program is run by Professor Susan Scafidi, Founder and Academic Director of the Institute, who pioneered the field of fashion law. She is the first professor to create a course in the area


Participants attending Bootcamp will explore diverse areas that affect the fashion industry and are at the heart of the Fashion Law Institute, including intellectual property, business and finance, international trade and government regulation, and consumer culture and civil rights. Within these categories, specific topics include the protection of fashion designs, counterfeiting, licensing agreements, fashion financing, garment district zoning, real estate, employment issues from designers to models, consumer protection, sustainability and green fashion, import/export regulations, sumptuary laws, and dress codes.


These topics are all actual in the field of fashion and are exactly where fashion law needs come into play. Varying issues arise everyday, from huge cases such as Louboutin and their quest for a trademark with their notorious red soles to trademark infringement with the Kardashians’ cosmetics line. It’s not even always about going to court. Sometimes it’s about the need to safeguard and plan ahead, such as when Stella McCartney was granted a design patent for one of her best-selling dresses.


Discussion in this area even can come out of the blue, such as with Lord & Taylor’s recent blogging campaign where 50 bloggers donned the same dress. The campaign was a smashing success as the look sold out. However, L&T failed to mention that these bloggers were paid to wear this dress, as did the bloggers themselves, which violates advertising requirements under the FTC. The major retailer could face fines for such actions. This is where a fashion attorney, likely an in-house counsel, should have stepped up to make sure that this advertising campaign complied with all governmental regulations. This likely won’t turn into an actual problem, but I use it as example to demonstrate just how easily these issues can arise and to show how this type of law is expanding and growing daily.