Interrogating Intellectual Property Rights in Fashion and Design

Conference Poster, 2015. © HERA The Enterprise of Culture / University of Oslo.

New Battles for Old Names: Madeleine Vionnet, Jean Patou, and Elsa Schiaparelli

​​​In the context of fashion, ‘sleeping beauties’ were once world-renowned couture houses. For varying reasons, they closed their doors until new business players ‘awoke’ them. Unlike major luxury firms, sleeping beauties do not primarily use copyright law to prevent counterfeiting, since their names have been long forgotten. However, purchasing a brand and registering the trademark worldwide constitutes the first step of a business model that was seldom deployed in the late 1980s but established an overcrowded market for dormant brands a decade later. An intensified copyright battle ensued with the arrival of businessmen keen on restoring the image of bygone glories, together with the arrival of intermediaries eager to resell the brands to the highest bidder. This empirical study of the re-awakening of Madeleine Vionnet, Jean Patou, and Elsa Schiaparelli asks when a brand is ready to be revived and what makes it revivable. In short, it asks how a designer’s name becomes a tradeable brand. Beyond the hard competition, the paper postulates that copyright law is used by sleeping beauties as a way to counter a lack of legitimacy due to the disappearance of the original designer. The immaterial value – historical, patrimonial, and symbolic – of a dormant high fashion brand provides a communication asset to their managers. Sleeping beauties’ storytelling lies in the crossroad between expectations and forgetfulness from the customer. This paper draws on a series of interviews with managers and former managers of sleeping beauties, archives of the same firms, trademarks in French and international law, legal publications, and press cuttings.

Talk given during the international conference on 'Interrogating Intellectual Property Rights in Fashion and Design' at the University of Oslo.

June 12, 2015.