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DVF Takes Tough Stand Against Counterfeiters

Don't mess with Diane. That's the message Diane von Furstenberg wants counterfeiters of her namesake brand to hear loud and clear.

NEW YORK — Don’t mess with Diane.

That’s the message Diane von Furstenberg wants counterfeiters of her namesake brand to hear loud and clear. The designer has implemented a program at her company, Diane von Furstenberg Studio, to protect her designs and namesake brand worldwide.

“I want to say, ‘Beware,'” von Furstenberg said, her voice firm, in an exclusive interview. “There is no money, there is nothing that will stop me from going after you.”

Von Furstenberg feels that for her brand, the counterfeiting problem is still in its early stages but she wants to stem it before it could potentially damage her brand name. And as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, von Furstenberg has also made it a mission to promote the fight against counterfeits among her peers and secure ways to protect original designs through legislation.

About eight months ago, von Furstenberg hired lawyer Harley Lewin of New York-based law firm Greenberg Traurig, to put together a three-year strategy. Together, they have started to crack down on vendors that sell allegedly counterfeit Diane von Furstenberg merchandise, mostly through online retail channels, such as ebay.com, sell.com and overstock.com.

“Sometime last year, we started to get letters and e-mails from customers telling us that they bought something on eBay that was a counterfeit,” von Furstenberg recalled, which triggered her to start investigating the issue. “I started to go on eBay and saw all these weird things. I called Abigail [Klem, DVF’s director of licensing and business development] and said, ‘Let’s do some research and let’s get some help.'”

Klem added: “We also started to notice it with new designs. As soon as the runway came out, within weeks, we’d start seeing brand new designs, so we knew immediately just by looking at eBay that they were counterfeits.”

According to an Ebay spokeswoman, “Ebay has worked closely with Diane von Furstenberg as president of the CFDA to ensure brand owners in the fashion industry are aware of our Verified Rights Owners Program.

“Ebay is not a retailer, we are a marketplace where individual buyers and sellers come together to engage in trade. Ebay is dedicated to providing a safe marketplace and part of that means partnering with brand owners,” she said.

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Ebay has a program in which it works closely with brand owners to identify counterfeit goods, and it takes immediate action by shutting down the auctions.

Lewin has focused on the counterfeiting issue for over 30 years, working with houses such as Hermès, Cartier, Montblanc, Jimmy Choo and Chloé.

Of DVF, he said, “You have management that has recognized the problem relatively early, before a real impact has trickled down.”

Over the past six months, von Furstenberg and Lewin have developed a multipronged strategy to address the issue, combat and deter alleged counterfeiters and educate consumers. It includes canvassing e-commerce sites to locate fake goods and filing legal action against offenders, from search-and-seizure missions to seeking damages of up to $1 million; freezing counterfeiters’ assets and collection information that could lead to destroying the network of counterfeiters; sending undercover investigators in China to go after manufacturers and sellers of counterfeit DVF merchandise, and working directly with Customs officials to halt the entry of such goods into the U.S.

The moves are already showing results. Last December, the company quietly filed four trademark lawsuits in Georgia, Virginia, Florida and California. And late last month, it filed a lawsuit against Joanna Ha for allegedly selling fake DVF wrap dresses through eBay and other Web sites.

“People would call and feel very duped by eBay,” Klem said. “They would tell us they bought a dress, which the seller said was authentic, and when they received it, it was clearly a fake. We try to support them by telling them we take this problem very seriously, and that we are going after the sellers. They can send us the dress, and we can certify that it’s a fake so that they can make a claim.”

Lewin explained that while fighting counterfeiting has been commonplace in the luxury leather goods and watch fields, dress brands are just beginning to confront the problem, because in the dress category, it’s easier to deceive customers, especially online.

“If you buy a $20 version of a $6,000 watch, there’s little question in the buyers’ mind that they’re not buying something that is real,” he said. “When your product is dresses and it’s mid-priced, people can more easily pretend.

“When you see it in the store, it is pretty clear,” Lewin continued. “A person who knows Diane’s products and walks into a retail establishment, is probably not going to get them [counterfeit goods]. Because of the nature of the product, the dresses and price points on the electronic medium, those guys are able to fool them.”

Von Furstenberg said that her Web site, dvf.com, will feature information on the issue of counterfeits, and she has created an e-mail address, stop@dvf.com, that allows consumers to report counterfeit vendors.

“We are at a stage in the company where we are still in the infancy of the company and are growing, and that’s why we felt it was important to get the bad weeds before we grow,” said von Furstenberg, who declined to disclose how much she is investing in the fight. “I want to intimidate these guys, and I want them to know I am serious, just as I am serious when I copyright my prints. I am doing it as myself and as the CFDA president and representative of my fellow designers.”