Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fashion copies - back on the Australian current affairs agenda

As some may already be aware, I am currently working as a producer at a nightly Australian current affairs program called Today Tonight on the Seven Network (which explains my lack of posting of late). It’s a program on which I worked 10 years ago and it’s interesting being back, working on a mix of stories. In terms of fashion stories, it’s been a great opportunity to get some subjects to a much bigger audience than I do on this blog or indeed via the other outlets for which I normally write – try 1.7million per night (including web traffic). On my first day back I broached a couple of story ideas with executive producer Craig McPherson, top of the list being a subject that I have blogged about on several occasions: the fashion industry discriminating against plus-size consumers. Another fashion story aired this week – the rampant plagiarism across Australia's $1.8billion footwear sector.

The genesis for this story idea was a great July post from Australian shoe blogger Matt ‘Imelda’ Jordan. In his post, Jordan discussed a direct copy of a shoe design by London-based Dane Camilla Skovgaard, by Australian mid market shoe manufacturer Tony Bianco.

Most interesting of all: the subsequent tip from Jordan that Tony Bianco had dispatched a series of intimidating legal letters in the hope of obtaining a retraction of some of the claims in the post.

The audacity was breathtaking.

As revealed by Jordan, not only had Tony Bianco done a faithful reproduction of Skovgaard’s signature S8001 sandal – the style which originally made her name – but had even attempted to engineer a fake celebrity endorsement to promote the company's copy.

When launching its “Sexy Roberto” shoe to the Australian fashion press, Tony Bianco sent out US red carpet shots of celebrities Cindy Crawford and Halle Berry in Skovgaard’s originals. There was no mention of Camilla Skovgaard’s name on the mailout.

Tony Bianco’s lawyers seized on several points in Jordan’s post: notably his accusations that Camilla Skovgaard had “unleashed her lawyers” on the company and that Tony Bianco was guilty of “copyright infringement”.

Both were factually incorrect. But the David and Goliath factor made for a great story.

Although Skovgaard did consult lawyers at the time, the only representatives to contact Tony Bianco were from her US PR team.

Having failed to register the design in Australia, moreover, a straight copyright infringement case would have been indefensible.

Due to changes, in 2003, to Australia’s IP legislation, unless a designer has registered each and every design they hope to protect in this market, they are unable to in fact enforce copyright. This is unlike numerous other jurisdictions, for example the EU, where designers have an unregistered design right.

That’s not to say that Skovgaard doesn't have any legal rights here. Sources say that she would probably have little trouble proving “reputation” for the design (make that designs - it later emerged that TB has copied two Camilla Skovgaard shoes this season). The fake celebrity endorsement is a separate matter.

Only problem – she has been told that she's looking at a minumum $50,000 investment to get a case up, with of course no guarantee of success. That's a big ask of a young, independent designer.

All the companies mentioned in the story were of course offered right of reply. Noone took up the offer.

Their respective responses when I called requesting interviews were fascinating. One company even claimed that it had come up with the design in question five years ago.

It is entirely possible that Sportsgirl's Camilla Skovgaard knockoff was even supplied by a manufacturer that was already knocking off her shoe under its own brand, thereby vastly increasing its market. A big return for zero design investment in other words. Sportsgirl declined to identify the supplier of the shoe.

It’s interesting how companies that copy, often seem quite indignant when they're called out on it.

Some $400,000 in court ordered damages has been awarded for design/copyright infringement cases over the past 12 months in cases mounted by Australian companies that have taken advantage of the new Designs Registration Regime and opted to register designs.

The first fashion victory under the new system was Review versus The Discovery Group in March 2008.

Although not working for TT at the time, I was interviewed that month as talent for the program’s story about the Review case. I had the temerity to mention that it wasn’t the first time the company, which owns the Charlie Brown and lili trademarks, had copied others. I provided one example of a devoré velvet poncho with a peacock motif, first shown by New Zealand label Sabatini at New Zealand Fashion Week in September 2004 – and copied six months later by Charlie Brown.

On three previous occasions, I had written about Charlie Brown’s cheaper version of the poncho, which turned up in store the minute the Sabatini poncho appeared on the cover of the Winter 2005 catalogue of Australian department store David Jones and, notably, once word spread that the poncho was walking out the door at DJs.

But Brown had been called out for copying as far back as 1998 - by Marion Hume, then the editor of Vogue Australia.

After I mentioned the Sabatini incident on Today Tonight, Brown also threatened legal action. To date, nought's come of it.

Back in 1995, I wrote a 4,000 word expose on copying in the Australian fashion industry for the now defunct Australian current affairs magazine, The Independent Monthly. It was the year before the launch of Mercedes Australian Fashion Week and the emergence of a new generation of export-focussed designers. Australia was still locked in a culture of so-called "designers" sending international designer samples in to magazines to be photographed (still with the labels attached) while the "designers" were busy manufacturing their copies.

