Belgian designer Murielle Scherre isn't going away quietly
The controversy focusses on one specific garment: a black bikini top with a striking “monowire” detail. A single underwire, in other words, that stretches uninterrupted from one side of the bust to the other, culminating in an inverted “V” in the centre of the chest.
Belgian lingerie designer Murielle Victorine Scherre, from the La Fille d’O label, has accused Zimmermann of copying her best-selling style.
Scherre voiced her concerns immediately after Zimmermann's show on not only her own Instagram and Facebook accounts - but also the social media feeds of Australian fashion sites Fashionising and Vogue Australia. On Monday 9th September, Belgian newspaper De Morgen picked up the story, with further commentary from Scherre - but apparently no response sought from Zimmermann. On the same day, the story made its way to two other Belgian media outlets, Het Nieuwsblad and She.be.
After our story was published on September 10th - with an update on the morning of September 11th, once a response was finally received from designer Nicky Zimmermann, who flatly denied the claims - we put several other questions to the Zimmermann camp, with as yet no response. Specifically: are they able to provide references of other earlier Zimmermann styles with similar construction (beyond those outlined, below) and have they been contacted directly by Scherre?
Frockwriter also put several questions to Scherre herself – specifically, when her design was first launched and, beyond the barrage of accusations on social media and in the Belgian mainstream media, has she at any point contacted Zimmermann directly about the matter? And what does she plan to do next?
In a brief email to Frockwriter late Wednesday 11th September Sydney time, Scherre told us that the style was part of her launch range in 2003 – which makes it exactly ten years old. She added that she would not be able to get back to us with any other information until today [Monday 16th September], due to travel commitments.
Imagine our surprise, therefore, to find a new story on Thursday on Belgian news site De Morgen, with all the social media mentions, plus Nicky Zimmermann's response to us. And some fresh commentary from Scherre. Our Flemish is a little rusty, but according to a (very) rough Dutch-English translation using Google Translate, Scherre told De Morgen that she wants Zimmermann to drop the offending garment from production and may also take legal action. From Google Translate:
"It is likely that one of the designers at Zimmermann has seen in an Australian lingerie store where La Fille d'O sold the idea. Nicky Zimmermann has probably not taken the time each employee and co-designer to interrogate about their sources of inspiration....We're going to ask Zimmermann not to put the bra on the market this bra, Naughty, has been around for ten years and is our best selling model, it is like you would copy a Levi's 501" - Murielle ScherreThe story has since also made it onto US fashion site Styleite and Sydney's Daily Telegraph on Saturday, in the 'Fashion Confidential' section. Reportedly, neither party was reachable for comment for either story.
Gortan also contacted us late last week and as we noted to her, on closer inspection, it emerges that the La Fille d'O garment in question is not just the sheer tulle “One” bra, as we initially reported. In fact the style comes in at least four different fabrications and treatments, including, significantly, a black polyamide elasthane version called the “Naughty” that is designed as a bikini top.
Beyond a slight flattening of the apex of the “V” in Zimmermann’s garment and some slight differences in the width and positioning of the straps in the Instagram photo, below - the convertible La Fille d'O straps can be crossed at the back, or not, giving the appearance of a halter neck in this photo - the Zimmermann and La Fille d’O “Naughty” bikini tops are strikingly similar.
Is it just a wild coincidence? Stranger things have happened, of course.
Zimmermann flatly denied to Frockwriter that her garment was a copy and said she had never heard of La Fille d’O.
Zimmermann added that she has spent years developing her own “U” and “V” wires and provided two references of earlier Zimmermann garments that feature similar construction: a Resort 2014 style that is featured on Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on the current cover of Harper’s Bazaar Australia and a dress that Miley Cyrus wore “a few years ago”.
Unless there is another Zimmermann garment with an exposed underwire that was worn by Cyrus to a separate event, one assumes that the garment in question is this dress (below) worn to the Australians in Film Breakthrough Awards in Los Angeles in June 2012, so just over a year ago. Called the Flip Side Floating Wire Dress, it appears to come in two versions: the one worn by Cyrus and this version sold on Saks Fifth Avenue's website, with no exposed wire at the cleavage. The exposed wire version also comes in a bodysuit version.
In the absence of any further commentary from either Zimmermann or La Fille d'O, Frockwriter feels the need to make the following observations.
First up, this dispute could not have come at a better time for Scherre, who celebrates the 10th anniversary of her brand this year. Next month, she is reportedly planning to “take over” her home town of Ghent with various activations and festivities. She will, no doubt, be milking the story for all it's worth.
Secondly, if she feels she has a legitimate legal case here, that is going to cost money. Lawyers tend to be expensive and these days, they also like to be paid upfront. As we recall, back in 2010, when Danish shoe designer Camilla Skovgaard was incensed by what she felt was a series of blatant copies of several of her signature styles by Australian shoe chain Tony Bianco, she told this journalist she had been advised that getting a "potential" case off the ground could easily cost USD50,000-60,000 in legal fees. She did not pursue the matter.
There was no question that Skovgaard could have argued goodwill and "reputation" in the Australian market. At the time, there were Australian boutiques selling Skovgaard's shoes and, moreover, no shortage of media coverage of her original work. Due to the ludicrously convoluted copyright/design overlap provisions of Australia’s Copyright Act, however, it is our understanding that copyright still cannot be enforced in this market unless designs are registered – in Australia – prior to launch.
We also asked Scherre if perhaps she had thought to register any of her designs with the OHIM in neighbouring Brussels. That's the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market, aka the trademarks and designs branch of the European Union. That might have provided some additional protection, at least in the EU. But again, she has not responded to us and we are not mind-readers.
La Fille d’O remains something of a cult lingerie label with a niche audience. Back in 2011, British site Handbag.com referred to it as "The greatest lingerie brand you've never heard of".
Nicky Zimmermann could easily be excused for having missed Scherre's edgy campaign/lookbook images of non professional models shot by photographers such as Cameron Smith and, notably, the La Fille d'O products that star on various quivering derrieres and grappled cleavages in two hardly mainstream soft-core porn films that were directed by Scherre. A DVD of one of these films, 'J'Fais du porn et j'aime ça' is available for purchase on the La Fille d'O e-boutique.
The brand has garnered far more mainstream publicity, but to date most of it has been in Belgium, where the majority of Scherre's stockists are based.
International publicity includes the cover of Vogue Turkey earlier this year starring Lara Stone in a La Fille d’O bustier and various video clips and appearances by celebrities such as Lady Gaga, M.I.A, Juliette Lewis, Roisin Murphy and Jessie J. Jessie J wears La Fille d'O garments in two separate video clips: a bra in 'Who You Are' and a pair of spectacular, backless leggings in 'Nobody's Perfect'.
A little less under the radar, perhaps, is the profile the brand has enjoyed in Australia.
Megaera Whaite, the owner of Darlinghurst lingerie boutique babylikestopony, reports she has stocked La Fille d'O for two years now, that the One/Naughty style is the brand's best-seller and that she has loaned La Fille d'O samples out for Australian media shoots "20-30 times".
According to Whaite, the One/Naughty style has been featured at least three times in the Australian media this year alone: in January, on the Oracle Fox blog; in February, in Oyster; and in July, on Pages Digital.
La Fille d'O products have, says Whaite, also featured prominently in the front windows of her boutique on South Dowling Street, which is so close to Oxford Street, its front window is visible from the latter. On three separate occasions between December and February this year in fact.
"The 'Naughty' bikini top is their signature monowire style which they have been producing for years in various fabrics as both bra and bikini tops" Whaite told Frockwriter. "The fabric used in the 'Naughty' is a Lycra-based performance fabric which is designed to be breathable and flattering so it can be worn as both swimwear and underwear, although we predominantly sell it as swimwear. The style's a best-seller because it looks great and feels amazing on. We regularly have clients buy it in one fabric and then come back and purchase another two or more variations of it".
And look, while everyone might be super busy these days and completely oblivious to what small independent boutiques might be up to some 400 metres from one's own Glenmore Road, Paddington outlet, we do also feel the need to point out that La Fille d'O has been stocked exclusively in the UK at the London department store Selfridges since at least late 2011.
Selfridges also stocks Zimmermann swimwear in its swimwear department. Which department - and please correct us if we're wrong here - appears to be virtually co-located next to the lingerie section on the 3rd floor of Selfridges' flagship London store: