Sunday, April 22, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid® by Laurel Marcus

Fashion Law Institute's 8th Annual Symposium Explores "Fashion Influence"

The Audience
Photo: Laurel Marcus - click images for full size views

Last Friday aka Weed Day no doubt saw lots of people under the influence – it was only fitting that Fashion Law Institute’s 8th Annual Symposium had those who attended under the “Fashion Influence.” Director and Founder of Fordham’s nonprofit Fashion Law Institute Professor Susan Scafidi and Attorney and Associate Director Jeff Trexler each opened the day long program by welcoming students, alumni and other attendees with their own special brand of humor and charm, posing the question of whether social media types such as Kylie Jenner are taking over the lawyer’s jobs. (Funny, I remember Jenner coming under fire for potentially appropriating L.A. makeup artist Vlada Haggerty’s imagery for her famous Lip Kit packaging.)

 Professor Susan Scafidi in a suit by Stella McCartney, and the gold pumps are from Christian Louboutin's graffiti tag collaboration with a street artist.
Photo: Laurel Marcus

As always there were five sessions each with a panel of experts plus lunch and end of the day cocktails on this busy and informative day. I will briefly highlight each of the panels for the layperson – some subjects are easier to grasp than others to be sure.

L to R: Jeff Trexler, David French,  Stephanie Cegielski,  Tara Donaldson and  Stan Sherwood
Panel photos courtesy Fashion Law Institute

First up: Money Makes the World Go ‘Round which posed the endlessly fascinating question of how to collect sales tax on online purchases. Last Tuesday a case known as South Dakota V. Wayfair came before the courts to possibly overturn the 1992 SCOTUS Quill (pre e-commerce) ruling that a retailer must have a physical presence in a state in order to collect tax. Currently it is up to the individual states with New York one of the first to enact a tax on online purchases. Congress has been looking at this but hasn’t yet resolved whether to set a new standard for taxation. Technically it’s an honor system where consumers are supposed to pay local sales tax on online purchases voluntarily but that rarely if ever happens.

Tariff wars particularly with China (the largest supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S. by far) were discussed and one panelist likened it to a “really messed up volleyball game” for the fashion industry as it affects both manufacturing machinery and apparel.  “It could upset the whole industry or it could just go away,” said Tara Donaldson of Sourcing Journal. Stan Sherwood of Sherwood Associates mentioned the 2017 tax cuts which brought American companies from a 35% to a 21% tax rate.“It’s a really big deal. I’ve never seen such a large tax bill in my entire professional career in international tax. Moderator Jeff Trexler showed a humorous SNL parody commercial about the proposed B.A.T. (Border Adjustment Tax) presented as an OxiClean commercial.

L to R: Jeff Trexler, Craig Fleishman, Meryl Bernstein.  David French, Kenya Wiley, Kathryne Badura,and Denning Rodriguez

Next up: Fashion TECHtonics which dealt with interactive tech, data analytics and a whole discussion on the ethos and expectations of privacy versus being actively marketed to via the internet of things such as those in your home including Amazon Echo or Alexa. Craig Fleishman of Rebecca Minkoff, a fashion brand known for using tech in its stores with RFID tags on clothing and Smart Mirrors enabling sales staff to know what you brought into the dressing room, spoke of these eavesdroppers and recording devices soaking up private conversations in your home.

