Calandra Cooper

Vintage French couture copies.

Calandra Cooper
Vintage French couture copies.

In 1948 a number of French designers sued for unfair competition and took steps to stop American manufacturers from copying their dress designs which were selling in American markets at extraordinarily low prices-and lacking in Parisienne French couture standards.  

In the New York lawsuit, Wolfs & Greenbaum, Inc used the label names of Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Jeanne Landin, Molyneux and Jean Patou on its cotton manufactured dresses; selling them for $8.95.  

The designers, members of the Chamber Syndicate de la Couture Parisienne, stated the company was able to make the copies by flying to Paris with a selection of American cotton goods and commissioned them to interpret the fabrics in their latest design ideas.  

The manufacturer then produced a million copies of the dresses and sold them in 12,000 American stores, each dress carrying a replica of the French designer’s distinctive label.  

W&G agreed to cease manufacturing the dresses, to remove the unauthorized labels from the existing stocks, and to never use the name of a French designer on any of its designs without written authorization. 

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How did dress pirating work?

Bands usually operated in bands of four to five persons, including “spies” within the fashion houses themselves.

One such method was to send an expert designer to a dress collection of one of the fashion houses.

The designer made sketches or memorized the models during the show and then rushed back home to cut out the dress patterns as closely possible.

Those caught were subject to paying fines to the Chamber Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which guarded the interest of big designers, and sent back to the United States.

The designers considered such action necessary to maintain the traditional standard of Paris couture and to promote confidence in clothes claiming to have been designed in Paris by couture designers.

What does this mean for collectors of vintage clothing today?

Well, while Christian Dior, through Lucien R. Le Lievre, counsel to the Society Christian Dior announced on July 29, 1948, that he also wouldn’t lend his name to reproduction models of dresses retailing for less than $69.95, suits for $95.00 and coats for $135 and only to select persons and concerns “enjoying the highest reputation”; it’s further proof that some found #vintagecouture clothing available today; even if there’s a label-could be an unauthorized copy-not true couture. Further, even some designs that were “authorized” may have little to do with the designer, as in the example with Dior, except that only a name was loaned to a label.

At least with Dior, because he later opened a New York salon (October 1948) at 730 Fifth Avenue, New York, and openly said he “copied himself”, except that the ready-made garments sold in his salon weren’t as exaggerated as were his custom-made models in Paris, one can be sure a Dior is indeed a Dior, even if it weren’t custom-made in the tradition of couture, if one can be certain the design originated from either his New York Dior salon or Paris house.