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Where’s The Line Between Imitation and Inspiration?

Intellectual property, or IP. It’s not a term commonly associated with hair, or hair design. But perhaps it should be? Particularly when we’re welcoming a new breed of creative ingenuity in the family names of Apostolopoulos, McCowan and Rinaldo – trailblazing with texture and techniques we’ve never seen or felt before. Naturally, like a Louis Vuitton monogram on the streets of New York, stalls of ‘interpretations’ emerge in the quest for profile, or chase for coin. Not only the hair, but the lighting, cast, and overall creative direction. Imitator or inspired? Where do we draw the line between rip off and reference?

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Hair by Frank Apostolopoulos

We attended the K&L gates Fashion Law Breakfast yesterday in the quest to get closer to the answer. For you guys yes, but also for ourselves, as ultimately, we’d prefer to support the true pioneers over those unable to create in response to their own (brand) DNA, rather electing to clone the ‘skill and effort’ of an original author – pertaining to packaging, formulations or indeed the Hair Expo and/or Australian Hair Fashion Awards walls.

The Fashion Law panel presented Fashion Editor of The Australian, Glynis Traill-Nash, CEO of Seafolly, Anthony Halas and two K&L Gates Intellectual Property Partners Lisa Egan and Jonathan Feder, and began with the story of Seafolly and City Beach, with the latter releasing three, borderline identical prints as the former global swimwear giant in the same season. As the two garments in question were passed around the room, the quality and production of City Beach while a clear imitation, proved worlds apart from Seafolly – the authentic piece proving why the family owned Australian brand welcomes alliance with the likes of Gigi Hadid.

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Gigi Hadid for Seafolly

“When you invest in graphic designers and a design team like we do; to see another brand take direct reference to prints and send to China for manufacture before retailing for around $20 – it really does damage to the brand,” said Anthony.

Does the same happen to the likes of Frank and BIBA when ‘stylists’ locally and abroad take his ideas, or lift his photographic direction and claim it as their own? Not sure. We think he’s a strong enough entity and humble enough guy for it to avoid devaluation entirely … but we can’t say the same for his imitators, however.

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Hair by Lauren McCowan

Then there was the case of Sportsgirl allegedly ripping off Maticevski – a skirt of the same length, silhouette and bow placement.

“Do consumers care? While it would be nice to think that they would prefer not to support the imitator, and while a minority wouldn’t be caught in the lesser version, the majority of consumers are price driven – and you’re looking at a difference of say $1200 versus $60 for example,” said Glynis.

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Hair by Damien Rinaldo

So in a sense, while an imitator may welcome short term benefits for the ingenuity from another, the brand can look forward to bad press and social media backlash, longer term devaluation; a tarnished reputation.

We provided K&L Gates lawyers with prominent examples of hair fashion produced locally for their expert opinion on whether certain hero textures and techniques are indeed eligible for copyright. Could you copyright your next wave of ingenuity, and if so, how would this change the industry awards circuit, if at all? You’ll have to wait until the release of INSTYLE Nov Dec to find out!

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