The story kicked off with the infamous anecdote from the Bicentennial Wool Collection at the Sydney Opera House in 1988, for which nine international designers were flown to Sydney, including Sonia Rykiel, Kenzo and the late Gianni Versace and Jean Muir. During rehearsals, Claude Montana had to be physically restrained from clocking Marilyn Said and Barry Taffs - the designers behind the Covers label. Covers had been selected to represent Australia in the show and Montana felt that their collection showed a little too much Montana influence.

Called Fashion Thieves, it was a cover story and it prompted three separate television profiles, including A Current Affair.

That story was the reason I wound up working for A Current Affair for a brief stint in early 1996 - before quickly heading to Today Tonight, where I stayed for three and a half years. I am often being reminded of this story. Several weeks ago Oyster’s Alyx Gorman drew my attention to the fact that it’s even cited in an article in the Journal of Australian Political Science.

Now I’m back in current affairs tv - still talking about copying. Because 21 years after the Bicentennial Wool Collection, many Australian companies are still shamelessly copying international designers.

For sure, copying exists everywhere. As the Tom Gunn girls pointed out in their TT interview, the London high street is notorious for quickly turning around catwalk trends. The "fast fashion" retailers Zara, Mango and H&M have revolutionised the business, turning around catwalk trends - although not necessarily one-for-one copies - at lightning speed.

But Australian copycats enjoy several other unique advantages. This was pointed out in a piece to camera in the original script for the TT story, which wound up being cut when we lost two and a half minutes.

There is also our proximity to the Chinese factories, exacerbated by the fact that we are a season behind the northern hemisphere. This means copies can be on shelves before the originals have even arrived.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

KAREN's black and white Christmas

After the eye-popping February cover featuring Olivia O’Driscoll with blue lips, here is a sneak peek of the December cover of Australasian fashion magazine KAREN: a surrealist composite by London-based Australian photographer David Standish. The image features no less than three images of Russian (tks JT) model Alice Fadeeva, whose unique look could be yet another composite - of Monika Jagaciak and Iekeliene Stange. Not surprisingly, Standish cites Surrealism and American photographer Man Ray as major influences in this TO2W iv.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bettina Liano launches the Curvy jean - taps Tahnee Atkinson to front it


Bettina Liano, Australia’s original jean queen, is the latest Oz designer to pay hip service to the larger sizes issue. Frockwriter can reveal that Liano will launch a new jean line called Curvy next month. Aimed at the more curvaceous woman, it consists at the moment of two jeans: a new style called Curvy and a "curvy" adaptation of Liano’s classic True Bootleg style. Curvy is a straight leg, mid-rise jean in a vintage wash. Both styles are cut to allow more room around the bottom and thighs and will be available in sizes 8-16. According to a Bettina Liano spokeswoman, Liano's jeans usually go up to a size 12 (even though Liano’s website indicates they may reach 14). To kick off the launch, Pierre Toussaint will shoot new campaign images in Sydney on November 30, with Australia’s Next Top Model Cycle 5 winner Tahnee Atkinson.

This is interesting for several reasons.

Firstly, the ongoing controversy over the dearth of designer clothing in larger sizes.

Not that 16 is by any means tapping into the plus size market. But as Melbourne blogger Hayley Hughes and I recently discovered when we took two hidden cameras into Chapel Street to shoot a story for Australian current affairs television program Today Tonight on how the fashion industry discriminates against larger sizes, it was extremely difficult finding anything on Chapel Street over a size 12. For someone who writes about the industry, this even surprised me. Brisbane blogger Nicholas Perkins also took part.

Click here to see the Today Tonight story.

Secondly, as we know, this year’s ANTM placed quite some focus on the body image issue and it seemed almost a fait accompli when curvy Atkinson won the competition – even though runnerup Cassie Van Den Dungen appeared to be the better-equipped of the two for an international high fashion career.

Meanwhile, Atkinson recently visited New York and some appear genuinely shocked that Atkinson was not welcomed with open arms by the New York market.

Atkinson will join the upwardly-mobile Jess Hart as a current season Bettina Liano poster girl.

PS. In the TT story, the figure of $10.5billion refers of course to the estimated fashion component of Australian clothing retail sales [source: IBISWorld]. And yes, Gossip is indeed an American, and not a British, band. As I have blogged previously. The word British inadvertently slipped into the script and I did not realise until it was too late. My apologies.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why is Daul Kim the fifth model to die in 18 months?

Condolences are due to the family and friends of Korean model Daul Kim, who has died in Paris (on the 19th) at the age of 20. Details have yet to be clarified, but New York magazine’s The Cut is reporting suicide (since confirmed by South Korean consular officials). This is yet another very, very serious wakeup call for the modeling industry. It is the fifth model death of which this journalist is aware since June 28 last year - three of them allegedly suicides.

On June 28 2008, Kazahk Ruslana Korshunova fell to her death from a New York apartment building. Although ruled a suicide, a petition was launched to attempt to have the case reopened.

On July 7, Canadian Diana O’Brien was murdered while on assignment in China.

