Alan Flusser Part 3: Listen Up, Counsel: This One is for You

Photographed by Rose Callahan

As I have shared in two prior posts, I had the privilege of sitting down with the menswear authority, Alan Flusser, in his comfortable office inside his custom tailor shop in Manhattan, to hear his point of view on the status of men’s style. This being a legal blog, the conversation inevitably came around to what a lawyer should wear, and here again, Mr. Flusser was both precise and definite:

“I went to a closing on an apartment, and counsel for the other party showed up in a polo shirt and khakis. I’d never met him before, and I would hardly recommend that you come in looking like that, trying to show you have the know-how and authority to oversee a transaction well north of a million dollars. But that is the lay of the land today.”

“Is that advice for everyone or are you pointing to the legal profession when you say that?” I asked.

“Everybody could benefit from learning some of the fundamentals that go into putting together the basic elements of style in a way that makes the right impression. That is particularly true for a lawyer, who has to explain important things to people in a convincing manner. The kind of clothes he wears and—just as important—the way he wears those clothes can go a long way in terms of helping him present his case to his opponents, to a judge, and, indeed, to his clients. There’s a certain confidence that can be projected by a person who knows how to wear clothes correctly.”

“Are you arguing for tradition?” I asked. “When I was a boy, we were told that, by the time you and I would be sitting here, everyone would be dressed in something like the outfits on the original Star Trek series.

Mr. Flusser smiled. “I worked for Pierre Cardin in the 70s.” That was a name from my sartorial past. I recalled that the three first suits I bought as an adult, while then in college, bore the Pierre Cardin label. They were made in Latin America and had lapels wide enough to cause me to take flight if the winds were right—but such were the times. “Pierre Cardin was one of these very avant-garde designers,” continued Mr. Flusser, “who said that, by the turn of this century, everyone would be wearing jumpsuits to go to the moon. Since then, people have been attempting to uproot, upend or debunk the necessity for wearing a suit, dress shirt and tie, trying to replace that with something else. Look around. As far I see, that that’s been a complete failure.”

Which is to say, it is a lot harder for you to look inconsequential in a suit, dress shirt and necktie even if not entirely spot on, than in a polo shirt and khakis, even if done not half-bad. Just the same, as Mr. Flusser next observed, once you commit to making the effort, you should commit as well to making sure it succeeds: “Whatever you do, the question is, why go to all the trouble to get gussied up in this if it takes no more effort to put on clothing that fits and is correctly proportioned for you?”

I asked if there is a good role model who shows lawyers how to do it just right. That turned out to be another easy question:

“I have been writing about it for decades, but very few men know how to tie a tie and put it up into a collar and have it come out looking as good as it could—that is, the difference between looking powerful or not—or possibly making you look weaker. Where can you learn that? You either have to see it on another man or you have someone in the public eye espousing this kind of dress. If I had a moment to ask any question of former President Barack Obama, I would probably first ask him, ‘How did you learn to wear shirts that have the exact and perfect collar for someone of your size and height and face shape, and how did you learn to tie the necktie to go up into that and to make that presentation as perfect as it has ever been on any president?’ Clearly, somebody taught him that at some point because you don’t usually pick that up as a community organizer.”

In short, to my colleagues at the bar: your legal knowledge, skills and personality may take you far, but pick up Mr. Flusser’s books, see him personally, or hunt down someone else who knows how and is ready to show you the way. That may not carry the day for you in contract negotiations or in a summation before the jury—but it will almost certainly offer you just a bit more of an advantage than you otherwise have had. And no one who seriously wishes to make it in this difficult profession should lightly pass up such an opportunity.

Credit:  Alan Behr

We would like to thank Alan Flusser for his gracious participation in our three-part series on fashion, style and the industry’s influence on today’s design aesthetic. https://alanflusser.com/


Designers Defending Their Names

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If you are interested enough in fashion to be visiting this page, I cannot tell you anything new about Roy Halston Frowick, better known as Halston. He was unique in many ways, starting with the fact that he launched his career with a single piece: the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as president, in 1961. (The fact that Mrs. Kennedy was also wore a Halston pillbox while sitting in the car next to the president as he was assassinated, in Dallas, led to the style going out of fashion in the blink of an eye.) By 1983, Halston’s company, Halston Limited, was owned by Norton Simon, Inc. Unless Halston had agreed to all that at some point, the likely explanation was that there had been no form of what lawyers call a non-assignment clause in place in the relationship that Halston, the man, had set up with the owners of Halston, the brand. In any event, within about one year, Halston was no longer designing for Halston Limited. He died in 1990, a man without his own name in design. Once that disassociation occurred, Halston, the brand, which still exists, has a life of its own, and it has since changed hands seven times more.

