Should Karl Lagerfeld Be Sued Over These New Balance Look-Alikes?
Next time you lace up those New Balance sneakers you secretly think are unprepossessing but continue to wear anyway, consider this fact: Karl Lagerfeld's new shoe design looks exactly like them. New Balance is renowned for its comfortable, casual design and its nearly 110 years of cultural heritage, but the sneaker brand has remained more offbeat chic, while competitors from Nike to Converse have achieved mainstream popularity. However, new running shoe designs have the company poised to compete directly with other large brands, thanks to neon shades and a streamlined look. But it is New Balance's classic 574 which fans of the brand gravitate towards, and which Karl Lagerfeld has chosen to basically duplicate for his own line.
The New Balance 574 features design elements including a cushy white lightly platformed rubber outsole, white laces, and a distinctive fabric "N" on the side for New Balance…each of which Karl Lagerfeld has replicated for his own shoe design, only substituting a "K" for the "N". The design similarities have caused New Balance to file a lawsuit against Mr. Lagerfeld for plagiarizing their 574 sneakers, begging the question: Does Karl Lagerfeld really deserve to be sued over utilizing similar design elements?
The fashion industry has long since learned not to question Lagerfeld or his designs, so iconic are his contributions to Chanel and other labels where he has taken the helm. And indeed, fashion is derivative by its nature; many designers cite art, vintage clothing and fellow designers as inspiration for their collections. However, it appears that where Lagerfeld went wrong was in not crediting New Balance for the company's influence on his design. The odds of the notoriously prideful designer actually giving credit to a less eminent brand like New Balance are negligible, but Lagerfeld's sneakers are so incredibly similar to New Balance's that the casual observer might not even be able to tell the difference.
In addition, the fashion industry has a legendarily tough stance against fake designer goods, whether it be a duplicated Gucci pattern or a forgery Chanel 2.55 bag. Though the industry's position against forgeries has more to do with labor law violations than the actual legal infringement involved, duplicating designer wares drastically cuts into the revenue of said designer's wares. And for for those consumers who like New Balance's 574's but aren't loyal customers, an identical shoe designed by the man synonymous with haute couture may prove very tempting, and pull business away from New Balance. New Balance certainly isn't in the same league as eminent designers such as Louis Vuitton or Pucci, but their designs are still trademarked and worthy of protection against duplication. Whether or not New Balance will win the suit remains to be seen, but Lagerfeld is definitely pushing the boundary between inspiration and counterfeiting.
Images: New Balance 574 Sneakers, newbalance.com; Karl Lagerfeld Sneakers, net-a-porter.com