When Cultural Inspiration Crosses The Line

By Nicole Rowlands

In late October, the Fashion Institute at Fordham Law School sponsored an event that addressed the issue of cultural appropriation (or rather, misappropriation) in the fashion industry. More specifically, the event advertisement asked the following: “When it comes to culture, the world’s closets are filled with borrowed and reimagined finery – but when does inspiration shade into cultural appropriation?  And at what point should counsel comment?” The discussion was held at the De Buck Gallery in Chelsea, which showcased exhibitions of Zevs, a popular street artist similar to the infamous Banksy.

The gallery was cozy, so capacity was limited. Only New York’s best dressed “fashion attorneys” and a few lucky law students attended. The reception welcomed the small crowd with an assortment of sweets and a spot of bubbly champagne.

After some chit-chat and a drink (or two), everyone sat down to listen to the speakers – Professor Susan Scafidi, Academic Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham; Katrin Zimmermann, designer of Ex Ovo jewelry; and Katherine E. Lewis, Attorney Advisor for the Smithsonian Institute.

First to speak was Ms. Zimmermann who described her jewelry line as, “modern high-end ‘bridge’ jewelry sold in museums of modern art in the U.S. and worldwide.”  Ms. Zimmermann discussed the cultural inspiration she uses in her jewelry making. Perhaps most enticing was Ms. Zimmermann’s answer to the question, “When searching the world for inspiration, where do you draw the line?” She responded, “There shouldn’t be a line,” and clarified that there was a stark difference between “inspiration and misappropriation.”

Next up was Professor Scafidi, who examined the controversy surrounding cultural inspiration and the fashion industry, and offered examples of the extreme cultural misappropriation that we often see on runways and product lines. For instance, Matthew Williamson’s Summer 2008 Collection included two Ethiopian dresses that were so similar to Ethiopia’s traditional national dress that the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs took to investigating the matter.  But nothing came of the case after Mr. Williamson issued a formal apology and an explanation that the appropriation came from a deep “admiration… for the traditional dress of the Ethiopian people.”

In November 2012, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show featured one of its models in a Native American-style headdress, leopard print underwear, and high heels. After the outfit was condemned by many as a display of ignorance toward tribal culture and history, Victoria’s Secret publicly apologized and assured the public that it would not include the outfit in the show’s television broadcast or in any marketing materials.

It wasn’t even a year earlier that Urban Outfitters was in the soup over the same kind of transgression. But that time, a public apology was not enough to save the company from harsh criticism — and even a lawsuit.

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Baby Steps

By Halina Schiffman-Shilo

As LASIS has previously reported, former Texas prosecutor and judge, Ken Anderson, was found guilty of prosecutorial misconduct in a murder case that put an innocent man behind bars for almost 25 years. Just this month, in a special court of inquiry, Mr. Anderson was sentenced to ten days in prison on charges of criminal contempt for lying about exculpatory evidence. As the New York Times points out, ten days in jail for taking away 25 years of one man’s life is a mere pittance. But in the world of prosecutorial misconduct, jail time for a deviant prosecutor is unprecedented.

And then there’s the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, which has figured large in our discussion of guilty prosecutors. The New York Times recently reported that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, which, as we’ve previously discussed, was sued by Jabbar Collins for wrongfully convicting him of murder, is being investigated by federal authorities for forcing a newbie assistant district attorney to lie about the Jabbar Collins investigation while under oath.

If these accusations are true, not only did the new assistant district attorney commit perjury, which is a federal offense, but the senior attorneys who convinced the young lawyer to commit perjury  engaged in ethical misconduct as well, and can be disciplined by the New York State Bar. We expect they will be.

Mere baby steps on the road to change, perhaps, but we have reason to be cheered by seeing prosecutors being held to account.   That’s some good news on a very grim subject, just in time for the holidays.


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Taylor Swift’s “Next of Kin” Doesn’t Fly

By Asher Hawkins 

A small plane piloted by a Canadian amateur aviator crashed at a Nashville airport in late October. That, in itself, was not national news.  But when word spread that Michael Callan, the 45 year old pilot, had listed songstress Taylor Swift as his “next of kin” in documents on file with his flying club, media across the globe became interested, fast.

According to The Tennessean, which has spearheaded media coverage of the story, Ms. Swift has denied even a passing acquaintance with Mr. Callan. The fatal crash made for great press fodder due to unanswered questions surrounding the pilot’s possible criminal record, and his unusual flight path across half of middle-America. Unwittingly, journalists covering the story also touched on another mystery: the precise meaning of the phrase “next of kin.”

As LASIS will explain, the phrase “next of kin” is a whole lot more than just the title of Patrick Swayze’s most underrated action film—it’s also an important term of art in trusts and estates law, with complex connotations regarding how a person’s assets are divvied up upon his death, and how much red tape is in store for those who stand to receive a portion of those assets.

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By LASIS Staff

For the third year in a row, LASIS has been nominated as a Top 100 Blawg by the ABA Journal.

We’re thrilled to be recognized again in the News/Analysis category, and would appreciate, dear Readers, if you would vote for us here.


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Cheating Website Double Crosses Customers

By Andrew Beauclerc

There are dating sites for Jews, Christians, vegetarians, and recently, even married folks. That’s right, AshleyMadison.com is an online “dating” service for married folk looking to have an affair.

And Doriana Silva is suing Ashley Madison, claiming she suffered a wrist injury while working for the website. Ms. Silva didn’t injure her wrist satisfying customers; it was all the typing she did when creating hundreds of fake profiles of sexy women. She asserts that she was paid $34,000 to create these bogus profiles to lure men to the Ashley Madison site in Brazil, and is seeking $20 million in damages. Luckily for Ms. Silva, it doesn’t appear that her wrist has stopped her from enjoying life or riding a jet ski, at least, not according to her Facebook pictures.

LASIS wondered whether Ms. Silva’s claims opened the door for further lawsuits against the website. Could a married man who paid membership fees sue over these fake profiles?

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