Catherine Malandrino recently filed a lawsuit against Elie Tahari and others, claiming she was wrongfully deprived of rights under a deal by which she sold her brand (and, for all intents and purposes, her professional name) to a company controlled in part by Tahari, which employed her as its creative director. Malandrino had only minority representation on her new employer’s management committee. She alleges that her co-venturers and others routed around her in subsequent dealings, damaging the brand and failing to compensate her as agreed. Although the complaint is passionately composed, it does not directly address what appears to be the underlying issue: Malandrino and her representatives did not provide, in the agreements she signed, the kind of contractual protections that could have reduced or eliminated many of the alleged wrongs and that would have given her final say as to what was and was not a Catherine Malandrino creation.

On a happier note there is the long, circular tale of Joseph Abboud. His eponymous menswear line debuted in 1987. His name was registered as part of trademarks that he licensed to a joint venture in which he took an interest through a corporation he owned. He then sold off his equity interest and worked as a consultant to the company that now exclusively owned his name in the fashion business—until creative differences caused an abrupt. Abboud tried to start a new brand called “jaz,” making it known in the trade that he was the designer. In the lawsuit filed by the company that owned the Joseph Abboud trademarks, the court ruled, “Abboud is permanently enjoined and restricted from using her personal name to sell, market, or otherwise promote, goods, products, and services to the consuming public.” In all, a humiliating result for one of my favorite menswear designers. Several sales of branding rights and changes in price point later, man and brand were effectively reunited; in 2014, Abboud became chief creative director at Men’s Wearhouse, which is the current owner of the Joseph Abboud brand and trademarks.

And we must not forget that there are many success stories. Karl Lagerfeld is still a walking brand, regardless of whatever house for which he has already has served or may yet serve as designer. Ralph Lauren’s name is owned by his company, which is public and so owned by many shareholders—but he has set up everything quite nicely and is surely not losing sleep worrying about whether he will still be designing under his own name.

The message: every good designer is either a good business person or should work in close company with someone else who is just that—and every good business person watching over a designer’s name should have a lawyer nearby who knows what to do to keep the designer and his name permanently in each other’s company.

Next: we will show a bit of how that works.

Credit:  Alan Behr

See previously published related posts:


Welcome to Designer Hell, No Name

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The applied arts, including fashion, stand in service of utility. There is no l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake) even if you are talented and even if you are French. A useful object made beautiful, fun or even compelling is still something you can use, and things that can be used are objets de commerce, first and foremost. That is one of the reasons, as we have discussed in these postings (and surely will again) that the law treats fashion, jewelry and accessory designs—and related objects such as perfume bottles and lipstick cases—differently from how it treats paintings, sculptures and photographs. All art follows commerce, and artists do not quit their day jobs if they are not commercially successful, but when it comes to fashion, commercial success remains rather the point. If you are a designer and do not believe that, ask your retailers and financial backers if they disagree.

The first and perhaps most personally compelling fact of that distinction between what the law considers design to be versus how it treats fine art is that, although the artist can never lose his name—there was only one artist who could paint a Pablo Picasso and only one artist who could chisel out a Michelangelo—it is possible for a designer to wake up one morning and find that, professionally, his name is no longer his. To his mother, he may always be, “My son, Martin, the designer,” but the clothes bearing his name might be designed by someone else—perhaps someone he does not know, or perhaps even someone whose work he finds indifferent or just plain terrible. Even worse, should he wish to continue designing clothes, he may have to do it under a different name.

The reason for that is because the name is not merely a name; it has become a brand. And brands can be sold, along with the trademarks that represent them, and the goodwill that those trademarks generate and perpetuate. (An artist’s name can also be his brand—but the art market has not yet accepted the idea that, say, Lucian Freud could have sold his name on retirement, for use in connection with fine art by Damien Hirst.) When designers sell their trademarks, therefore, they are, to the fashion world, effectively selling their names.

If the price is right, that may be a great idea. Sometimes, however, regrets follow. In posts to come, we will show what has happened and can yet happen when designers lose control of their own names.

Credit:  Alan Behr


I Didn’t Recognize You with Your Clothes On

That was a pickup line in the tavernas of the island of Mykonos back in the day, spoken to fellow vacationers fresh off the clothing-optional Paradise Beach.  In the ongoing and sometimes dysfunctional relationship between clothing and the law, the usual first requirement of the law is that you wear some.  Not that anyone on Mykonos asked what Greek law said about beach attire.  And Mykonos is not alone.  Nudity is forbidden on the fashionable Caribbean island of Saint-Barthélemy, but the island’s own website advertises the virtues of its two enchanting nude beaches.

