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Is Cacique Lingerie Copying Marlies Dekkers' Strappy Bras?

I was flipping through the latest issue of Essence Magazine this morning when I ran across this shocking ad:

via: The Lingerie Addict instagram

My first thought was "Wow! Marlies Dekkers is advertising in Essence. That's new." Then I looked at the opposite page and saw the following text "Cacique: Exclusively at Lane Bryant."

Whoa. Wait. Seriously?

Now I'm not naive. I know copying happens all the time in the fashion industry. In fact, it's how the larger (and, often less creative brands) come up with their "new" collections each season, but this was appalling... not only because it's so blatant (those chest straps are a Marlies Dekkers' signature), but because the company behind Cacique, Lane Bryant, had the chutzpah to use such a well-known design in a national ad campaign. This isn't "inspired by." It's a near 100% facsimile.

Cacique is on the left. Marlies Dekkers (via Bare Necessities) is on the right. Would you have thought they were both Marlies Dekkers too?

Like I said, I know how rampant copying is in the fashion industry. And, though it's not the most popular position within the industry, I actually don't believe in copyright protection for fashion designers... mostly because there's no way I can see my favorite independent designers (all of whom are younger and have fewer resources than the big brands) staying in business if that kind of legislation were enacted. It'd just be too expensive (and risky!) for anyone to start a fashion line anymore.

But that said, it really gets my goat when a large corporation, with so many resources at their disposal, deliberately undercuts an independent brand. And it shows just how empowered these larger brands feel when they can not only steal someone's trademark idea but also advertise with it, and know nothing's going to happen because of it.

Now, I don't want to sound like a hypocrite. This is not a position I've had the entire time I've written this blog. And if you've been reading me for awhile, you know that I used to do fairly frequent Look for Less features, which were in many cases (I'm sad to say) outright knock-off promotions.

But one of the things I've started doing in the last year, inspired by designers like Piper Ewan and Between the Sheets and Hopeless Lingerie, is take a closer look at where my undergarments are coming from. And, please don't take this like I'm guilt-tripping anyone (because I hate it when people do that to me), but rip-off companies like Cacique harm the entire lingerie industry.

I want to talk about all this in a more detailed blog post later on, but the gist of it is independent brands already start really far behind these big companies. We already know they don't have the investment capital and the corporate infrastrucure and the PR team and the advertising dollars, and all that.

But, behind the scenes, many independent designers (because they work with much smaller volumes than a large national chain) also don't have the negotiating power a big brand does. And going even further, many indie brands want to manufacture and produce ethically, so that very often means not going with the cheapest factory. And, of course, since these brands can't sell their products at a loss, some of those costs are passed along in the price tag to us, the consumers.

But if a big brand is not only able to avoid the actual work of doing a unique design but also able to get a much lower price to manufacture, well, that makes it hard for independents to stay in business. Because the playing field just isn't fair. And goodness knows, I don't want to live in a world of plain and boring t-shirt bras which is all many of the big brands seem able to come up with on their own (look for the full details of that in my Lingerie Market Report later on this week).

Anyway, I just wanted to put this out here. I see this as the beginning of an on-going and hopefully long-term conversation on the blog that explores the less sexy (but still important) side of the lingerie industry. I really see TLA as being about empowering customers to make the right decisions for themselves (because knowledge is power), and I think exploring where our lingerie comes from, who makes it, and if it's being made in a way that resonates with your own personal ethics is a valuable discussion to have.

What do you think of Cacique's knock-off? How do you feel about lingerie knock-offs in general? I'd love to get your thoughts in the comments.

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Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

26 Comments on this post

  1. Katie Belle says:

    All fashion is copied from something. Nothing is original since chanel suits or grecian dresses. Let the people who are heavier have access to something beautiful that might not come in their size. Im all for originality but everything has already been done before.

  2. Hnnnh says:

    Enough said;
    The lingerie brand Sapph has already been smacked in the face for copying Marlies Dekkers. Thank you Karolina. Marlies herself is a smart lady; and seeing as the Dame de Paris has been added to the permanent Undressed line, this won’t go unnoticed.

    While I agree with the earlier conversation regarding other aspects that make a brand; to those that are buying a bra purely on visual aesthetic, they are likely doing so with a price tag in mind when confronted with two options. Market and reach is a key in this case however.

    Cacique may reach a larger base (I’m not so sure), but they’ve marketed this as a more luxury product (for Cacique). When most buy their products, it is not for luxury. The majority of Cacique’s base may not be interested. Those that are aware of such a style already are ‘luxury’ or independent lingerie consumers. They may have received a newsletter from Marlies Dekkers 12 hours ago.

    In a day and age where being ‘merely curious’ rather than ‘aware’ is rare with the wealth of the internet at our hands, smaller designers are more powerful than they realise. And in too many cases, they never do realise.

