Should Africa Get Royalties For Matthew Williamson's Latest Collection?

Illustration for article titled Should Africa Get Royalties For Matthew Williamsons Latest Collection?
  • The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office — the same outfit that shook down meek little Starbucks! — is charging British designer Matthew Williamson with the theft of traditional African fabric patterns, to which his rep says: "Historically, Matthew Williamson bases his collections on the idea of a modern girl who is a global traveler. Her style is in part defined by incorporating many different cultures, traditions and customs. Nobody has the right to claim these designs as their own. " [Vogue UK]
  • To which the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office replies: "We are very unhappy with the actions of Mr Williamson. These are the dresses of our mothers and grandmothers. They symbolise our identity, faith and national pride. Nobody has the right to claim these designs as their own." [Sassybella]
  • Okay, can we just add: it's "his" own, guys. Singular.
  • Speaking of intellectual property! Thanks in advance, Elle.com for the pic of Williamson's stylings!
  • More fun with billable hours! Vera Wang has settled out of court with The Vera Company over the whole trademark infringement thing involving Wang, uh, using her own name on her Kohl's line, Simply Vera. Says an unnamed source, "There really is only one Vera- The Vera Company. Vera Wang is Vera Wang. The Vera brand, on the other hand, has been around since the 1940's." And if a brand falls in the forties and no one remembers its name... [Fashion Lawyer]
  • "Blass is all about opposites. Like a summer print, but in a wool, with an ease to it." Peter Som re: his attempt to finally resuscitate Bill Blass. [WWD, sub req'd]
  • Only the French! There's a whole kerfuffle now over the French Justice Minister having posed in Dior in Paris Match magazine. [Times of London]
  • Calvin Klein creative Director Kevin Carrigan: "What I do is work on fitting pieces into the design puzzle. And actually, it is quite a logical, scientific process. You create a design and then you might apply it to a different fabric - say, a patent leather - and the emotion changes....It's a big experiment." Uhhhhh, we're gonna have to go with "high." [Vogue UK]
  • Times of London Fashion Editor Lisa Armstrong has collaborated with Louis Vuitton to create the "ultimate travel bag." Oh, the Brits, so forward-thinking when it comes to the role of the press. The Pulitzer committee would probs never let Robin Givhan do this. [Fashion Week Daily]
  • There was a party Tuesday night sponsored by Donna Karan's Urban Zen initiative. Donna Karan wasn't there, but off vacationing in Parrot Cay. Which is exactly what we would be doing if we had found a male model to shtup us. [Fashion Week Daily]
  • Yay! We love video footage of Krazy Karl! [Sassybella]
  • File this under 'You know a president is already a lame duck when': First Lady Laura Bush will be attending New York Fashion Week come February. [WWD, 1st item]
  • Don't hate on Marc Jacobs, people! He donated toys for the kiddies for Christmas! [WWD, 2nd item]
  • Marit Allen, costume designer of Mrs. Doubtfire and Brokeback Mountain, died last month in Australia. [NYT]
  • "Someone was mean to me once, so I deserve to be here," said unfortunately-Botoxed Lisa Kudrow at a Dress for Success event yesterday. [WWD, 3rd item]
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DISCUSSION

This Intellectual Property issue is really interesting and reminds me of this artist I studied a while back who sewed traditional African fabrics into prim and frilly Victorian dresses that he put on mannequins. So, the juxtaposition of the historically "native" aesthetics of the fabric itself and the design/cut of the dress is one level of showing cultural clashes/class issues/the effect of colonialism on the very 'fabric' of another culture, etc. What is even more interesting is that the whole piece was also a statement on the origins of art and culture to begin with : As it turns out, the batik fabric we frequently associate with Africa was actually invented in Indonesia. On top of that, batik printing was industrialized so it could be produced en masse by Dutch colonizers sometime during the 19th century. Soon after that, the British started large-scale production of the batik fabric based in Manchester, and it is that fabric that ends up being sold back into the African markets.

The artist I'm talking about - I just had to google a billion of combinations of "african fabric contemporary art colonialism fashion" and the like - his name is Yinka Shonebare. And he buys the fabric for his African art in Manchester. Like everybody else, apparently.

Sorry this was so long! I guess the point of what I'm trying to say is that there really are a lot of levels in which cultural appropriation and exploitation exists. Williamson's designs may owe a huge debt culturally to Ethiopia, and I don't know if the conditions surrounding fabric in that particular country are the sames as the ones I described above (I think Shonibare's pieces were more about West Africa. But it is certainly true that African countries have been dealing with issues like this for a long time, and it isn't hard to see why they're upset. Legally, I don't think there's anything they can do about it from an IP law perspective, but by speaking out about the issue, at least they're calling attention to their cultural heritage, which is I guess what they're trying to hold on to in the first place?

The whole statement he was trying to make, however, was