Does Christian Louboutin Own Red Soles?

August 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Louboutin with his signature red-soled shoes (via NYTimes.com)

Judge Victor Marrero refused to grant Christian Louboutin an injuntion against the production of four Yves Saint Laurent red-soled shoes from its 2011 Cruise collection. Judge Marrero ruled that the trademark Louboutin procured in 2008 for its red soles was probably “overly broad” to be a protected trademark.

It’s important to point out that Louboutin heels did not have red soles from the outset. According to a profile of Christian Louboutin in the March 28th issue of The New Yorker, Louboutin came up with the idea for red soles in 1993, the third year for the brand. He was trying to make a certain pair of shoes pop, when he saw an assistant painting her nails red. He snatched the nail polish from her and began painting the underside of the prototype. It was his eureka moment.

But as nothing is new in fashion, neither were Louboutin’s red soles. According to Valentino’s partner Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino first showed red-soled shoes almost a quarter of a century ago in 1969, and then again, in 1983. Louboutin himself would have been about 5 years old at the time of the first shoe. Maybe there is a deeply ingrained childhood memory?

The question though, is what constitutes a trademark in fashion, and by extension, trademark infringement. The case brings to mind another popular case of trademark infringement when Polo Ralph Lauren sued the US Polo Association for the latter’s use of – gasp! – polo players. The USPA wanted to use its logo of two polo players to sell a perfume. Ralph Lauren sued, and won, arguing that the logo was too similar to theirs and would result in brand confusion.

The logos of Polo Ralph Lauren (left) and the US Polo Association (right)

As the photo above illustrates, the two logos seem different enough to warrant separate trademarks. But the absurdity of that case aside, what about something like red soles, which isn’t a logo, but rather a signature? It is undeniable that when one thinks of red-soled shoes, one thinks of Christian Louboutin. But does that preclude any other brand from painting their soles red?

YSL’s use of red shoes is more akin to Marc Jacobs’ sly reference to Common Projects sneakers. Common Projects sneakers, which are gorgeous exercises in minimalism, have serial numbers printed in gold along the side of the shoe. Marc Jacobs has recently been producing men’s sneakers in a similarly minimalist aeshetic with “Marc Jacobs” printed in gold along the side as well.

Marc Jacobs (left) and Common Projects (right)

Marc Jacobs is clearly “taking inspiration” from Common Projects and putting his own spin on it. While he doesn’t put serial numbers along the side, from a distance, the shoes could easily be mistaken for Common Projects, the way that the red-soled YSL shoes might be for Louboutins. Intent, while difficult to ascertain, is an important component here. Is the spirit of the design (and designer) to copy or to be inspired by another design? I doubt that YSL is going to continue lacquering their soles red from here on out, and come next season, they are probably already on to the next thing.

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The Limits of Globalizing Fashion

July 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last week, in a post titled “Fashion is a Melting Pot,” Italian Vogue Editor Franca Sozzani praised the increasingly globalized nature of fashion, alluding to the growing number of non-Western designers participating and gaining respect in the Western sphere. To her, these designers have amassed international attention by incorporating elements of traditional dress from their home countries into a “contemporary” aesthetic. She writes:

“New fashion designers from emerging countries are proposing a new fashion inspired by their country’s tradition, considered not as ethnic element any longer, but as part of a historical know-how, re-adjusted to contemporary silhouettes and therefore wearable in all cities of the world… It’s not the folklore that is exported, yet the culture, the local craftsmanship, the colors and the mood.” [sic] 

There’s no doubt that more non-Western designers and designers with non-Western backgrounds are entering fashion. In the U.S., for example, some of the most celebrated emerging designers are either first or second-generation Asian Americans, like Alexander Wang (China), Doo-Ri Chung, (Korea), Thakoon Panichgul (Thailand), and Prabal Gurung (Nepal). For the past decade, Asian Americans have dominated the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards, highlighting the pivotal role they have had in shaping American fashion. Furthermore, outside the U.S., increasing numbers of non-Western designers are showing their collections at internationally recognized and media-heavy fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. South Korean brands Songzio and Juun J, for example, show their collections in Paris every year and General Idea, designed by Seoul-based Bumsuk Choi, shows in New York.