  3. Amaryllis says:

    I have a very definate stand point on ethical shopping, because I think voting with your purse is the only real way of making changes to the world… that, and making sure that you inform people why you aren’t shopping with them any more, and suggesting what they could do in order to regain your custom. Maybe, when you find a very obvious knock off, it would be worth posting the contact details for the pr department so that those who feel so inclined can politely comment on their opinion of rip offs?

    Because, from a big brand perspective, they will continue to do this when there is no come back. And, unless an independent designer is already on your radar, you’re not going to know that an item is a knock off, there are so many awesome signature products out there, often from small companies that wouldn’t cater to your price point or size.

    The ideal solution, as far as I can see, would be for consumer opinion to be vocal enough for large companies to realise that this will cost them.

    I am sure that some designers don’t want their work copied at all, but there must be some who would be happy to do a collaboration with a larger company. An “Inspired by…” range, giving credit to the original idea/designer and a design copy fee, would be ideal. It would raise the profile of the independent brand, and cater to a market that they in all probability can’t reach.

    It’s not always the case that the workmanship on knock offs is shoddy. There is also the issue of what you want – for a lot of mid and low price range customers, replacing the silk with a cheaper fabric, making small adjustments to the design to make mass production cheaper, and of course the power of bulk buying, are all good things. It doesn’t make it a bad bra, just not as exquisite as the original – which some people were never going to buy. Different consumers have different criteria, and I really don’t think that those who won’t spend above £20 on a bra are wrong, or that they get a worse fitting bra than I do. The difference between the £15 bra and the £50 bra are usually small details. Both can be well made.

  4. Annmaie says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have much to add to this truly fascinating discussion, but would still like to point out that stealing ideas/designs is all over the place in any industry you may think off. Be it cameras, food trends, car designs, even sports, it all over the place.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the independent designer who can come up with her (or his) unique design and create a new trend, but we have to acknowledge that the big sharks are swimming all over and their eyes are carefully watching what we all sell and buy.

    For good and bad, this is one aspect of the new “flat world” we are now part of.

  5. Kitty Plum says:

    I am a big fan of Marlies Dekkers, she promotes a strong feminine image and is one of the few niche designers to go up to larger cup sizes. she has also started to introduce bras of a lower price point. The Marlies Dekkers brand is well known in northern Europe and her innovative designs have influenced many of the more traditional brands. I think the key word is influence, more focus on straps and how they can be used to enhance the design rather than just be purely functional. The Cacique version is far more than just influenced. One of the reasons these large companies can keep costs down because they don’t invest in design and development. Not only does this damage designers but also the independent lingerie boutiques that stock them. If this continues then there will be fewer boutiques who can champion high quality niche designers. Unlike like large stores that can get discounts, money to offset sale prices from big lingerie brands we have to take a chance and if we don’t sell pieces then it impacts what we can buy in future.

    I anticipate there will be legal action for this but I know the laws are different USA than Europe so will be interesting to see what happens.

  6. Mya says:

    That’s so disappointing!

    I remember the first (and so far only) time I realized a bra I had just bought was a rip-off of an independent designer’s piece. I wept, and wept, and wept. I was so sad that I had supported a company that didn’t value ingenuity, and that valued profit over the respect of another’s work.

  7. Krissy says:

    Treacle. Regards to the Mary Deckers rip off. So obvious, although there are only so many ways to add straps to a bra. Clear case for an attorney. I hope she does it and wins big! Outrageous !!!

  8. Catherine says:

    I am guessing that either it will end up in court or Cacique will mysteriously never do anything like this again!

  9. Bea says:

    I would be more than happy to stop shopping at Cacique. I love to support independent designers, and am not a fan of the brand in general. As a larger woman, the only other place I know of to buy plus sized lingerie in person is “The Avenue.” Their clothes, especially panties, are of terrible quality and fall apart within a few washes. If I want something prettier than Froot of the Loom or Hanes, I’m stuck with Cacique. Yes, I am aware that the Internet solves this issue on some levels, but sometimes you just want to see things in person. So what should I do? What are the alternatives?

    It’s easy to criticize Cacique for copying this design, as well as many other things, but the truth is, they fill a void that few designers are even willing to consider, and until there’s a Marlies Dekkers Plus size store in Seattle, I’ll have to stick to being grateful for the Cacique copy.

  10. kirsten says:

    Thank you for thinking of me!

    I have spent a great deal of time trying to explain to people that they should know where the things they purchase come from. Not just lingerie, but food, furniture, clothing, everyday objects. Everything. I realise this is a very tall order. I realise that no one can be perfect, nor that most people can afford the cash or the brain capacity to be ethical in every step we take; we do have to live. That said, we tend towards an all or nothing attitude when it comes to our causes; most decisions are emotional. It is much easier to decide that it is too expensive to afford to buy our clothing from sustainable and/or ethical sources. And once that decision is made, it is easy to just ignore it completely. We vote with our dollars. We allow things to go on by not paying enough attention.

