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14-12-2004
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The Acceptable Knockoff-NYT
December 12, 2004

CONSUMED

The Acceptable Knockoff

By ROB WALKER


he It Bag

Last year, Louis Vuitton released a new handbag line that became a tremendous hit in the marketplace. It was the kind of success -- more than 70,000 bags and accessories were sold in the first year -- that earns a media-friendly nickname like the It bag. Also last year, Dooney & Bourke released a handbag line that looked quite a bit like Louis Vuitton's trendy model, albeit at a far lower price. Dooney & Bourke named its new product the It Bag. The company has sold about 500,000 of these. The most popular version seems to be the one that looks the most like the Vuitton. Not surprisingly, the matter ended up in the courts. This past summer a federal judge in the Southern District of New York issued a ruling saying that while Dooney & Bourke had ''copied'' Louis Vuitton, it had not violated the French fashion giant's intellectual property rights, and could go about its business. The It Bag might be a knockoff -- but it's an acceptable knockoff.

Louis Vuitton is appealing this decision, and the company declined to comment. But the basics of the story are laid out in the judge's order. In 2002, the designer Marc Jacobs invited the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to come up with a fresh take on the Louis Vuitton ''toile monogram'' -- the famous intertwined LV logo interspersed with flower shapes -- for a new line of bags. This led to the creation of the Monogram Multicolore design, in 33 colors, arrayed on handbags in a repeating pattern against a white or black background. The bags made their debut on Paris runways in October 2002 and then showed up at prestige retail outlets in March 2003, where they sold for up to $3,950. Press reports suggested that the Murakami bag eventually racked up $300 million or more in sales.

Dooney & Bourke has been around since 1975, and also uses a logo made of interlocking letters, D and B. The company's president and chief designer, Peter Dooney, met in Milan in March 2003 with a group of teenage girls selected by Teen Vogue and dubbed the It Team, with the goal of coming up with bags that young people would like. As the judge wrote, the girls ''were photographed peering into a store window featuring a Monogram Multicolore display in white, and viewing a black Monogram Multicolore swatch in a factory.'' Dooney apparently testified that this experience ''reinforced'' his thinking that this was a look that people would like. In July 2003, the It Bag collection appeared in stores, featuring the interlocked D&B logo, in multiple colors, repeated in a pattern against a white (and later black) background. They cost between $125 and $350. The lawsuit came in April 2004.

The bags are not identical: aside from the different letters in the logos, the D&B version renders its repeated mark in a smaller size and also features multicolor zippers. ''The colors used on the Dooney & Bourke bags,'' the judge added in a brief aesthetic flight, ''are noticeably toned down, and consequently fail to evoke the characteristic 'friction' sparked by Murakami's bright, clashing colors.''

Nevertheless, Louis Vuitton is rather sensitive on the issue of bags that look like theirs but aren't. Flat-out Vuitton counterfeits -- designed expressly to look exactly like the real thing -- can go for a mere $35. These fakes, clearly illegal, arrive in huge container loads from China and elsewhere and are distributed well beyond New York's Canal Street. Suburban ''purse parties'' -- Tupperware-like gatherings but with knockoff handbags instead of cookware -- have caught the attention of law enforcement. High-end bag makers say losses from fakes could run into the tens of millions each year.

But while the case against counterfeiters is clear-cut, the one against Dooney & Bourke seems not to be. The judge did not buy Louis Vuitton's argument that some consumers might think that the It Bag is a Vuitton product. A lawyer for Dooney & Bourke, Thomas J. McAndrew, insists that the company does not want such confusion. ''There was a trend,'' McAndrew says. ''And in the fashion industry when someone does one thing, others tend to follow, or do their own rendition.'' Dooney wasn't stealing, in other words; it was sampling, remixing. The way the culture operates now, he suggests, makes this kind of knockoff not just acceptable but inevitable. ''You either have to get on that wave of the trend or the style,'' he says, ''or miss it.''






E-mail: consumed@nytimes.com.


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14-12-2004
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trendsetter
 
angel's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
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interesting....i dont see how if they find that dooney and burke copied LV, they could nto find them LIABLE somehow. i mean im no lawyer and i dont even like LV, but it seems odd to let blatent copying go on like that.

ive always thought dooney and burke is really, really, really ugly. i dont understand why ANYone buys those bags.

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14-12-2004
  3
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vuitton should also sue baby phat, xoxo... god, who hasn't done a knockoff of the multicolore?!

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14-12-2004
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i think they should sue every scrumbag who copied... and all fake merchants

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14-12-2004
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Quote:
Originally Posted by versace_goddess
i think they should sue every scrumbag who copied... and all fake merchants
dit.

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14-12-2004
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Join Date: Aug 2004
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It is wrong to copy but people who buy fakes don't buy the real ones.

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