For its Autumn/Winter 2009/10 collection the late designer Alexander McQueen sent out on his runway a long dress with prints of red, black and white banded California Mountain Kingsnakes. The same snakes came back a few years later into fashion becoming, from 2014 on, a firm presence in County of Milan's collections.
Since Alessandro Michele arrived at Gucci, the California Mountain Kingsnake has become a recurring motif: patches showing a coiling red (or green), white and black snake have indeed been applied to a wide range of men and womens wear designs (and to some interior design pieces as well) - from dresses and jackets to intarsia jumpers and leather bags and shoes.
Quite often the snake motif was accompanied by a floral embroidery or by other decorative motifs and has therefore turned into a bit of a logo.
As we all know, millions of fake goods are produced every day in China, and a quick search on AliExpress featuring the word "snake" will reveal there are several sellers offering a patch shaped like a snake matched with a flower patch.
Prices vary, but the choice is wide, from the iconic red or green banded snake as seen in Gucci's Pre-Fall 2016 collection to the green viper from the Resort 2016 collection, accompanied by patches with a misspelled version of Gucci's slogan for the S/S 17 collection: rather than "L'aveugle pour amour" (blind for love), the AliExpress sellers have gone for "Par amour l'aveugle".
Now, this looks like an interesting new frontier of the fake: rather than going through the bother of reproducing an entire bag or garment, the manufacturers have indeed opted to go for just a fraction of a designer piece.
But could this be an infringement of copyright when in this case they are just copying a fraction of a design (that may in turn actually be borrowed from an antique book about snakes or animals?)?
Well, the snake has actually turned into a registered trademark a few months ago: Gucci was clever enough to file to register two different snake logos as trademarks in the U.S. between July and August. One shows a snake with stripes (no colour combination was indicated) and another a striped snake with a striped background.
The company actually also registered other symbols, including a bee and a tiger head. All these elements aren't used only on garments and accessories, but in Gucci apps/mobile games as well.
Yet, who knows, manufacturers of illegal copies of the snake symbols that also inspired the track "Gucci Snakes", released in September by American rapper Tyga featuring American rapper Desiigner, may be able to claim they got their inspiration somewhere else, such as Irving Penn's photograph illustrating an article about the Cleopatra-inspired look published on Vogue in 1990.
Anyway, the most interesting aspect in this case is the fact that this may represent a new frontier in infringing copyrights since, rather than reproducing an entire bag or jacket, manufacturers have taken to copying a logo that can be appliqued onto any design.
Mary Katrantzou's lifted entire artworks by Professor Kitaoka in a recent collection (as you may remember we were the first to report about it) and that case may be closing in an amicable way with Kitaoka allowing retrospective approval to the designer to use the images (in return for an undisclosed sum of money).
But it looks like illegal manufacturers have become more clever than real fashion designers when it comes to copying ideas, since they have started considering the possibility of copying them partially (in this case via temporary patches...) and not entirely, after all, they seem to be telling us, these symbols may last for a few years only, so who knows if it is genuinely worth investing in them.