MEXICO CITY — A dispute over the design of a blouse that involves Isabel Marant, Antik Batik and Mexico’s indigenous Tlahuitoltepec community continues to rage.
Marant introduced a blouse in her spring Etoile collection that her lawyer says was inspired by the ethnic designs of the Mexican community. The blouse is no longer for sale.
The Tlahuitoltepec community alleges the design was plagiarized. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing court battle between Antik Batik and Isabel Marant in the French courts over the same design. “Antik Batik has filed a lawsuit against Isabel Marant. [The brand] is claiming the property of this specific design. They claim they have created it and that Isabel Marant is counterfeiting it, which is all wrong,” Marant’s lawyer Jean-Marc Felzenszwalbe told WWD. “We have made it very clear in court that we are not claiming any property [rights] and that these designs come from the village of Santa María in Mexico.”
A court decision is expected later this week.
Felzenszwalbe also rebuked the Tlahuitoltepec’s accusations that the design was plagiarism. “It’s not a copy, it’s an inspiration. In this village there is plenty of designs that deal with the same vocabulary — same colors and same kind of patterns. Both companies were inspired by them,” he said, referring to Marant and Antik Batik.
He added that Marant was eager to set the record straight. “We are in close touch with the village and its authorities through Perig Pitrou, an ethnologist at the Collège de France and specialist of the village. The Tlahuitoltepec people have said that they do not want any money, but that their work be recognized, which is what Isabel Marant has done in front of the French court,” Felzenszwalbe noted.
The lawyer added that the Mexican ambassador in France was also on board helping Marant set up a collaboration between her and the Tlahuitoltepec people, which could result in an exhibition in Paris highlighting the community’s unique craftsmanship — or a similar project, according to the lawyer.
Fidel Perez, a leading member handling the case for the indigenous community, told WWD that they wanted the blouse to be removed from sale and its production stopped — although that has already happened given that the blouse was from last season’s collection. “We want Marant to respect the cultural identity of this town and stop doing business with it,” he added.
He said the town is asking Mexican authorities to create a legal framework to protect “collective assets” that cannot be patented, including the “huipil” blouse used as a traditional costume “from companies like Marant or Antik Batik.”
The dispute began in June, six months after Mexican folklore singer Susana Harp spotted the blouses in a Neiman Marcus store in New York, posting images that showed strikingly similar embroidery patterns to the huipil.
“I was rejoiced to see this store selling my homeland’s clothing,” Harp wrote in her Facebook account, following new developments in the case. “…I came in with a big smile but when I got closer to the stand showing the huipil, I saw this was a collection by designer Isabel Marant and to top it off, the tag said ‘Made in India.'”
The case returned to the spotlight last week when reports surfaced that French authorities ordered Tlahuitoltepec to stop making the blouse and pay royalties to Antik Batik and Marant, who had reportedly patented it. The event triggered indignation from the Mexican public, prompting Marant to post a Facebook statement reading: “Erroneous information is circulating over the Internet. Isabel Marant formally denies owning any patent to the Santa María Tlahuitoltepec embroidered blouses.
“Isabel Marant also formally denies having sent or asked any French authority to send or issue any document to the authority of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, to prevent inhabitants of the municipality from selling their indigenous designs.”
Marant “is fighting the district court of Paris to set the record straight” and the fashion house has filed documents to show the designs come from the community, the designer added.
She also reiterated to the tribunal that “the shirt is no longer on sale in any boutique.”
Antik Batik did not respond to requests for comment.