If fashion was graded on a sexiness spectrum, then on one end would be runway shows and Brazilian supermodels and on the other…well, legal advice could take the prize. Aside from watching reruns of Law & Order, fashion folk and attorneys aren’t usually found in the same circles. But for an early start on the unofficial first day of New York fashion week, guests from both groups came together this morning to celebrate the opening of the Fordham Fashion Law Institute. Headed up by Professor Susan Scafidi (left) and with the support of the CFDA (the organization donated $50,000 that was then personally matched by CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg), the institute is the first of its kind in the world. The relatively new field of law won’t be only fighting Louis Vuitton knockoffs; it’s a much broader scope (though, for those interested, Scarfidi’s book, Counterfeit Chic, is being published next year). “Fashion law includes the legal issues that can arise at any point in the life of a garment,” she informed the audience, one that included designer Charles Nolan, Saks Fifth Avenue CEO Steve Sadove, and Doug Hand, Rag & Bone’s attorney. “That could be anything from manufacturing to import-export issues.”
Despite employing over 200,000 people in NYC, fashion law is still a relatively small movement. That may be because it takes a certain kind of legal eagle to deal with fashion’s personalities. “As a designer that has been around a long time, I can tell you a lawyer who knows fashion is really rare,” Diane von Furstenberg noted on the podium. “For a young designer, it’s so important to have a good first contract. It’s like a blueprint for a building; you want a good foundation so you can grow stably.” Part of that good foundation, of course, includes a designer’s own name. “I think the most important thing as a designer is first protecting your name,” Nolan said. “I think it would be just absolutely horrible if you lost the right to use [it].” Lucky for young designers in the city, protecting theirs early on will soon be much more affordable—the new institute will pair those unable to afford pricey legal services with students in the curriculum.