(from left to right) Wang, Doo.Ri, Thakoon, and Gurung

But amidst increasing numbers of non-Western designers in fashion, the caveat that limits how “global” fashion can become is the expectation that these designers cater to Western design tastes. When describing how fashion will continue to globalize, Sozzani wrote, “The new generations will keep getting here (New York, Paris, or Milan) from different countries and many of them are already studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America.” When talking about non-Western designers, Sozzani equates studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America as progress – steps toward success. While this may be true given the weight and the high caliber of designs schools in these countries, Sozzani elucidates a common practice among fashion people to place more value on studying and working in the West opposed to elsewhere.

The result of placing more value on the West pushes the globalization of fashion in many ways. For one, people wanting to succeed in international fashion feel pressured to study fashion abroad. At Parsons, arguably the most respected design school in the country, 32% of the undergraduate population comes from outside the U.S., mostly from China, India, Korea, Canada, and Mexico. In many cases, only very wealthy international students have the opportunity to study abroad in light of poor exchange rates, expensive airfare, and many colleges’ lack of financial aid for international students. These are very real financial limits for middle-to-lower class designers in the non-West. Furthermore, increased pressure for non-Western design students to study abroad devalues design education outside the Western world, removes talent from the local design scene, and prevents or slows the growth of fashion capitals outside the West.

Another result of constructing a Western-centric fashion industry is increased pressure on non-Western designers to abandon their own artistic autonomy and to replicate designs that already flourish in Western fashion. Last year, I attended Korean-based General Idea’s menswear show at New York Fashion Week. The first half of the collection was a parade of pieced shirts and newsboy looks that struck a striking resemblence to the work of Japanese designer Junya Watanabe, who has been showing his collections in Paris since the 80s. By contrast, the second half of the General Idea show had splotches of paint and large handwritten words scrawled across head-to-toe looks (including bags) á la Stephen Sprouse. The artistic reference was crass in light of Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Stephen Sprouse in 2008, which resulted in a line of classic Louis leather bags covered in bright, painted-effect “Louis Vuitton” text. But one has to wonder why a designer who often copies Western trends is one of the only Korean designers who shows at New York Fashion Week. One interpretation is that his aesthetic, though unoriginal, was in line with what the Western design world wants to see.

If fashion wants the globalization process to become more egalitarian, it needs to give more weight to non-Western designers and design schools in the international fashion market. One way to do this is by more actively and thoroughly covering fashion weeks that take place outside New York, Paris, London, and Milan. This would grant local talent more access to buyers, editors, and the general public, thereby increasing their potential growth and making the current, very costly trend of showing in Europe or the U.S. obsolete.

(from left to right) Kawakubo, Yamamoto, and Watanabe

Non-Western designers with international clout also have a responsibility to increase the profile of their home countries. Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Junya Watanabe, for example, have been showing their collections in Paris for almost 3 decades with much critical and commercial success. They’ve become staples for major buyers and editors in the European fashion circuit. Suppose if these designers staged a collective revolt and showed in Tokyo instead of Paris every season. Editors and buyers would be forced to pay more attention to Tokyo as a fashion capital, thus allowing otehr Japanese designers more international exposure.

According to Sozzani, mixing a designer’s culture with that of others “must be true to one’s own history, otherwise, it is just an exercise in style, and ends up being too ethnical [sic] or too generic.” I agree, but what Sozzani doesn’t acknowledge is that in this “globalized” fashion industry, where non-Western designers work around Western expectations, non-Western designers must incorporate a large part of Western history into the telling of their own design stories. It is only this way that their histories will be heard.

Marc Jacobs Ads: Brilliant or Just Bizarre?

