WASHINGTON — Jason Wu, Thakoon Panichgul, Maria Cornejo and Narciso Rodriguez are hoping dressing the new First Lady will give them some weight on Capitol Hill.
Reading like a “Who’s Who” of Michelle Obama’s go-to designers, Rodriguez, Panichgul, Wu and Cornejo joined Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, here in a bid to garner support for a bill that would protect their original designs for three years.
The designers met with several lawmakers, including Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D., Mich.), chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over intellectual property issues.
Admittedly the designers face an uphill battle, both because the bill stalled last year and because fashion is an industry quick to leap on trends and one that constantly looks for “inspiration” from styles of the past.
Nonetheless, the designers came armed with stories illustrating not only how knockoffs of their designs have taken away millions of dollars from their businesses, but also how the design copies have damaged their integrity at a time when they should be benefiting from all of the attention Obama has given them individually and the fashion industry collectively.
“It is really important for designs to be protected,” said Wu, whose cream, one-shouldered ball gown gained prominence when Obama wore it on Inauguration night. Wu’s expensive gown, which he later donated to the Smithsonian, was quickly copied.
“I think there is this misperception out there that it’s OK to copy designs because we are putting on these great shows, but we put all of our effort — months and months of hard work and research and design — into them and it is a labor of love,” Wu added. “But people take advantage of that and our creativity comes under question, which is the reason it is important for us to protect it.”
The bill at the center of the designers’ push would put more teeth into copyright protection for fashion designs. It would amend current law to allow companies and designers to register their fashion designs for three years of copyright protection. Apparel, handbags, footwear, belts and eyeglass frames would be covered. The measure would also establish penalties for designers or companies knocking off designs.
The bill was introduced in the House and Senate last year but stalled in committee because of some industry opposition, which came primarily from the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Opponents argued the bill would open the door to numerous frivolous lawsuits, stifle their ability to pick up trends without being sued and place an enormous cost burden on companies trying to verify whether a design they might want to use had been approved for copyright protection.
House lawmakers are poised to introduce a new bill, as early as today, incorporating changes recommended by opponents, such as a new standard for infringement and new language that would make it clear reproducing a trend does not infringe on the protection granted in the bill. A draft copy of the new bill, provided to WWD, cites that the penalty for “false representation” would be raised to $5,000 from $500 in the original version, and cannot exceed $10,000.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said he has heard “encouraging things about the bill.” He said the legislation “strikes a good balance” between protecting designs and allowing other designers to interpret designs without running afoul of the law.
“Given that we spent a good amount of the past few years talking to our opponents and getting their feedback, we ended up with a bill that is even stronger and we think represents the entire scope of the industry,” the CFDA’s Kolb said. “We’re back with a lot of optimism in Washington right now.”
Panichgul said Obama’s recognition of his designs and other young designers’ creations has brought awareness to fashion, underscoring the need to promote that and protect it.
“Now that we are on this platform, it’s about people recognizing the integrity of what we do and design,” Panichgul said. “It’s our livelihood and it’s about protecting how we make money and how we live.”
For Panichgul, the legislation stands symbolically as a tool to change the mind-set of the fashion industry.
“It’s about understanding you can’t go into the business and teach young kids out of college and design school to go shopping and rip off clothes for inspiration,” he said. “It’s actually about reversing that idea and talking about how we uphold the integrity of what we do here in America. I think it will deter people from actually trying to copy and will then have a ripple effect on design teams and the philosophy behind a company.”
Cornejo said she emphasized the impact of knockoffs on her business and her employees to the congressmen.
“It’s not about saying we want protection for our egos,” said Cornejo. “We have businesses and we employ people.”
She said she mentioned a 55-year-old patternmaker she employs who depends on his salary to put his son through college.
“If I have a show and the next day we don’t do well because things get copied, then it means he won’t have a job,” Cornejo said. “It is all based on the fact that the only way I can compete is with ideas, and if my ideas are being stolen, it is tantamount to somebody sticking their hand in the bank and taking my money out.”
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye