Tag Archives: copying

From Towel to Dress

Several years ago I posted this photo of a cocktail towel that is in my possession, which goes to show what a great memory my friend Mod Betty has when it comes to design.  She was doing a bit of online shopping when she happened upon a dress with a design that rung a bell with her.  She sent the link my way to see if I could find my photos of the towel so we could compare the two.

As you can see, the two prints are not identical, but the dress print was apparently based on the print of the vintage towel.  Look carefully and you will see that the martini glass with  olive and the ice cubes have been added to the original design.  The website where this dress is sold describes the print as  a “unique new Atomic Martini print.”

My towel was made by Martex, which was originally a maker of printed kitchen linens.  Today, Martex is still in business and is owned by WestPoint Home, which also owns many of the other great American home textile makers including Stevens, Pepperell, and Utica.

Does the addition of the martini glass, the olive and the ice cube make this print new?  Is there a copyright violation?  It would take a copyright expert to answer those questions, something that I am not.

I love interesting printed fabrics, and I like the dress.  However, it bothers me that the line between what is vintage and what is reproduced is so terribly smudged.  I’m glad I’m a collector now, and not twenty years down the road, because between all the retro fabrics and reproductions, it is going to be hard to tell what is what.  Add to that all the people (including me) who are sewing with vintage patterns and vintage fabrics, and there are going to be a lot of very confusing clothes at the Goodwill of the future.


Filed under Novelty Prints, Viewpoint

Betsey Johnson Meets the Spring Maid

A few weeks ago an Instagram friend, Carla, posted a photo of a Betsey Johnson dress that had a very familiar-looking print.  If you look carefully at the print above you’ll see young women, all of whom seem to be having a problem with their skirts flying up.

The print is, in fact, a redoing of the Springmaid girl, a topic I’ve written about quite a few times.  What started out as a risque ad campaign for Springs Mills fabrics and sheets was eventually made into a series of fabrics for the company.  Springs Mills not only decorated their corporate offices with the prints, they also had items made up for sale and they offered the fabrics to clothing manufacturers and home sewers.

So how did Betsey Johnson end up with a print that was designed for a bed sheet maker over sixty years ago?  I can’t possibly know for sure, but I have constructed a possible scenario.

A fabric “designer” is wandering through a flea market in search of inspiration.   The designer spots a sixty-year-old shirt made of the Springmaid fabric.  The designer buys the shirt and returns to her office where the Springmaid girls are cut apart and re-positioned, their clothes given a change of color, and then the new design is put on a black background.  The fabric is printed and someone from Betsey Johnson spots it at a wholesalers.  The fabric just screams “Betsey Johnson,” so it is bought and used to make dresses sometime in the 1990s.

Or I could be completely off base, and the fabric maker contacted Springs Mills and got permission to use their design.

Clothing design has no copyright protection in the US, but textile designs are protected.  Regardless, it is really quite common to see  vintage textiles reproduced in this way.  Tammis Keefe and Vested Gentress are two that I’ve written about in the past.  Like I said, it is possible that the maker of this fabric had permission to use the design.  That has been known to happen as in the case of fabric maker Michael Miller using Tammis Keefe designs.  Actually, Keefe has been dead many years and she left no heirs, but Michael Miller gave complete credit to Keefe, putting her signature on the fabrics.

So, no judgement, just an observation of one more thing that can be confusing, especially to newer buyers of vintage.  Yes, those Springmaid girls do look like they came from 1950, but the colors and label say otherwise.

Many thanks to Carla who graciously let me use her photos.


It has occurred to me that there is a third possibility – that the fabric was actually made by Springmaid.  The company is still in business, and so it is possible.


Ballyhoo Vintage has a hat lined in this fabric in the original colorway.


Filed under Curiosities, Viewpoint

What I Didn’t Buy – Vintage-looking Handbag

I spotted this handbag in an antique mall recently, and I wasn’t fooled for a second.  From the thick clunky double chain to the plasticy faux-leather everything just screamed “NEW!”  But there was something about the details that made me take a second look.  Someone was clearly inspired by the work of Bonnie Cashin for Coach, circa 1964.

Well now, that makes perfect sense.  Isaac Mizrahi has long named Bonnie Cashin as one of his own design heroes, along with Claire McCardell and Geoffrey Beene.

