The other day I was scrolling Instagram as I usually do and I came across this Instagram from Lauren Conrad‘s website featuring super cute, blush LC Lauren Conrad scalloped ballet flats.
Now, because I was scrolling rather quickly, the first thought that went through my mind was “Look! It’s my Chloé flats!” I was, of course, referring to Chloé‘s latest rendition of their ultra comfortable flats: the Lauren ballerina flat.
But, on closer inspection, I realized that the image was actually posted by Conrad’s website – a website I love, it has a lot of great posts about fashion and health — and featured a pair of flats that are part of the reality starlet’s clothing line with Kohl’s. I could not believe the similarity between the Chloé version and the LC Lauren Conrad version. They are nearly identical. To be fair, both flats are fairly simple and the only design element that they share is the scalloped design.
But, being the Intellectual Property attorney that I am, I began wondering if there were any IP issues with the LC Lauren Conrad flats. As I have discussed in other posts, there’s no copyright protection to clothing.
However, sometimes, a brand can get trade dress protection for pieces that have elements that are distinctive, which means they signify the brand to the average consumer, and are not functional, which means it can’t serve a functional or useful purpose to the product.
And, the line between what can be protected and what is a normal design element is often blurred. So, here, is a scalloped design along the edge of a shoe a design element that is unique to Chloé? Or, is it simply a design element that many designers and brands use in their pieces?
A quick search of “scalloped ballet flats” on ShopStyle, showed that most of the search results were the Chloé Lauren flat, but there were a couple other brands mixed in, like J. Jill and Charlotte Russe.
But the overwhelming results of flats that are similar in style to both the Chloé flat and the LC Lauren Conrad flats, were the Chloé flats. So, it may very well be that Chloé could have some protection over this flat design, that in my opinion is a huge signifier of Chloé.
For me, the instant I saw that picture, I immediately thought the flats were Chloé flats. But, they may be because I am obsessed with all things Chloé, I know the collection really well, and I own a pair of the Lauren flats (probably my favorite flats, they are so comfortable!). Others may not have connected the similarities between the two flats.
But, then the question becomes, where is the line between “inspired by” and “copied”? Many brands that appeal to the mass markets often argue that they are simply inspired by the luxury brands and are creating an opportunity for the mass market to enjoy in the current trends and styles of the season. But, at what point does a piece cross over from inspired by a trend to copying an exact piece?
The only difference between these two flats are that the Chloé flat retails for $475 and the LC Lauren Conrad flat retails for $49.99. A significant price difference, and there probably is a significant material and construction difference, though I wouldn’t know for sure, as I have never seen the LC Lauren Conrad flat in person.
Were the LC Lauren Conrad design team inspired by Chloé’s flat or did they copy it? To me, it looks like an exact replica and I would argue that it’s a copy. But, to others it could just be a trend that LC Lauren Conrad wanted to bring to the masses.
I guess, the debate will continue as it always done. Personally, I love my Chloé Lauren flats!!