“Gmail scrapes your personal data and figures out what to sell you. If you have a iPhone 10 it uses facial recognition software to unlock. It’s only a matter of time until you walk into Neiman Marcus or into the mall and the mall knows you’re there. They will soon be able to track your eyeballs, putting an item in front of you before you even know you want it.” Meryl Bernstein, an IP attorney at Hogan Lovelis further suggested that this “frankly scary technology” includes Artificial Intelligence (AI) to collect data on consumers. “Do we have to notify customers to use this data?” The EU has a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a compliance organization endorsing a “right to be forgotten” – will Congress enact something like that in the U.S.? Kenya Wiley of the Fashion Innovation Alliance spoke of “Fashion Tech 2.0” involving AI in companies such as Stitch Fix which involve human and machine intelligence. Kathryne Badura of Marcolin defined “Blockchain” a word often bandied about as an “open source digital ledger which keeps an almost immutable record of what has happened not just in cryptocurrency or bitcoin, enabling supply chains to be tracked. “ Denny Rodriguez of Holland Knight spoke of blockchain in enabling his abilities to track items through customs especially when he gets that “3 AM phone call (from a designer client) saying my product is stuck in customs and I need it for a 9 AM show.”

Most frightening moment of the day: did you know that digital avatar influencers are replacing human ones? Some companies are actually buying their own “virtual models” to promote their brands.  According to Fleishman “technology is getting ahead of us. Congress is a generation behind the industry – they’re just learning to use computers,” and “the level of data available to brands and marketers would scare you.” Trexler wrapped up the panel: “Google’s slogan used to be ‘Don’t be evil;’ it should evolve to ‘Don’t be creepy.”  I’m doubly creeped out during the break when upon checking my phone I see an article on the impact of CGI or AI influencers . Although my phone was off I feel like the timing is suspect – were they spying on me?


L to R: Doreen Small,   Kristina Romanova,  Antoniette Costa,  Wendy Levene and Grace Sacro

After a nice lunch (billed as “Munchies”) of salads, chicken and steak (“but don’t worry about the brownies. We are after all, in a law school”) we returned to the obligatory #MeToo , #TimesUp session as it applies to the fashion industry in “Refashioning Rights.” Grace Sacro, NYC Commission on Human Rights detailed the new bills since 1975, (which marked the first hearing on sexual harassment) passed in NYC as well as in New York State. Much of the rest of the session revolved around the Humans of Fashion Foundation app created by Antoinette Costa, a singer and performer and Kristina Romanova, a model. This app, currently in Beta version and set to launch soon, is for dealing with harassment, misconduct and abuse in the fashion industry. It offers  people matching service for those looking to connect with the appropriate specialist, be it a therapist or lawyer.

Romanova came here from Russia as a 16-year-old (eight years ago) and didn’t know how to handle photographers wanting to shoot her topless. Responding to Karl Lagerfeld who recently said “If you don’t want your underwear adjusted go join a convent,” Kristina says she “has no words. We’re still being treated as mannequins not human beings.” A huge response for the app at Milan Fashion Week as well as a Cosmopolitan article about a young fashion designer who donated her Bat Mitzvah proceeds to the upstart app, have encouraged the twosome to soldier on.

L to R: Ali Grace Marquart,  Daniel Bellizio,  Baptiste' Ellard,  Mary Kate Brennan, Sigrid Neilson and Jeff Carvalho, via Skype

Next was Street Smart, a panel on the emergence of Streetwear as a major trend with established high-end brands such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton now going the way of Dapper Dan, with a tribute or even a bona fide collaboration. Designer and Visual Artist Baptiste’ Ellard, showed off his awesome creation -- a Louis Vuitton boombox suitcase (he even demo-ed it) and spoke of his love for his craft.  “My mom was a LV head. I would cut her bags out and glue them to my Air Force Ones. Everyone was going crazy over them in my high school,” although he admits that his mom was not jazzed about having her bags destroyed. “At the time these were known as ‘bootleg goods,’” he continued. “Nowadays they’re collaborating with artists and bringing them into the fold. Back in the day, streetwear was down here and high fashion was up here. They (the hallmark brands) didn’t want anything to do with you.” Moderator Ali Grace Marquart asked Ellard how these brands can find the right artist to do an authentic collaboration with. “Have the artist come to you. We’re doing it for the love not just for the dollar. When me and my friends were in high school we just did it to be cool – it was just a part of who we were,” he said.

Social media really pushed streetwear brands to the forefront resulting in designers such as Kim Jones becoming Creative Director at Dior Homme and Virgil Abloh of Off-White becoming menswear designer at Louis Vuitton. Another example is Demna Gvasalia designing for both luxe streetwear brand Vetements as well as high fashion Balenciaga. Graffiti art versus fine art including Gucci Ghost, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol was also discussed as well as deals with trademark and copyright license and the rights clearance process. Interestingly, counterfeiting of streetwear can be seen online more so than on Canal Street with websites such as third-party merchants and Chinese- based  counterfeiters  Alibaba, Wish and DHGate being as evasive as possible. Jeff Carvalho of Highsnobiety commented that “you used to have sell street fashion on the street before social media – it was different in different cities. Now it’s been leveled out – you see the same stuff everywhere.”

 L to R: Robin Gruber, Lisa Keith, Lauren Sherman, and Susan Scafidi

The last session of the day “Intellectual Property and the Court of Public Opinion,” hosted by none other than Professor Scafidi (author of the famous blog Counterfeit Chic), would thrill anyone who follows the Instagram account @DietPrada, which calls out the rampant copying in the industry. “Even 15 years ago we didn’t have social media. If brands wanted to bring (copying) to the attention of the public-- which many designers didn’t—you had to place an ad in the paper,” she said as a slide of the 2002 Kaisik Wong “inspired” Balenciaga vest by Nicolas Ghesquiere flashed on the screen – a near exact copy of the 1973 Wong creation.

Other examples including an Iris Apfel for HSN toucan brooch (2011) which knocked off Hanna Bernard, a Brother Vellies fur sandal which Zara copied (2016), and of course, famously, Dapper Dan’s “Gucci” balloon sleeved jacket knocked off by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele who ironically used “Louis Vuitton” monogram as his tribute (2017). Social media was all aflutter over those cases however you could hear crickets when a group of Ecuadorian artists claimed that Loewe copied their design on a sweater last year. This begs the question which started the day: Are lawyers obsolete? Can social media assume the role of policing these copyists?

Robin Gruber, Vice President – Global Brand Protection at Chanel – spoke off the record about how Chanel takes its IP seriously -- actually going after counterfeit sites by buying their domain names and flipping them to educate the public against counterfeiting – effectively using the internet to get back at them for using the internet in criminal ways. This has set off an international debate over blocking sites and whether it violates free speech. Chanel also dislikes resellers and can’t have a brand ambassador (such as J.Lo) associating with them as she did with What Comes Around Goes Around. Lisa Keith of Steve Madden remarked that she can see both sides since she’s previously worked as an enforcer and now as a defender. “There must be underlying IP involved. Just because you post two (similar) photos together doesn’t mean it's IP infringement. There’s a more nuanced perspective and many facets to the story,” she added. Gruber agreed that all brands have crossed the lines at what time or another since they draw inspiration from each other, and to beware of a mob mentality.

According to Lauren Sherman a writer at Business of Fashion, in her former life at Fashionista.com, she used to call out these copyists. “DietPrada has taken over Fashionistas role,” she added. “They generally have a valid point. It’s a constant push and pull between legal and PR – often the interaction is not what you might think. Copying hurts both sides.” Keith at Steve Madden is always ready with a helping hand (or foot as the case may be). “They come by my office to show me samples. I wear a sample size,” she laughs. So, what should be done if an item is questionable – Professor Scafidi asks would they take it to the lawyers or to the media? Unsurprisingly Gruber and Keith voted for the lawyers while Sherman said “I’d take it to DietPrada and Susan Scafidi!”

Photo: Laurel Marcus

The cocktail reception and signature pink cocktail followed cheekily titled: “Under the Influence,” a condition many seemed to welcome after another successful Fashion Law Institute symposium. For more information about The Fashion Law Institute contact Susan at susan.scafidi@gmail.com .




- Laurel Marcus

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