|Tom Ford Spring 2012|
|Original Romanian blouse|
This TOM FORD blouse sells for $4,900 in boutiques in the U.S. and around Italy. The original Romanian hand-made blouse sells for 110 Euro here
How can a blouse obviously copied from this original Romanian design sell for 40 times the price? No royalties are paid to Romanians.
Art is difficult to protect – unless the origin is obvious to the general public. Most folkloric textile patterns are not immediately recognizable as to the region of the design. This makes textile embroidery and design difficult to patent or copyright.
The general rule within the fashion industry is that if a design is “changed 3 times” or is altered at least 60% then it is “legal.” In the example above the design is obviously not changed at least 60% so how is it this is legal? What is even more egregious to the original cultural property is that if a brand were to “knock-off” this Tom Ford design – Tom Ford could file suit against the knock-off. Does nobody else see that the Tom Ford is the knock off? And why shouldn’t UNESCO or a Romanian non-profit be able to bring suit against Tom Ford for stealing cultural property?
The concept of conceptual separability becomes important but also contentious in the fashion industry. Under the law when an item is considered purely decoration then it can be protected under copyright. When an item’s design can be separated from its utility it can be protected:
The question in this case is then -can the ie’s design be separated from it’s utilitarian function? The
answer is an unequivocal ‘YES’ – in my previous post I link to and described the function of the ‘ie’ as a folkloric symbol used in rites of passage and special occasion. This is not just a ‘blouse’ with a nice design.
In my next post I will discuss the deleterious effect of this violation of cultural capital on developing countries such as Romania and other developing countries. I will continue comparing and evaluating other examples where “designers” have taken folkloric and cultural artifacts and resold them under their brand. I will also attempt to explain how is it that developing countries have been taught that their cultures do not have value – only to have their cultural artifacts stolen and commercialized for colonial profits. I will also explore why this is not seen as cultural appropriation and why the use of Native American artifacts is seen as appropriation.