Legally Fashionable

Susan Scafidi in Irenebination (blog), August 25, 2010

Media Source

People working in the creative industries erroneously think that law and legal matters are among the most boring subjects imaginable. Yet in a few days’ time their perceptions of such subjects may change: Fordham University is indeed launching the world’s first fashion law centre, the Fashion Law Institute on 8th September to coincide with New York Fashion Week.

Directed by Professor Susan Scafidi and supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the institute - based near Manhattan’s Garment District and New York Fashion Week’s new headquarters in Damrosch Park - will provide different legal services for design students and designers, but also train fashion lawyers and offer assistance in a wide range of matters, intellectual property and international trade included, helping in this way to discover further the possibilities offered by this new sector in the legal field. Looks like Fordham University may have just set what in fashion is usually referred to as a very successful “global trend”.
What inspired you to launch the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham?
Professor Susan Scafidi: What’s not inspiring about fashion? Clothing hides the body and reveals personality. It is treated as both necessary and frivolous. It can be created by some of the largest companies in the world or by someone sewing at home. A human behaviour this complicated and an industry that generates over a trillion U.S. dollars per year worldwide, should get the same attention as other fields of law, like banking law or art law or health law. The most surprising thing is that nobody at a U.S. law school ever taught Fashion Law until we started the course. I haven’t found one outside the U.S. either…but I’m still looking! 

The course will launch in a few days, did a lot of students enrol already, and what kind of feedback did you get from the students when they first heard about it?
Professor Susan Scafidi: The Fashion Law Institute is launching at Fordham on September 8, but the basic course has been offered several times and each time has been overflowing with students. My students have been incredibly helpful, supportive, and excited. I hope that many will go on to pursue careers in this field.

What kind of subjects will you be dealing with during this course and what kind of future applications will this specialisation have in practical life?
Professor Susan Scafidi: Fashion Law includes every point in the life of a garment that is touched by law, from original design of a garment and whether it is protected by copyright, to business and finance issues, to employment questions like whether there should be rules governing minimum weights for models, to international trade, to sustainability and “green” fashion...and even laws about wearing clothing, like covering the face with a burqa. In terms of practical application, designers and fashion houses have always had to consult lawyers about business matters and that need is only increasing.  It makes sense to train lawyers in matters affecting the fashion industry and also to make it possible for designers and people who work with them to learn about the law.

You contributed to the latest version of the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, which are the new points introduced by this bill for what regards fashion design?
Professor Susan Scafidi: In the U.S., unlike in Europe and many other countries, fashion designs are generally not protected against copying. Trademark law protects against counterfeit labels or logos, like the Chanel double “C” or the Burberry check, but the designs of the garments themselves are excluded from protection. The result is that design pirates can copy the most popular new fashions without paying the actual designers anything, which is particularly hard on young designers who are just starting out. When passed, this new law will create a short, 3-year term of protection - the minimum currently available in the E.U. - that will bring American law closer to the emerging international standard and assist designers who need all the help they can get in the current economy. This is the shortest, most narrowly tailored intellectual property protection ever designed for any type of creative industry in any country, but it will be a major benefit to fashion designers.
The course is supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, will you launch specific events and talks in collaboration with them in future and will you be offering also seminars open to professional lawyers and fashion designers?
Professor Susan Scafidi: The CFDA and its president, Diane von Furstenberg, have been incredibly supportive of the Fashion Law Institute, and I’m very much looking forward to working with them. Part of the mission of the Fashion Law Institute is to offer seminars for both lawyers and designers on current topics.
Was the course opening set to coincide with New York Fashion Week?
Professor Susan Scafidi: Yes, the official launch date of the Fashion Law Institute was timed to correspond with both New York Fashion Week and back-to-school season. And we wouldn’t be a fashion-related program if we didn’t toast the occasion with a few bubbles!

Is the distance learning option available for what regards Fordham University and do you think that we will have courses in Fashion Law also at European universities one day?
Professor Susan Scafidi: I’m hoping to start a global trend! In the meantime, we’ve had lots of inquiries about visiting at Fordham and we’re looking forward to welcoming students from around the world.

Among the disciplines introduced in universities in the last few years, Fashion Law seems to be the one that may have more applications in future and could also be more financially rewarding, do you think it should be introduced also in Fashion Design courses?
Professor Susan Scafidi: Every designer needs to understand enough about business and law to run a successful company. Creativity is at the core of every great fashion house, but that creative spark requires a lot of practical support to set the world on fire with desire for a new style or brand. So, yes, I think that designers should learn a bit about the law as well - if only enough to know when they need to call a lawyer.