    I have mixed feelings about the subject, since I make my living hand designing and making things to sell, and being that I design and hand make things, I generally couldn’t afford most of what I am making. So I get it. I have a few pieces in my closet from big box stores alongside my own handmade treasures that I saved up for or traded work for too. I know how much it sucks to have your designs stolen. In the land of fashion there is no copyright of designs. I wouldn’t change that, because who wants to have to worry that they will get sued for making a skirt? However, there should be less acceptance of outright copying. True, no work comes out of a vacuum. There are so many ways people justify what is outright copying and stealing of designs without even bothering to try to make it your own. I am not sure what the answer is as far as response goes. A true artist’s work will evolve over time, whereas a person who copies will not. Hopefully your audience will know the difference. There will always be people who can’t tell the difference, nor will they place any value on the original.

    It is easy to become outraged. But what action will this lead to? What constructive action can be taken that doesn’t lead us down the road of encouraging a space with more litigation? I think that a little education helps here. Not in a mass shaming of the copycat, but to the consumer, so that they might be able to make an informed choice about what they are supporting with their money. And to pave the way for more innovation in design not less. It is discouraging to see things like this happen, but it is part of the creative community. I wish it would stop, but I am realistic about it. An open dialog helps. I have seen it happen. So many people have no idea about the way the industry works, how things are conceived, made and brought to market. People are actually interested in learning about it. We all want to do the right thing. Fortunately that doesn’t necessarily mean costing fortunes or making huge sacrifices. We are lucky to have so many easy ways to find out about just about anything we decide to buy right at our fingertips. We have the ability to choose who we support or not.

  11. Karolina says:

    It’s not a pleasant issue, but the argument that I hear time and time again is that it doesn’t actually hurt the original designer as much as you’d think: the people that buy the knock-off would never have bought the original product in the first place. It’s different when the copying occurs at similar price points though. Some more food for thought is that Marlies Dekkers rarely allows copies to get away with it and tends to pursue legal action:

  12. Elegy says:

    I enjoy knock offs, I’ve talked about it before. Where I don’t buy or enjoy them is when it’s the corporations stealing from independents (which I support!)- when it’s bigger fish devouring each other, sure. When it’s big fish going after smaller fish because, as you said: “larger brands feel… they can not only steal someone’s trademark idea but also advertise with it, and know that nothing’s going to happen because of it.” That’s just being an uncreative bully. Ehn.

    Some fashion lines find their solution is to just keep churning out more pieces, new ideas, all the time (here’s to you, Black Milk Clothing- love ya!)- but when it comes to bras I hardly find that feasible, financially and to craft.

    I’m looking forward to your in-depth blogs.

  13. I hate it when big brands just show off how powerful they are by taking the work of others and pass it off as their own. Innovation and riffing off other’s works is all about what art is about– taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own invention is not. And when you’re so big, who is there to stand up for you?

    This season, Agent Provocateur has been doing the exact same thing. I just wrote a blog post showing several of their designs for AW12 side by side with other designers– you may notice some surprising similarities!:

    • Treacle says:

      Holy wow. I had not seen that. Great post.

      Way back, I commented about how Victoria’s Secret and Agent Provocateur seemed to be using the same designers (or, perhaps, the same factories) to make their lines. That’s less of an issue now because Victoria’s Secret has moved all the way over to SEXY, but it’s interesting how the bigwigs at AP are piggybacking on indie designers.

      As far as the first part of your comment…for big brands, it’s not art. It’s just business. To them, they get to take an established idea they know sells well (like chest straps – I have no idea what Marlies Dekkers actually calls them), slap them onto a less expensive bra, add on the Cacique label, and profit, profit, profit. There’s no risk and all reward for them.

    • I meant, “when they’re so big” not “when you’re so big”

      And god forbid a world only filled with t-shirt bras!

  14. TurboKitteh says:

    I can easily argue both sides. I’ve worked in the fashion business and it irks me as well when I see such obvious knock-offs of designs. BUT my best friend is plus sized (she wears a 24/26, occasionally a 28 @ LB) who loves the uniqueness of a lot of the same things I love to wear, however those things are rarely ever in her size or much less within her comfortable spending range. That said, I’d never get her to spend $99+ on a single piece of lingerie. I can even bet cash she has no idea who Marlies Dekkers is, although admittedly lingerie designers aren’t exactly on her radar. I believe I would be OK with her buying the Cacique bra. Mostly because she’d be vamping it up for once. But also because if it makes her feel beautiful and good about herself, something she continually struggles with, I’m all for it.

