Tuesday, 20 January 2009

When should a trouser be quilted?

Milan Fashion Week was launched into controversy over the weekend. As reported in the Guardian today and on Radio 4's Today programme, Giorgio Armani has alleged that Dolce & Gabbano's latest collection (unveiled on Friday) contains a pair of quilted trousers (see image) that were a copy of his design from a previous season.

Armani is quoted as saying, "Now they are copying, later they will learn". For their part, D&G deny any copying and said that "Stylistically the Armani style is not and has never been, an inspiration source for us and we stopped seeing his fashion shows years ago". While clearly Giorgio Armani feels taken advantage of, Donatella Versace seems to adopt a more relaxed approach - she was reported as saying, " It's an honour to be copied".

There has always been a fine line between plagiarism and inspiration and the fashion industry is prone to disputes concerning the originality of designs. Menswear is arguably more vulnerable to these types of claims than others given the relatively limited design freedom in standard pieces such as mens tailoring.

Whether Armani is sufficiently vexed to instruct lawyers remains to be seen. While he may or may not feel morally wronged, the question of whether he has a legal case is tricky. If Armani's earlier design is less than 3 years old, it may be protected by Community unregistered design right. If that is the case, as well as proving copying, Armani's lawyers would also have to show that D&G's quilted trousers produce on the so-called "informed user" (so a snappy dresser) the same overall impression as that produced by Armani's earlier design.

While the Community unregistered design right has been successfully relied upon by a number of fashion houses in court cases filed against high street retailers, Fashionista is not aware of any cases between named designers.