July 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

The newly released ads for Marc Jacobs’s F/W 11 collection are more outlandish than ever. 15 images feature the quirky, anti-glamour actress Helena Bonham Carter in a series of unflattering poses: begging like a dog, sticking out her tongue while holding her prosthetically enlarged belly, and contorting her lower body to resemble a form similar to a crustacean’s limbs. The images collectively create another glimpse into the cryptic, zany world of Marc Jacobs.

Marc Jacobs F/W 11 (via NYMag)

Unlike most fashion brands whose ads create an allure of unobtainable luxury and aesthetic perfection, Marc Jacobs ads project a wholly unintimidating, accessible public image. The backgrounds are plain (this season they resemble a barren hallway), and the subjects, though famous, lack the glamour and polish exuded by celebrities in most other portraits. Even the quality of the photography, shot by German photographer Juergen Teller, seems lackluster: the images are overexposed, the composition is off, and the flash sometimes wipes out parts of the scene with its intensity. I’ve read that Teller uses a Contax G2 camera with onboard flash – nothing too fancy – but one might think they were taken with an old Polaroid.

But the richness in Marc Jacobs ads doesn’t come from the technical quality of the photography; rather, it’s in their liberating spirit. Teller casts some of the entertainment world’s most treasured talents (Helena Bonham Carter, Elle Fanning, and Charlotte Rampling, to name a few) in a humanizing light by having them pose in seemingly mundane or wacky ways. In ad campaigns or magazine spreads for other brands, these figures are hired to create images of opulence or success. By contrast, in the Jacobs ads they’re free do look unglamorous or silly, and in doing so, they create and/or reinforce a multidimensional public persona that other media images of them disallow.

Paradis XVIII, 2009 (via fashionsnoops.com)

The practice of freeing photographic subjects is a standard theme in Teller’s photography even when it’s not for Marc Jacobs. For example, in a series commissioned by the French publication Paradis Magazine in 2009, Teller shot Brazilian model Raquel Zimmerman and French actress Charlotte Rampling posing nude at various sites in the Louvre. One image from this series exhibits Zimmerman and Rampling nonchalantly leaning against a guardrail protecting the Mona Lisa. Here, the subjects were free from clothing and from conventional modeling expectations. Furthermore, they had the freedom to behave in a manner outisde the guidelines normally imposed on museum patrons.

Although Juergen Teller’s ads for Marc Jacobs have a spirit of liberation, it is a limited one. The subjects, though free to lounge or misbehave on set, are still modeling for Teller who stands behind the camera. They are under his gaze, and more expansively under ours. Nevertheless, in the context of fashion photography and advertising today, we can celebrate Teller and Jacobs’ ability to create images that, in their raw and strange character, are some of the most human.

Hailee Steinfeld and Elle Fanning are Definitely Too Cool for School

July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Hailee Steinfeld for Miu Miu (via Fashionista)

Fashion’s darlings of the moment are very darling indeed. 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar nominee and Queen Bee of the child stars, is now the face of Miu Miu. Joining Steinfeld at the cool kids’ table is Elle Fanning the 13-year-old face of Marc by Marc Jacobs. Steinfeld and Fanning have been the envy of the fashion world recently. Fashion critics, including Vogue’s André Leon Talley cooed over Steinfeld’s black, pink, and tangerine striped Prada dress at the 2011 SAG awards, which she followed with a custom Marchesa at the Oscars. Elle has also become something of a fashion muse in her own right – wearing Marc Jacobs off the runway and starring in a video short for Rodarte.

Elle Fanning for Marc by Marc Jacobs (via Fashionista)

Both of their ad campaigns are fairly straightforward and demure. Critics and fashion bloggers are quick to approve of how “age appropriate” they are. In the Marc by Marc Jacobs ad, Fanning wears a mid-length red leopard print dress, oxblood librarian shoes, and a red bag. Her youth gives the slightly dowdy look the spritz it needs. Steinfeld’s Miu Miu photos are a more complicated play on a similar theme. There is an incongruity between her youth and the clothes –  skirts and dresses with long hem lines in a sedate color palate of navy, tan, and brown. The clothes and styling, a reference to the 40s, look as though Steinfeld pilfered her very fashionable grandmother’s closet. It is a play on child’s play.