Clothing on Beach 108288676_8Could it be said, where beaches are concerned, the law makes allowances?

Consider that, on a chilly May morning in San Francisco a few years ago, while I was attending the Annual Meeting of the International Trademark Association (INTA), I put on every piece of warm clothing I brought with me and left my hotel before breakfast to catch the start of the Bay to Breakers Race—which is more of a brisk constitutional in outlandish costumes than anything resembling a marathon.  As the race progressed, men and women dressed for Carnival passed by in great numbers and, within this crammed costume parade, a few were sauntering—not running—in the nude (save for sneakers).  San Francisco has since adopted an ordinance banning public nudity (something it had previously not bothered to do), but our Bay Area correspondent, the Fabulous Mrs. John, reports to us that the naturalist practice remains a feature of the race.

In People v. Santorelli, a case decided in 1992 by the Court of Appeals of New York (the state’s highest court), the law making it a crime for a woman to expose her breasts in public was ruled inapplicable to topless sunbathing in a public park on the grounds of discrimination based on sex.* More than two decades later, New York women are still getting picked up by overzealous police officers unfamiliar with the case law.

Suffice it to say that, around the world, this most simple of legal imperatives about fashion—when outside, put something on—has had a ragged enforcement history.  There are also laws about fabric composition and the identification of country of manufacture, among other essentials that apply to each article of apparel—and on and on from there.

The point is, starting with the simple insistence that we all wear clothes, the law has interposed itself into every aspect of the fashion business.  For that reason, consulting your lawyer before you get going on anything both new and important—or before getting yourself involved in something that your business judgment foretells may not sit well with someone else who might have reasons and the means to oppose you by resort to law—is the classic ounce of prevention that obviates that often painful (and expensive) pound of legal care.  In short,…

…when in doubt, call your lawyer before you get going with something new
or before trouble starts.

Do not wait until the vendor fails to deliver by the due date because no contract says he has to, until the cease and desist letter arrives, or until the competition poaches your key people.  For the sake of sleeping well at night, there is no better time to get your lawyer involved than at the earliest moment you can.  To do otherwise is like walking outside without your clothes on.  And we all know than where that can lead.

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* I am aware of the adaptation of the word gender to serve where sex was once employed. The English language is ever evolving, but here I will follow classic usage: nouns have gender, and people have sex.

Credit:  Alan Behr


Fashion: It is a business.

In business law, whatever the business might be, commercial considerations come first.  An airtight contract or brilliantly argued appeal means nothing if it showcases the lawyer’s prowess but fails to deliver on the client’s business objectives.  For anyone practicing fashion law, the first rule, after knowing the law, is to know fashion and the fashion business.

Dressmaker dummies / mannequines / modelsWithin that broad mandate, we all bring our personal points of view, as future posts on these pages will surely reveal.  And here are a few of mine:

Our Fashion Practice Group represents designers, manufacturers, brands and retailers.  That translates roughly into hope, expectation and reality.  Design has every right to be seen as one of the applied arts; as with all the arts, practitioners must be mindful of the marketplace but not be a slave to market expectations.  Overall, I see designers as optimists by nature; they are energized by hope even as they labor to fulfill our dreams.

In representing designers, we borrow methods from our art law and general business practices, working to defend originality in design with the legal tools of copyright, trade dress and design patent protections.  In contracts, we help designers in their relationships with the makers of the fashions they conceive and in the protection of their names as brands.

For a manufacturer or brand owner, the designer’s work has transformed into expectation–of sales, market share and ultimately of brand enhancement.  Here is where we devote much of our work to trademark protection, contracts with suppliers ranging from manufacturing sources to advertising agencies, to factoring deals, and contracts with retailers.

What is retail if not a bucket of true reality for every fashion design ever to make its way to the judge and jury of all fashions—the eye and wallet of the consumer?  To make that a successful encounter, we help with store leases; the employment of sales staff and others; stop-in-shop deals; and, of such increasing importance, website development and maintenance, and social media utilization.  However inspired the vision, however brilliant the execution, and however clever the marketing and display, if the customer does not buy it, what you have on the racks are rags, not riches.  The job of the fashion lawyer is to do what he or she can to bring each fashion fairytale to a close in the way that all fairytales should—with a happy ending.

Credit:  Alan Behr