    • Treacle says:

      I hear you when you say you can see both sides. I’m not a wealthy person (and was even less so when I started blogging) so the entire reason I began putting together “Look for Less” features was because I wanted designer looks, but I didn’t have a designer budget (I bought my bras from Target and on 70% off clearance at Macy’s). And, much like your friend, I didn’t even know enough about lingerie design to always recognize when someone was getting ripped off.

      So I guess the next question is, “When is buying a knockoff okay?” Is it okay when you’re outside the size range offered? Is it okay when you’re outside the price point offered? Is it okay because you trust the name Cacique/Lane Bryant more than you trust the name Marlies Dekkers? Is it okay because Marlies Dekkers isn’t a super small brand and they’ll probably survive? Is it okay because you deserve a special treat but don’t have enough money for the real thing?

      I guess I’m just asking where are the boundaries…if there are any at all? What do you think?

      (P.S. I hope this doesn’t come across as argumentative. I’m not always sure of how my tone transfers online, but I’m really interested in your reply.)

      • TurboKitteh says:

        Your tone is fine, don’t worry about that :) I see where you’re coming from.

        Wow this is SUCH a tender topic. But I’m going to do my best and take a strictly objective point of view here. I will use Marlies Dekkers as the example here as that’s the subject at point. Unless there is an actual Design Patent, meaning the design must be ornamental or aesthetic; it can’t be functional (ie: a logo, a Louboutin shoe, an Ikea table, etc) being infringed upon then legally there are no boundaries. Though I suppose Dekkers could argue Intellectual Property if it came down to it? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. Is it morally wrong?? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer as it’s such a subjective thing.
        This makes me think of what Miranda Priestly’s character says to Andy in The Devil Wears Prada talking about the trickle-down of ideas (though she’s only talking about color):
        ‘You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.
        But I agree with you, in the end it’s definitely about the profit to be had. Reaching “the masses” is a bit of a side note in the end.

  15. Darlene says:

    As I understand it, Cacique is one of the few plus-size lingerie makers out there creatng fun and pretty bras for its market. A plus-size friend raved about Cacique to me recently, and I thought, “Please. She must not have heard of Elomi or Elila or Curvy Kate.” I got online to send her links and realized that Elomi and Elila just don’t have as exciting of designs as Cacique, and Curvy Kate isn’t a plus-size brand.

    If Marlies Dekkers makes bras for the plus-size market, then I share your indignation. But if not, then I tend to applaud Cacique for recognizing what its customers want and delivering it to them.

    • Treacle says:

      I suppose it depends on if you think copying the signature design of an independent brand is an issue. Period.

      Or if you think copying the signature design of an independent brand is only an issue when you don’t like what the brand is doing…which may be happening for reasons outside of their control, like the ones I described above.

      I don’t think the issue is necessarily a black and white one (I’m still working through my thoughts on it), but do think it’s more nuanced than “Design theft is okay when it’s convenient for me.” Because if the latter is the case, then every independent brand (even the ones you like) is vulnerable – and rightly so – because every brand can’t appeal to every person on every axis.

      To use your example, if Marlies Dekkers was making plus sized bras, but at their usual $99 price point, would Cacique’s less-expensive copy be justified since the company would still be “recognizing what its customers want and delivering it to them?”

      Also, just to clarify, I don’t think this copyright conversation applies to every single lingerie brand. Designing something doesn’t automatically make it a signature design. But I think it’s fair to say those chest straps are a Marlies Dekkers trademark and, at least in my case, they temporarily caused some brand confusion. Which is exactly what motivated me to write this post.

      • Thursday says:

        As someone who wears an uncommon bra size that Cacique DO actually make, I am ambivalent about this piece. I have lusted over the Marlies Dekkers design for some time now, but have always known it not to be available in my size. Had it been, it’s very possible I would have purchased it. Now that Cacique have the same style, very possibly in my size, I can say I will consider purchasing it. But in this case, it certainly is not competing with MD, because I could not purchase what I needed from them. Do I think that Cacique are right in using the design? Well, on one hand, I had seen this kind of styling before MD did it, not in this exact form, but very similar. So I don’t feel that Cacique have necessarily just made a copy, but some might assume a certain amount of coat-tail riding. Unfortunately, I think fashion at all levels constantly begs, borrows and steals so it doesn’t pay to be too precious. Everything comes from somewhere else – and a brand has to differentiate itself somehow, whether that’s by their size range, quality or brand image.

  16. linda voytovech says:

    Usually knock offs may have the look. The quality and fit never measure up to the original.

    • Treacle says:

      I get what you’re saying, but everyone has different standards for quality and fit. I know a lot of brands people rave about when it comes to fit and quality that I don’t have much use for because I just don’t think they measure up.

      That’s part why I’m not discussing fit and quality for these two bras. Not only have I not tried either of them, but it seems like a ancillary issue to the primary one, which is a larger company piggybacking on the iconic design of a smaller one.

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