Dakota Fanning for Oh, Lola! (via Tom & Lorenzo)

But when Hailee and Elle were merely non-famous elementary schoolchildren, there was the original child muse: Elle’s older sister, Dakota, who is currently fronting for Jacobs’ fragrance, Oh, Lola! Unlike Hailee and Elle’s ad campaigns, Dakota’s ad looks to provoke. Juergen Teller, a mainstay at Marc Jacobs, shot the ad (as well as the one of Elle). The flower-shaped bottle in between her legs, the seductive gaze, and the saturated red tones indicates a very heavy hand. She is Lolita! There is a fire in her loins!

Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs, Spring/Summer 2007 (via Styleregistry)

But Dakota’s first ad campaign for Marc Jacobs was even more provocative. Teller shot the ad when Dakota was 12-years old and still looking very much like a child. In the above photo, she wears sheer, white fabrics while standing bare foot in the corner of a bare room with a dirty concrete floor. The expression on her face is both fearful and creepy. All of the campaign images reflect a similar sensibility, dressing her in white lace and other virginal dresses as she poses, either mouth agape or with deeply vacant eyes. The photos are deeply unsettling.*

I think Dakota’s first ads for Marc Jacobs are interesting. They problematize our gaze. When I look at the photos, I get the sense that my presence is unwelcome, and more unnervingly, that I am a predator. She seems to ask, why are you here? In contrast, the ads with Elle Fanning and Hailee Steinfeld function on how chic and precocious they look. They have been lauded as style icons and as examples of how adult women should look.

I, for one, don’t want a 13-year-old fashion icon. I find the project of turning little girls into red carpet fodder or examples to emulate extremely pernicious, and frankly, kind of creepy.

*As a sidenote, I would like to point out that at 12 years of age, Dakota Fanning was an exceptionally mature child and no stranger to being a provocateur. In the controversial film, Hounddog (known pre-release as “Dakota Fanning’s rape movie”) she played a 12-year-old girl who is abandoned and raped. In response to accusations that the film amounted to child pornography, Dakota herself was characteristically thoughtful about it. She told the Times: “Because that has happened to her [her character, Lewellen], that doesn’t define her. Because of this thing that has happened — that she did not ask for — she is labeled that, and it’s her story to overcome that and to be a whole person again.” She then added, “There are so many children that this happens to, every second. That’s the sad part. If anyone’s talking about anything, that’s what they should be talking about.” Dakota is very self-aware, and her continuing work with Jacobs and Teller suggests that she has a good relationship with them.

My Latest Obsession: The Panther-Print Bag

June 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

The inner child in me can’t get enough of animal prints. I’m not talking about leopard or zebra prints, but Animal Cracker prints – whole lions and tigers and bears on bags and dresses and t-shirts – oh my!

To wit, Marc by Marc Jacobs just released a line of bags with images of miniature panthers crawling all over them, and they’re adorable!

Marc by Marc Jacobs panther print messenger bag (via SSense)

Marc by Marc Jacobs panther print backpack (via SSense)

Marc by Marc Jacobs panther print duffle bag (via SSense)

Ok, ok – I’m aware that the backpack would make me look like I’m on my way to 4th grade, especially since the nylon fabric looks designed to protect the bag from spilt chocolate milk or a wayward applesauce. But I love how childlike and playful the look is (doesn’t the print remind you of the Jungle Book?). Besides, if I had my choice I’d take the messenger bag anyway. I like the canvas (you know, an adult fabric), the leather straps, and the way the bag folds over at the top. They’re nice details.

The panthers at Givenchy’s F/W 11 womens ready-to-wear show looked much more devilish than the ones at Marc by Marc Jacobs.