Then on October 11 – yes, on the same night – American Randy Johnston died from a heroin overdose in New York, while Canadian Hayley Kohle fell to her death from a Milanese apartment building. Although Kohle’s death was ruled a suicide, her family also raised questions.

Kim will be remembered not just for her brief modeling career. (I met and photographed her backstage, above, at the Alexander McQueen show in Paris in October 2007).

Kim was also a sensitive and creative soul, who was quite outspoken and raised eyebrows on her two year-old blog, I Like To Fork Myself. There was the time she called out Japanese fashion brand Undercover for being racist. And another occasion when she gave Barneys the finger (literally, in a photo) for its poor customer service.

Some of Kim’s musings were however quite dark and on several occasions she found herself having to defend her mental state on the blog.

In April 2007, shortly after she launched the blog, Kim wrote:

“and thanks to stupid tv show from korea ppl think i like to
torture myself and thanks to that im getting lots and lots of
suicide emails on a daily basis
but im definately not depressed, and i dont want to killmyself”

In October 2008, after hamming it up with some mates in some photos, and censoring some of them after complaints from her mother, she wrote:

"thank you but
i dont care

and i was not high or drunk
i dont even smoke cigarettes.
i go to bed early and i dont party. i rave at home.

but my mother emailed and told me that she is upset and
worries about my mental state so its censored.

i listen to my mother.

i am okay im just having fun with my french gay boys...."

In this very bleak post "Say hi to decided", dated 11th October, Kim's fate looks to have been sealed.

It's a pity that her family and agents did not realise how depressed and lonely she was until it was too late.

RIP Daul Kim.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Four Australian Victoria's Secret Angels?

elyse taylor/sonny vandevelde

Could Sydney super agency Chic Management be en route to supplying four Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show models this year? That’s what frockwriter is wondering, following the news that Elyse Taylor has been been cast in the 2009 show, which tapes in New York on Thursday. Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr is of course a given and Abbey Lee Kershaw is also a strong possiblity, given her appearance in the show last year and her recent VS ad work with Behati Prinsloo. Sarah Stephens may even make a second appearance after, we hear, receiving a special request to attend the castings. If all four Chic-ettes turn up on the runway, that would surpass the agency’s VS model hat trick last year. (Updated: Stephens was not cast. Only three Australians walked in the show).

Taylor is on a roll at the moment - and not before time. The face of August’s Rosemount Sydney Fashion Festival, she is the November covergirl of Vogue Australia. Taylor left Australia to try her luck in the US in 2005, at the same time as her once close mate Miranda Kerr. Although Taylor has worked steadily in the interim, a high profile has so far eluded her. It will be interesting to see the two former best friends strut their stuff together on the one mega catwalk.

Amusingly, Taylor’s dad Ross is a senior executive at Australian intimate apparel giant Pacific Brands, which operates labels including Bonds, Berlei, Playtex and Hestia in this market.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lady Melbourne fronts Peppermint

Yes bloggers are so hot right now. You only have to check out Bryanboy’s new rabbit-in-headlights masthead pic taken at the SS10 Dolce e Gabbana show – for which he, The Sartorialist, Garance Doré and Tommy Ton were plonked frow alongside fash industry stalwarts Suzy Menkes, Anna Wintour and co, complete with laptops. Blogger collab windows kicked off with The Sartorialist and Saks Fifth Avenue back in October 2006, but reached critical mass this year, with Holt Renfrew hooking up with BB and others and Brisbane’s own Jean Brown dedicating an entire installation to Imelda. Well frockwriter can reveal that in the recent SM tradition of hot net babes who are rucking up not only traffic, but modeling tie-ins (eg Julia Frakes and Fashiontoast's Rumi Neely now repped by NY's Next Models), Phoebe Montague, aka Lady Melbourne, is due to appear on the cover of Oz eco magazine Peppermint. If some (if not many) fash mag slags are picking up content from the blogosphere, good to see a little credit finally being given where credit's due.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Ragtrader social media debate


Along with local fashion industry consultant Kate Vandermeer, I was recently invited by Australian fashion industry newsmagazine
(this country’s version of WWD), to be involved in a mini panel discussion about social media and the fashion biz. Conducted online via Gmail chat and moderated by new Ragtrader editor Assia Benmedjdoub, an edited transcript of the debate was published in the September 25 (print) edition. Due to popular demand, the original transcript was finally published on yesterday.

I added some additional info via email shortly after the discussion (which appeared in the print version only), after realizing that I had neglected to mention Cover It Live in my personal hitlist of SM platforms/apps – a live dialogue box application that I had used this year to cover both the Golden Globes, the Oscars and then, in tandem with my esteemed blog colleagues Bryanboy and Matt ‘Imelda’ Jordan, the D&G, Dolce e Gabbana and Gareth Pugh FW0910 presentations in Milan and Paris.

And yes, in case you’re wondering about the title pic for this post, I fed a cut-and-paste of the entire discussion into cute word cloud generator Wordle.

As we Twitter towards the close of a year in which social media was second only to the economic climate in terms of priority discussions for the fashion business the world over, very interested to hear your thoughts.

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