One thing I like and admire about Mizrahi is that he does have a great sense of where fashion has been.  He knows his fashion history and does not mind pulling from it.  Early in his career, back in the 1980s, he was criticized for pulling a bit too much; that many designs were more Beene than Mizrahi.  Using the Target handbag as an example though, you can immediately see the influence, but not for a moment would anyone who knows her work be deceived into thinking she was the designer.

There is a big difference between inspiration and copying.   Copying is easy. You look at a design and reproduce it.  But inspiration involves taking the best feature of a previous design, and infusing your own sense of aesthetic  and creating something new.

I’ve been thinking about copying because I’m considering a huge sewing challenge – that of making a copy of a Chanel jacket.  Encouragement is greatly appreciated!



Filed under I Didn't Buy...

Borrowing from Tammis Keefe

I recently had the great pleasure of spending a little time vintage shopping with Lisa Durfee who owns Five and Diamond Vintage in Hudson, New York.  She was visiting her mom who lives in my area, so we were able to get together for a bit to look for vintage treasures.

Probably the cutest find of the day was this 1950s cat skirt.  I’ve seen similar skirts that were made from printed wedges of fabric.  The sewer had only to cut out the wedges, sew them into the shape of a circle skirt, attach a zipper and a waistband, and do a hem.  It was easy, patternless sewing, with the only adjustments needed being the waist size and the hem.

I hope you can tell how the sections were cut out and sewn together.  This photo shows white edges along the seam allowance.  This was printed onto white cotton.

You can see the seams where the wedges were joined.

I also noticed how much this looked like the work of Tammis Keefe, and when I got home I was able to confirm my suspicions.

The second photo is of a tea towel that I sold on etsy several years ago.  Without the bell, it’s the same design.  There is also a hankie that Keefe designed with the large cat and several kittens, and that hankie seems to be the source of the kittens on the skirt.

This is not the first time I’ve written about the work of Tammis Keefe being used and not credited.  In fact, I went back to my prior posts, and one of them linked to a post at the textiles blog, True Up, in which you can see what I was trying so hard to describe above – the original printed skirt fabric.

There is always a copying controversy or two going on in the fashion world, but the truth is that in the US, it is not possible to copyright a clothing design.  It is, however, possible to copyright graphic design, which this is.  So why is it that we see so many Tammis Keefe copies?

The answer might be found in the fact that Keefe worked for firms such as Kimball (hankies), Falfax (linens) and Goodall (home design fabrics) rather than for herself.  It is most likely that the companies for whom she worked were the actual copyright holders of the designs she did for them.  In that case, they would have been free to sell her work to other makers without giving her the credit for the designs.  And as far as I can tell, none of these companies is still in business, in which case their design assets often become a giant (and probably not legal) free-for-all.

In contrast, consider Vera Neumann, who designed for her own company from the very beginning of her career, and who was careful to make sure everyone knew that her work was copyrighted.  Even after she sold The Vera Company, it retained the sole right to use her work, and today the company’s owner exercises control over how Vera’s work is used by other companies.  It’s an amazing success story of using the law correctly to protect the integrity of Vera’s work.  It’s a shame that other designers did not always have Vera’s savvy and luck in regards to copyright protection.


Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

The Fashion Copying Issue

I’ve talked about copying in the past, in the case of Tammis Keefe, and Vested Gentress and even the designs in the last of the Harry Potter movies.  Today the issue is back in the news, prompted by the sharp eyes and double twitpic of Jane Keltner deValle, the  fashion news editor of Teen Vogue.  She remembered one of the dresses in Rachel Zoe’s new line as being identical to one she had used in a photo shoot in 2007.  Turns out she was right, and she posted a double picture showing the original magazine page side by side with the dress in question.  Stylistically, the dresses look identical to me, except the new one is a bit shorter.

According to people who know, Zoe bought the dress from the vintage store credited by the magazine and wore it at least once.  Does being the owner of the dress give her the right to reproduce it and call it her design?

As I’ve said before, there are no copyrights on fashion designs in the US, so legally she does have the right.  So why is this a matter of so much discussion?  I think is is because people somehow feel cheated when they learn that a designer’s work is not his or her creative idea.  When you stop and think about Zoe’s real job – that of fashion stylist – you can see how this might have played out.  She is used to looking at lots of dresses and separating the wheat from the chaff.  Her job is to select what looks good, to recognize great design.  I think it would be interesting to see the “inspiration” behind the other pieces in her collection.

So do I think it is wrong?  I’m not really sure, but I do wish she had been more forthcoming as to the original of the piece.  We all know that J. Peterman buys vintage pieces and then makes faithful copies, but they proudly proclaim the vintage originals of their designs.  And even Kate Moss let Vogue watch her “design” her line, which pretty much consisted of her picking her favorites among vintage pieces presented by her assistants.  But we don’t consider either J. Peterman, nor Kate Moss to be designers, and that is the point.  In order to be taken seriously as a designer, you have to have more than a point of view and a good eye.

And not referring specifically to Zoe, but can we not just admit now that not everyone and her brother are cut out to be designers?  What’s wrong with being happy knowing you are a great stylist, or a great model, or a great actress?



Filed under Viewpoint

Design Inspiration

I know the topic of modern designers copying from vintage has been pretty well beaten to death, but since I seem to be stuck on the topic of hankies, this one had to be shared.  The skirt above was made by me from vintage fabric, probably from 1961.  More on it later.

This bag is currently for sale at  Anthropologie.com.  They call it the Purebred Tote.  If you go to the Anthropogie site you can scroll over the image and see the doggies close-up.  When I first spotted this bag this morning, I immediately thought of Tammis Keefe.  Of course, nothing on the bag, nor on the site references Keefe as the artist, but I was pretty sure I’d seen this in the form of either a hankie or a tea towel.

So I grabbed a hankie in my collection, a Keefe grouping of dogs,  and while some of the dogs are similar, none were exact.  Still, something told me I had seen those particular dogs before.  Finally it hit me; these were the same dogs that are on my skirt!  A quick trip to the closet confirmed that my skirt and the bag have three dogs in common.

But what about the others?  I felt sure these did come from a Tammis Keefe textile, so I went on a hunt for the  other hankie I know I’ve seen.  Unfortunately, I did not turn it up, but I did find a very interesting photo on True Up, a fabrics blog.  Scroll down to the third entry, and there you’ll see a rare Tammis Keefe silk scarf, with some of the the very same dogs!

Eventually, the other Keefe hanky will come up for sale, and when it does I’ll link to it.

So it appears that not only is Keefe’s work being used and not attributed today, but this was also being done if not in her lifetime, then at least very soon after her death in 1960.  The fabric I used for my skirt was from Robert Kaufman, and there was no reference to Keefe on the fabric.  On the True Up page, note that a Keefe cat was also used in printed circle skirt panels, also unattributed.

I’d like to point out that fashion designs are not copyright protected.  That’s why a company like J. Peterman can buy a vintage garment and reproduce it or why a cheap mall brand can copy the work of a designer who charges much more for his or her work.  It’s why many people are legally reproducing vintage sewing patterns for the purpose of selling them – only the drawings on the envelopes can be copyrighted – not the design itself.   For a great explanation of how this works, you must watch this video of Johanna Blakley of the Norman Lear Center.
But what about a textile design?  Look at the selvedge of the Robert Kaufman fabric. With true irony,there’s the little copyright symbol.  Look at any Vera textile from after 1959 and you’ll find the copyright symbol.  What a shame that once again an artist like Keefe is not getting the credit she deserves.
Note:  The photo of the bag is from the Anthropologie site and is their copyright.  As a general rule, I do not take any photos from other sites without asking, but when a site puts a “download this image” message beneath a photo, I think you can safely deduce that actually means ” Take the image of our product and put it on your blog so we will get free advertising.”


Posted by stephanie Coop:

I enjoyed reading this and learning about Tammis. It took me on an internet journey while I was drinking my coffee.

Tuesday, July 20th 2010 @ 3:33 AM

Posted by Karen/Small Earth Vintage:

Ugh. That bag is cute as sin, but this is another reason (of many) why I can’t stand Anthropologie and will not shop there or at Urban Outfitters. What a shame. While I admire their “look” (which is constantly, and understandably, deified by bloggers everywhere), their practices leave much to be desired. Not a fan.

