As more designers and apparel companies lawyer up to protect their names for myriad reasons, there will be a more knowledgeable pool of talent to draw from thanks to Fordham Law School’s and the Fashion Law Institute’s launch of the first academic degrees in fashion law.
Council of Fashion Designers of America president Diane von Furstenberg joined Fordham provost Stephen Freedman and professor Susan Scafidi Monday morning at Fordham Law to spread the word.
Established in 2010 with the support of the CFDA, the Fashion Law Institute is headed up by Scafidi, who created the school’s first fashion law course in 2006. As of this fall, those who already have a law degree will have the option of pursuing a Master of Laws, or L.L.M. in Fashion Law. For the first time, attorneys will be able to take classes in fashion financing, fashion modeling law, fashion licensing and sustainability. The one-year program for lawyers is $53,440.
As part of its aim to help designers, executives and other fashion professionals understand how law affects the fashion business, Fordham’s Master of Studies in Law will now offer a specialization in fashion law. The program is geared toward those who need to know more about the law but do not aspire to a legal career. The concept of offering a legal education to fashion types — designers, entrepreneurs, licensing specialists — alongside practicing lawyers and students was first introduced five years ago via the Fashion Law Bootcamp, an intensive summer program. Nonlawyers will pay $40,080 for a one-year program or they can stretch it out over a few years.
“You can’t apply law to fashion until you understand the business of fashion,” Scafidi said.”And we like to say it’s everywhere the law touches fashion. It’s also business, finance, employment, real estate, cultural trade, safety, sustainability, labor relations — it’s really everything.”
And that business may be more far-reaching than many imagine. Von Furstenberg said, “I was told, and I’m not sure if this number is right, that 25 percent of the world’s population is involved in the fashion business between manufacturing, retailing, publishing and all that. So fashion is a business that reaches everyone at every level. It is an industry that gives a lot of jobs and does a lot of things.”
When Scafidi made the point that Fordham has provided a home for fashion law, von Furstenberg said of the new Pei Cobb Freed & Partners-designed building overlooking Lincoln Plaza, “It’s not a bad home. I mean…what’s the rent? Those Jesuits really know…”
On a more serious note, von Furstenberg emphasized the added value that fashion law expertise will give to practicing attorneys. “Intellectual property is so important because so many designers have lost their names. There are so many talented people who signed contracts thinking they were getting such a great deal, and then people steal their names. So protecting your name or your brand is something that people should know a lot about,” she said.
To that end, she offered to have the CFDA draft a list of case studies of people who have lost the legal rights to market their names who could potentially speak or teach at the school.
All in all, fashion designers and executives stand to gain from having greater legal knowledge, Scafidi said. “Smaller firms have no money, no clue and no contracts so we try to provide them with that. The more designers and business people are educated in law, the more they will know whether they need to hire a lawyer. For smaller- and medium-sized fashion houses, it will be very important to have some of this knowledge in-house.”
Developing guidelines for designers and companies to use when negotiating their first contracts was another one of von Furstenberg’s suggestions that will be developed. “This is one little thing that we could do that would be a very big gift for the industry. What do you have to know when you make your first contract?” she said. “There are many smart people. They’re so desperate to pay their bills that they’ll do anything. It would be good for designers and the people who negotiate the deals, who might think, ‘We can’t ask that.'” she said. “A young designer might have had a lot of success and a lot of publicity, and someone will say, ‘Oh, let’s get him.’ Afterward, they just want to use the designer’s name, but not the design any more — and they own the name.”