Fashion Week ended less than a week ago, but at least one spring collection is already sparking drama. Burberry’s Spring-Summer 2021 presentation was a forest fantasy, but designer Romeo Hunte delivered a reality check this week, accusing the luxury label—and by proxy, its creative director, Riccardo Tisci—of copying looks from Hunte’s Spring-Summer 2020 collection.
“To notice an established brand such as Burberry plagiarizing our ideas and showing them on their runway for profit is really disheartening,” Hunte said in a statement obtained by Page Six. “I’m very much worried about presenting those styles to the buyers at market and hav[ing] them say that we already bought those ideas already from Burberry.”
The specific designs in question are a series of mixed-media trench coats created as part of a collaboration between Hunte and Tommy Hilfiger, constructed from archival Hilfiger pieces.
“As an industry, we need to be extra cognizant about protecting and celebrating the work of aspiring designers, and create opportunities for recognition and access for the new voices that are paving the way for the industry’s future,” Hilfiger told Page Six.
As for the similarities between the designs, you can compare for yourself below. Both use elements of denim, wool and leather jackets as replacement panels and sleeves on the traditional trench coat—which has long been considered the hero piece of Burberry’s brand, and one it has reinvented several times over in it 164-year history. Perhaps that’s why Tisci and his crew may be grasping for new ideas, at this point—and while Hunte’s six-year-old label is a comparative upstart, the similarities in concept are cringingly unmistakable.
But is there such a thing as plagiarism in fashion? It’s been a long-contested issue, particularly amid the rise of fast fashion, which openly knocks off high-end designs, mass-producing them for a broader, less affluent consumer base (Zara and H&M, we’re looking at you). Burberry’s status in the luxury realm doesn’t preclude them from being guilty of the same behavior; in fact, they may feel entitled to it. But as far as legal implications, it’s a bit less clear-cut. In fact, the United States has notoriously lax restrictions on specific fashion designs as proprietary entities, as pointed out by the Njord law firm, located in the much stricter Estonia:
In the United States, fashion designs as such are not protected by copyrights, since clothes and accessories hold a useful and practical function in addition to having an aesthetic value, which in that country does not deserve an automatic protection by copyright. In the US, the prerequisite for fashion pieces having copyright protection is having the design registered by the author.
That involves proving your design is wholly unique, which is notoriously difficult and time-consuming to do within the already constrictive timeframe of season-to-season collections—which means Hunte may have little ammunition beyond making the issue, which he understandably considers “unacceptable,” public.
“As a Black designer…it is very challenging to express your point of view and be accepted for it,” he said in his statement, noting that the timing of this controversy is perhaps more of a slap in the face in a year in which racial justice is at the forefront of conversations around the world. “To see this being done now with what’s going on with the world…shows a lack of sensitivity, carelessness and inconsideration.”