Court Rules High-End French Label Doesn't Own Rights to Indigenous Oaxacan Design


In the last year, both Antik Batik and Isabel Marant heavily imitated the designs of Mixe communities in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, showing blouses that mimicked indigenous embroidery almost to a tee.

In June, not long after the launch of Marant’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection which featured the design in question, a group of Mixe women held a press conference in defense of the 600-year-old huipil design. According to the Guardian, they noted:

“Isabel Marant is committing a plagiarism because the Etoile spring-summer 2015 collection contains the graphical elements specific to the Tlahuitoltepec blouse, a design which has transcended borders, and is not a novel creation as is affirmed by the designer.” They are now asking for reparation damages from the designer and are looking into the possibility of taking up legal action.

Upon notification, Marant admitted that the design was Mixe, and pulled the blouse at their behest. But she also told the Guardian that she was at present being sued by Antik Batik, a high-end “boho” company known for flagrant appropriation in its designs, for copyright on the Mixe blouse.

In other words: Antik Batik was trying to claim it owned the copyright to an indigenous garment. Fortunately, though, today WWD reports that a French court ruled on the side of Marant:

“The court not only upheld that the design came from the said village, but that Antik Batik couldn’t claim any property rights on it either,” Marant’s lawyer Jean-Marc Felzenszwalbe told WWD.

And yet, Felzenszwalbe defended Marant’s blouse on the grounds that it was not plagiarism, but “inspiration,” he told WWD. “In this village there is plenty of designs that deal with the same vocabulary—same colors and same kind of patterns. Both companies were inspired by them.” In November, objectors staged at least two protests outside Marant’s Soho flagship store focusing on the blouse, holding signs reading slogans like “NO TALENT ISABEL MARANT IS A THIEF.”

WWD reports that Marant will meet this week with a Mexican ambassador in France to discuss working with the Mixe communities, but Felzenszwalbe said they “do not want any money, but that their work be recognized.” I mean—why not both? Particularly when the original huipil blouses in question can be purchased for pesos (400 pesos, according to The Guardian, or $17), and yet Marant was charging $290.

This decision comes mere days after KTZ designer Marjon Pejoski had to apologize to Salome Awa, a Nunavut woman, for copying her great-grandfather’s sacred shaman robe.

It’s one thing to be inspired by and to pay homage to the cultural heritage of indigenous and other marginalized peoples, but fashion proves itself time and again that it really doesn’t know when to quit, nor does it seem to care.

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