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We've come long way from the days of wigs and robes; and to prove it, Fordham University is celebrating the opening of its Fashion Law Institute, just in time for New York Fashion Week. "As someone who has been around this business a long time, I can tell you that a lawyer who understands fashion is a very important thing," designer Diane Von Furstenberg told those assembled to celebrate the Institute's inauguration. Von Furstenberg, also head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, personally donated $50,000 to help fund the new program.
The Fordham Universtiy Fashion Law Institute will be headed up by Professor Susan Scafidi, who is credited with creating the first course in fashion law, according to the report by the Los Angeles Times. (Sidebar: Scafidi was wearing one of the famed Von Furstenberg wrap dresses, but had changed up the buttons, much to the designer's delight.) Under Scafidi's direction, the Institute will focus on the five most important aspects of the law as they apply to fashion designers: "intellectual property, business and finance, international trade and government regulation," according to Fordham Law Dean, Michael Martin.
When one thinks of the legal questions confronting designers and the fashion industry as a whole, intellectual property issues are the ones that come first to mind. Endless cases over trademark, trade dress, copyright and counterfeiting have been fought in the courts in recent years. However, says Von Furstenberg, contract negotiations may be even more important to a young designer looking for financial backing.
The Times reports that Doug Hand, a lawyer who has worked with the Rag & Bone label and the CFDA, also identified a particular intersection of IP and finance as important to the fashion industry. "Other industries have two major ways of funding -- competitive finance [a stock initial public offering, for example] or mergers and acquisitions. With fashion there's a third: a licensing transaction." Hand said that properly understanding a designer's or brand's rights and responsibilities in a licensing agreement is crucial.
The Institute will offer course work in Fashion Law & Finance, Fashion Ethics, Fashion Retail Law, and a class in sustainability and development. The program hopes to grow to include legal seminars and enable students get real-world experience by working with the CFDA and New York's fashion community.
At Fordham, it is going to be Fashion Week all year 'round.