Out of the readings for this week, Bag Man by Larissa MacFarguhar stood out to me the most with the realities of counterfeit fashion and its sellers around the world. MacFarguhar narrates ‘Bag Man’ around Harley Lewin, a lawyer who protects trademarks. When a company has a counterfeiting problem, Harley tracks down the culprits and sues them. He had been flown into Atlanta to raid a house where imported counterfeit bags from China were being sold on the Internet. He was going to raid the house with two of his private investigators, and no matter how dastardly a ring Harley rounded up, mostly he ended up suing them in civil court. In Washington, he assembled a team to raid the house of a woman selling counterfeit dresses. The dress designer, Diane Von Furstenberg, was annoyed because every season her designs were showing up on eBay before they made it into the stores.
Which reminds me of a similar recent experience where Brazilian artist and sculptor Romero Britto sued around 200 local shops and wholesalers that were producing counterfeits of his products in Puerto Rico. Britto was looking to eliminate thousands of counterfeit items bearing his bright and colorful copyrighted designs from the Puerto Rico market through a federal civil lawsuit filed against local wholesalers and retailers for copyright and trademark infringement. In the complaint filed on August 31, the artist seeks millions in damages. The counterfeit products are sold at between $5 and $50, significantly less than what the original pieces go for.
I’ve actually had the sad opportunity to experience the “Britto mania” in Puerto Rico during the summer that I was there. Fortunately, I’ve never had my hands on a Britto handbag or item, since I never was a fan of his art, but all of a sudden I would see friends and family desperately trying to get their hands on anything that had this artist’s designs on them. Whether it was stickers, watches, shirts, cars, you name it – Britto was all over the place. So because of his own fame in the island, Britto actually now has no respect or a good reputation at that. The ubiquitous presence of the hard-to-miss design has been the butt of countless jokes, especially across social media websites. Facebook has a “Say no to Britto purses” group with more than 600 followers who constantly express their disdain toward the brand by posting comments and pictures of people carrying or wearing presumably fake items. Which is pretty remarkable to me because he really only is an artist that all of a sudden became a victim of his art being sold as knock offs and now it became such a big thing that he probably won’t be seen in a good light in Puerto Rico anymore. I, personally, because he was so huge don’t like his designs or anything to do with it. It also reminds me a lot of Louis Vuitton, where it has become one of the most replicated designer bags in the world, and because it’s been counterfeited for so many times, it’s lost integrity. Now, when you see someone with a LV bag, first thing that might cross your mind is the fact that it’s a fake and that everyone has the exact same replica. Which just makes me stop and think about how frustrating as an artist it must be to feel that your craft is being sold around the world unoriginally and illegally. At some point it must be satisfying to see that your brand is becoming so huge that everyone just wants to get a piece of it no matter if they have to get fake ones, but it’s also sacrificing the product that you’ve come to work hard for and built a company around only to see that it’s being sold as knock offs. Or in Diane Von Furstenberg’s case, her dresses were being showed before they were even out on the market, which can be very discouraging for you as an artist and offending as a person. It’s great to distribute art but there’s a line towards showing your appreciation for someone’s craft and another one is illegally reproducing it for a market for your own benefit.
Stephanie De Jesús