You see a beautiful vintage dress. Maybe it is in a museum, maybe on Pinterest, maybe in an Etsy shop or Ebay auction - but way outside your price range, or you miss out. But you want that dress. Exactly that dress.
You sew it yourself, or commission a seamstress to make it for you. Is this ok? What if you make the dress multiple times and sell it commercially? What if it wasn't 20th century vintage, but a Victorian ball gown from a museum, or a 16th century costume based on a painting? What if it was a modern designers work from a period movie? Where do you draw the line?
Ok, so this is something I have been thinking about on and off ever since I started selling my hats, and especially since I began to focus on vintage styles. And I don't yet have an answer to the many questions that roll through my head.
What if it is just so generic that there is no real intellectual property there? I mean, how many ways are there to make a boater hat? What if I'm using a vintage block - I kind of have to make that exact shape, right? What if I'm basing it on an illustration, so the design is someone else's, but the hat never actually existed? What about taking a pattern from an existing hat? What about drafting my own pattern to achieve a certain shape? What about selling hats made from vintage patterns?
I know that I am definitely happy to take inspiration from vintage images and items and interpret them in my own way, or combine design elements from different places into my own design. (And if the inspiration is only general, I am ok with this for modern work too.) I am definitely happy to attempt a "vague reproduction" of a vintage item, in the knowledge that it will end up different anyway as the making process goes on. I can usually rely on nothing ever turning out exactly how I imagined it!
I also know that I am definitely not ok with exactly copying exactly a recent design, but I'm not sure how recent it has to be for me to not be ok with it. 70s? 80s? 90s? 2000s?
Legally, I don't think there is an issue, although intellectual property is a very confusing legal space, and my brief education on the matter related to engineering, not fashion. I want, however, to find my own comfortable moral position.
There are clearly a lot of factors in the spectrum of this morality, in my mind. How recent is the design? How special and unique is it? How directly am I drawing inspiration from it, or am I copying it outright?
I don't have an answer. I've just completed a custom order to reproduce a vintage hat as exactly as possible, and I have to say that I (mostly) loved the process, despite occasional frustrations. I liked the challenge of studying the photos, trying to work out what had been done and recreate it myself. I do have nagging doubts about it, but I want it to be ok.
Anyway, here it is, in all it's glory.
One way I am thinking of it is that while I would be upset and angry if someone copied my own designs now, I would be flattered if they did so in fifty years.
What are your personal feelings on the intellectual property of vintage designs?