Panther print in Givenchy's F/W 11 women's rtw collection (via Style.com)

Panther print in Givenchy's F/W 11 women's rtw collection (via Style.com)

I think panthers might be having a moment, or will very soon. Be prepared to see versions of Marc by Marc Jacob’s bags and looks from Givenchy’s F/W 11 collection at H&M in the near future. If you can’t wait, though, you can at least get all the Marc bags on SSense.com right now. The messenger and duffle bags retail for $90 and the messenger bag for $280.

Versace Goes Commercial, Just Like Everyone Else

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

For almost a decade, the Swedish mega-retailer H&M has collaborated with some of fashion’s biggest designers to offer their customers high fashion at commercial prices. The first line came out in 2002 with a collection by Karl Lagerfeld. Since then, the list has grown to include Commes des Garcon, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, and Lanvin, amongst others. Italian label Versace, known for its flamboyantly sexy aesthetic, is the latest designer to be tapped for collaboration. But this most recent choice is surprising, considering just a few years ago Versace’s queen bee Donatella explicitly rejected any possibility of doing a line with H&M in an interview with New York Magazine: “I work very hard to put Versace in the luxury section. I think to put the Versace line in H&M would confuse the brand.”

Versace working on her line (via NYMag)

A look from Versace x H&M (via NYMag)

Donatella was expressing the sentiment – once common in high fashion – that luxury and commercial don’t mix. That doing a line for H&M, a store made famous by offering cheap yet trendy clothes, would devalue the brand in the eyes of its rich clientele.

But clearly Donatella has since changed her point of view. Yes, luxury can mix with commercial! And there are already a number of designers who have come to this conclusion. Chanel, for example, shocked the fashion world last year by choosing Blake Lively as its new spokeswoman. In the ’90s, fashion houses used supermodels like Claudia Schiffer or Linda Evangelista as their public face, not teen idols who play superhero love interests. Choosing Lively made it clear that Chanel was going mainstream.

Blake Lively as the face of Chanel (via superstarmagazine.com)

As Chanel demonstrated with Lively, the most popular and probably most effective way for a luxury brand to put itself into the mainstream is by aligning themselves with celebrities. In 2009, Louis Vuitton took this method to another level when it released a line of shoes co-designed by Kanye West. This wasn’t a complete surprise, as Louis Vuitton had collaborated before with artists such as Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami. But no previous collaborator had nearly as much commercial appeal as Kanye, who had already had several number 1 singles and Grammys by that time. Also, Vuitton’s previous collaborators had been visual artists who used their craft to add artistic dimension to existing Vuitton goods. Kanye, on the other hand, was a rapper designing shoes in the dark.

Kanye West and Marc Jacobs show off shoe from collaboration (via JustJared)

Later that year, in what many consider a moment of delusion, French fashion house Ungaro used a similar tactic by tapping Lindsay Lohan as artistic advisor for their S/S 10 line. Technically, the head designer of the line was Estrella Archs, but the runway show made it clear that Archs was merely serving as Lindsay’s puppet. That season, the Ungaro runway was lined in hot pink, and the models strutted down the catwalk in dresses that looked like chewed-up sticks of bubblegum wrapped around their bodies. To some, they simply read as glorified hooker clothes.

A look from Lohan's S/S 10 line for Ungaro

Lohan and Archs

But it seems that the products celebrities create for fashion labels often don’t matter – in truth, it’s only the association that labels care about. For example, although Ungaro’s Lohan collaboration resulted in a critically panned fashion show, the gesture put Ungaro’s name in the headlines in a way that even a stellar collection would not have. As a fashion house that had lost relevance over the years, this was an especially important jump start for the label.

Of all the ways a fashion brand can go mainstream, teaming up with H&M is one of the best. Both H&M and the brand benefit from increased media coverage and revenue, while fashion consumers gain access to the luxury brands they previously could only dream of. In doing a line with H&M, Donatella is just helping Versace stay in the game. We’re just happy she’s playing.

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