ACID member Jessica Linklater is the founder and designer of the luxury travel brand Robe de Voyage. After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Designer and Director Jessica Linklater spent ten years working in Paris designing pret-a-porter. She recently had to go through a long battle with COS (owned by H & M) when she discovered cheap lookalikes being sold worldwide. After a long and debilitating fight, very much a David & Goliath battle, she accepted a settlement from COS, the terms and conditions of which were confidential. Here Jess talks to ACID giving us a glimpse into what has made this a “must have” item of clothing in any travel wardrobe.
In a few words, could you tell us a little about the history of Robe de Voyage and the driving force behind your success?
RdV was born out of going on a lot of works trips and getting bored of wearing heavy fluffy hotel dressing gowns. I saw a photo of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart one day looking effortlessly chic in lightweight robes eating breakfast in the jungle and it gave me the idea to design a modern travel robe. The driving force is being passionate about what I do and excited to see whether the acorn I planted will ever grow into a tree.
Why do you think Robe de Voyage has had the success it has in such a volatile and diverse market?
The “Scribble” prints are instantly recognisable, the robes are reasonably priced, and each piece is hand-woven, and hand printed at a time when sustainability and traceability is becoming more normal in fashion shopping. There are people out there in the world who do care about where their clothes come from and don’t want to waste money on mass produced, plagiarised style.
As a result of your investment in design, skill and craftsmanship and the people with whom you work you are a leader not a follower. You have seen so many lookalikes of your quite distinctive designs. Could you tell us a little about how you discover and deal with infringements?
I discover them usually through friends tipping me off, as I literally don’t have time to trawl Instagram or go shopping. I register my print designs, but it’s incredibly hard to fight off someone who’s copied you and selling it via the internet in another country, it’s always a David and Goliath situation. The only people who’ve really helped me to avoid wasting large sums of money on litigation is ACID. The trick is to keep moving forwards as a designer and not let the plagiarisers get you down.
Would you and others support an ACID campaign, “It’s not cute to copy?”/” It’s not neat to cheat!” or to join the Vogue US campaign with the strapline, “Fakes are Never in Fashion”.
Following the recent settlement by COS after the recent lookalike debacle, would you do things differently in terms of your IP protection?
There’s nothing you can do – these high street brands are ruthless and aren’t deterred by IP protection. You just have to hope that water finds a way and the truth comes out.
Do you think that IP ethics, compliance and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could the fashion sector achieve this?
Yes, it would be good if they paid designers for their ideas, rather than pinch them like a burglar. The high street fashion chains are the main problem, and what’s ironic is that they have the money to buy the ideas. I don’t know how it can be enforced, there is no such thing as fashion police.
You invest in your team by working with technicians in Paris and production is done in India) by helping them to develop skills and craftsmanship. How important do you think this is for the future of your organisation?
Vital, because I can’t produce my fabrics without them – and I adore India and my trips out there are all a part of RdV’s creative journey.
We now have an IP Act which will mean not only criminal provisions for intentional Registered design infringement but also for individual directors. Do you believe that if this is extended to unregistered designs infringement, it will become more of a deterrent?
I think if a big name global retailer was pulled up on a charge like that and made an example of it would scare/deter the high street design teams from being quite so obvious about their copying.
Can you give us a steer on what you feel ACID’s achievements have been and what we could do in the future to raise further awareness about IP theft?
ACID really help individual designers like me, with no employees or financial backing, to have a voice and stand up to these people through mediation rather than litigation. Word of mouth raises awareness and getting heavyweights in the press like Vogue on board to try and help protect the individual creative designer.
As you know ACID is the main Policy and Government campaigning body for Design & IP reform. What are your 3 recommendations to Government to stem the tide of blatant design theft to support the fashion sector and broader design sector?
Provide a free letter from a barrister and a free court trial if the designer is an individual designer with a case and no money – and then a no win no fee system to find a lawyer to represent, and ideally a time limit set to 3 months to settle so that, that individual designer doesn’t waste the year trying fight for their designs.
Robe de Voyage