Tuesday, July 20th 2010 @ 7:48 AM

Posted by KeLLy Ann:

Thanks for the new info. I never knew that about the patterns. I’m an artist, so the whole copyright thing gets pretty annoying sometimes. I think its the whole “ownership” vs “credit” thing…

Tuesday, July 20th 2010 @ 7:52 AM

Posted by Anonymous:

Interesting and informative. I do have to say, modern knock-offs of current art and fashion are annoying too.

Tuesday, July 20th 2010 @ 4:39 PM

Posted by Lin:

arg. lost my original post. I was saying that the tree at the centre looked very familiar too, but I can’t quite find the parallel I was thinking of…

Wednesday, July 21st 2010 @ 11:17 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Lin, bare trees like these are a common Keefe motif.When Keefe died in 1960, her only survivor was her mother, and as far as I know, there is no one to hold the copyright to her work. So it may be legal to use it, but it bothers me that people are profiting from her work without even acknowledging that she was the designer. Most of her work was clearly signed, so you know they know who the designer was.

Thursday, July 22nd 2010 @ 6:29 PM

Posted by Lin:

“Most of her work was clearly signed, so you know they know who the designer was.” A very good point, especially in the era of reissued and reinvigorated Vera and Liberty prints. A continuing business interest ensures the authorship is cemented. A lack of business continuity turns a completely coherent body of work into design flotsam and jetsam. What a shame.

Friday, July 23rd 2010 @ 9:19 AM

Posted by Sarah:

This is a prime example of the valuable work your blog does, Lizzie.Not only do you make sure that these designers are recognised for their beautiful and original work, but you’ve demonstrated how wilfully modern companies will exploit that original work without credit.

As ever, you are raising awareness, thank you!

Wednesday, July 28th 2010 @ 12:52 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Sarah, it nice for you to say so.

Friday, July 30th 2010 @ 6:32 PM

Posted by Lin:

here you go, for comparison while it’s up on Ebay – the Anthropologie bag is a direct lift from one of the dog collection scarves. http://cgi.ebay.com/VINTAGE-FOLK-ART-DOG-SCARF-/140475670342?pt=Vintage_Men_s_Women_s_Accessories&hash=item20b5009f46#ht_500wt_1156

Monday, November 8th 2010 @ 5:37 AM


Filed under Designers, Viewpoint

Continuing with Davidow

Since finding the wonderful Davidow fabric, I thought I’d get out a Davidow suit I have.  This one is a beautiful silk tweed, in a color very close to the wool fabric.  This is typical Davidow, suits made from nice fabrics in the style of, or a direct copy of, Chanel.

It’s no big secret that they copied Chanel.  They paid for the honor of doing it, and it was well publicized.  The October 15, 1960 Vogue even did a feature on the Chanel styles for that fall, but the suits and coats in the photo shoot were all Davidow.

Photo copyright Conde Nast Publications, 1960

Read the small print to see “Suit copy by Davidow at Bonwit Teller.”  A while back someone posted the suit in the photo on a vintage chat board.  There was no label, but they thought it was a Chanel.  A close examination of the details showed it was not couture, and so was probably a Davidow copy!

And there has been a problem with selling these vintage Chanel copies on eBay, as the Chanel company automatically closes down any auction that says the item is a Chanel copy.  Well, this IS a Chanel copy, and it was done with Mademoiselle’s blessing, so it ought to be allowed.  Some people have very short memories!


Posted by Anonymous:

I am also a Davidow fan–and I remember the trunk shows that would come into our local Bullock’s in the 60’s, going to see them with my mom who eventually owned two suits.
Chanel copies? Doesn’t the inner construction and often unlined collar make them substantially different from Chanels?
Now I just hoard every one that I find, and they won’t be going up for sale either!;)

Saturday, September 19th 2009 @ 8:37 PM

Posted by Jen:

(oops, that is my comment–didn’t mean to be anonymous!!!)

Saturday, September 19th 2009 @ 8:39 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Hi Jen, What a great memory. The design was copied, but there was no way Davidow could copy the construction at the price they sold suits. Not cheap by any means, but not the price of a couture garment.

Sunday, September 20th 2009 @ 5:19 AM


1 Comment

Filed under Designers, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing