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Did ASOS Steal From Hopeless Lingerie?: Talking Copyright and Lingerie Design

asos hopeless lingerie copy

If you follow fashion news, you may have caught a recent story where Hopeless Lingerie accused ASOS of design theft. According to Hopeless, ASOS copied two of their designs, the Darla Knickers and Rosemary Bralette.

In a previous post on the modern day reappearance of vintage lingerie trends, I shared how Hopeless' Darla Knickers reminded me of similar cutaway burlesque styles from the 1950s. Yet this entire fashion copyright discussion, especially as it pertains to lingerie, makes me think of how muddy and muddled the design world can be, and how so many contemporary trends have their origins in garments from the past.

kestos bra 1930s hopeless bralette

Left: Kestos Bralette, 1930s. Right: Hopeless Bralette, Today.

Before I move on, though, I want to be clear that this article isn't an exposé answering the question of whether or not ASOS copied Hopeless. The most recent update on the issue seems to be that ASOS removed the offending bra set, which some bystanders see as an admission of guilt. However, from a liability and PR perspective, that's likely just standard practice until they investigate Hopeless' accusations further and arrive at a permanent solution.

Considering the recent spate of larger brands copying smaller ones, I'm very interested in ASOS' reply to these accusations, and how the relatively public nature of this case may affect their product range moving forward - if it does at all.

Instead, I'd like to discuss some of the related topics this media conversation around Hopeless and ASOS has me thinking of. Namely, how much of a change to a design qualifies as an original design?

When a design is vintage-inspired (or appears to be vintage-inspired), is it reasonable for one brand to accuse another of copying? Finally, when a design trend is having a moment (such as the return of the Kestos bra), who gets credit for bringing that look back or owning it? Also, did you know the inventor of the Kestos Bra was Rosalind Klin? I never knew her name before today.

kestos 1930s bralette hopeless lingerie

Left: Kestos Bralette, 1930s, Right: Hopeless Bralette, 2012, via Lingerie Briefs

Obviously, I believe designers should be vocal advocates regarding their work, and I'm glad the Hopeless story is receiving so much press. The conversation around who make your clothes and where trends come from is one we have to have. There's so much opaqueness in the fashion industry; speaking up about topics like this is the only way that murkiness gets resolved.

I became even more interested in talking about the original design vs. historical inspiration issue when Gabrielle Adamidis, the designer behind Hopeless Lingerie, tweeted at me to reveal that some of her seemingly vintage-inspired designs, such as the bralette above, were actually arrived at independently with no reference or input from previous bra shapes in her design process.

I'm grateful to Ms. Adamidis for sharing insight into how she designs, and also fascinated by the revelation that she created these pieces within a sartorial vacuum. As you likely know, vintage inspiration is common in lingerie. Most of what we see today has its origins in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, even if the fabrics and materials have been updated with modern blends and technology.

But in a way this makes the fashion design conversation even more complex. If one designer independently arrives at a look that's strongly reminiscent of another designer, has copyright infringement occurred? Related to this is the question of how much change constitutes "enough" change. Is it enough to choose another fabric? A different color? The number of straps or the shape of a pendant? What is the magic distance between an outright knock-off and an "inspired-by "design?

Left: 1950s girdle, Right: Secrets in Lace girdle.

Left: 1950s girdle, Right: Secrets in Lace girdle.

In practice, most of the conversations around copyright infringement seem to come down to "you just know." Vintage-styled brands, such as Secrets in Lace, What Katie Did and Kiss Me Deadly, make no secret of where their design inspiration comes from. Yet when the conversation shifts to modern-day lingerie, it's much harder to get a clear answer on what a significant change looks like.

How similar two brands appear to each and whether a piece is validated as an original design also depends heavily upon who's doing the looking. If someone isn't familiar with the brands available or with the history of lingerie, they may attribute a trend or style to a designer who wasn't first simply because they're more acquainted with that name.  In my own day-to-day running of this site, I've run across countless new designers who genuinely believe they've invented a certain bra shape or knickers pattern, only to later learn it's been in existence for decades.

As a very brief aside, this is also why I believe fashion copyright would be terrible for indies. There are few things in lingerie that were not done first, in some iteration, by an older, more established company. While there are certainly downsides to an absence of fashion copyright, it also means indie designers can start their brands without first hiring a team of intellectual property attorneys and fashion researchers.

Left: Early 20th Century Fan Laced Girdle, Right: Kiss Me Deadly Fan Laced Girdle

Left: Early 20th century girdle, Right: Kiss Me Deadly girdle

Once again, all I have is questions. Legally speaking, the truth is Hopeless Lingerie likely doesn't have a case. Even countries that extend copyright protection to fashion designers are reluctant to do so for garments that first appeared in a previous century. And while I can't make any specific remarks on where ASOS may have found inspiration for their bra set (apart from commenting that yes, I do agree it looks very similar to a flagship Hopeless design), it's also true there are a number of trend forecasting companies with very lucrative corporate contracts whose only job is to source what's new and next for large brands like ASOS.

I don't know what the solution is for incidents like this. In an ideal world, companies would hire designers for private label or collaborate with them on exclusive collections, but fast fashion cycles (and profit margins) actively discourage that kind of cooperation when it comes to smaller brands. I don't believe fashion copyright is the answer, for reasons mentioned above, so perhaps the only alternative is to name and shame. The good news is that at least more people know about Hopeless Lingerie now and where to find them. The bad news is this may be little consolation when its your designs being stolen.

What are your thoughts on the Hopeless Lingerie/ASOS story? And what do you think the remedy is - if there is one at all - to larger brands copying smaller ones?

















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.

12 Comments on this post

  1. In the fashion school I discovered the trends agencies and the whole world about the research to finish a collection and how to do fashion forecasting, based on the zeitgeist.

    The designers often seek inspiration in past garments and the fashion trends(and actually its an amen everyone does, bondage lingerie?, chemise undergarments? Customizing lingerie? All of them with a reference before being a garment)

    How can i improve my design ideas without searching information about the trends and the history of lingerie? Besides the “style” of the designer.

    Knowing that we have thousands style lines to cut, patternmaking, draping, embellishments, etc. And that we often use the best fit pattern to make garments.

    And like infra-apparel book says: one generation’s lingerie may become the next generation visible clothing.

  2. Samantha says:

    I was on a wholesale website and came across a bodysuit l knew was an imediate knockoff of a Hopeless bodysuit. They even used one of their photos to show off the design they copied! Lots of Chinese wholesale companies unfortunately like to dupe customers and use insta photos of people l actually follow, so l know instantly where they came from and use them to sell their inferior, badly made copies. As a costume maker, specialising in dancewear, l often have to research past trends, fits and cuts but then reinvent them using stretch fabrics with a modern edge and my own design aesthetic. Sometimes mixing up different era elements in the one garment. Or simply replicate what the designers give me but l cut the pattern and make the design lines flattering for the performer. But for personal projects, the true inspiration for me always comes down to the fabrics and trims l source locally. I fall in love with fabrics. How they feel against the skin, how they drape and fall on the body. They whisper to me and totally dictate the finished result. When l design lingerie l totally have to consider whats on trend, the fabrics stretch factor, anchor points, but my design process often happens very organically draping fabrics on myself and my mannequins but am definitely inspired by my costuming background using old school construction techniques and finishes.

  3. michelle says:

    resurrecting a design structure from the long forgotten past and putting your own contemporary spin on it is cross-pollination over time. making an exact replica of a contemporary small designer is intellectual property theft. Being inspired by a fellow contemporary designer and making it into something new and “yours” is ok

    inspiration v. copying

    The problem is the corporate brands like ASOS are not people, they cannot make something that is “theirs” due to their structure and need to sell as much as possible and make it as cheaply as possible. They are not designers / artists but manufacturers/ retailers.

  4. Lara says:

    When trends and vintage inspiration combine with necessary technical elements, design overlap is bound to occur. It’s entirely possible that the ASOS design was inspired by Kestos and burlesque knickers without the people involved having ever seen the Hopeless designs, much like how the Hopeless designs are so very similar to the Kestos without having been directly influenced by them.
    Fashion copyright has always seemed beyond impractical to me, and I agree with Tom Hoffman above that a large company would definitely have the advantage in an actual court.

  5. Amber DeSadier says:

    I would also argue that the idea of a lingerie designer NOT knowing a significant amount of lingerie design history. That to me just seems disingenuous. “I create in a vacuum.” No way.

    • Cora says:

      I take Ms. Adamidis at her word. I did ask her for more clarification, and received the following reply regarding the designs in this article:

      “The cross back straps on our ‘Rosemary’ Bralette are a development of an earlier style called the ‘Delphine’ Bralette I created in 2012. Structurally there is a limitation to how you can hold the bust in place with minimal design lines, and this was really how the style came about. While it does share characteristics of the Kestos, I think this is in structural function elements rather than the design details and form. This style of bralette appeared in 1970s and 80s also, as designers offered non-underwire styles.

      There are definitely a few Hopeless pieces that are reminiscent of vintage pieces, however they are part of a much bigger picture, and much longer story. The dozens of styles we have worked on over the past 9 years reference everything from the shadows in german expressionist horror movies, to sharks teeth, to the golden ration, to the lava flows of volcanoes, and yes sometimes to silhouettes of the past. However the journey never begins and ends with replicating a specific garment that someone else has already designed. I love the challenge of looking at a sting ray, or a spider, and thinking – how can I turn that shape into a pair of knickers, or a bra – and so on. “

    • Allison Hallstrom says:

      Unfortunately it is more complicated moles than you realize. This topic always makes me cringe because everyone wants to nail it down and clarify who is copying whom and set clear boundaries when we really need to just accept that it isn’t clear at all and it isn’t possible to trace human ideas in that way. I am a designer too, and I had an odd experience where I designed a swimsuit and began to develop and put it into production. Months later, I went to a museum exhibit featuring a swimwear designer from the 1950s who had a swimsuit almost exactly like the one I thought I had created– down to the exact color. What would a designer do in that instance? I know I hadn’t seen that suit before, but clearly it had been done. The fact is that we are all creative humans and there are only so many ways you can manipulate fabric on a human body. Eventually there will be overlap even unintentionally. We need to accept that fact and stop blaming designers for ripping everyone else off. Especially independent designers who are trying their hardest to do something artistic and creative and who are not trying to make a quick buck. It is also known that larger fast fashion companies embrace unethical practices including sweat-shop manufacturing and teams of designers that are explicitly told to copy other designers work. Because of that, and because of what I do, I personally always side with the independent smaller designers. If we have inclination of copying, we are mortified and try to keep as original as possible. To that point, I will end by saying that I don’t even look at other designers swimwear because I’m afraid of it accidentally influencing my work.

  6. Tom Hoffman says:

    I would argue that the way this played out is pretty much the only way it can plausibly play out. Copyright in fashion would be a disaster, and basically unworkable anyhow. Using social media to embarrass blatant rip offs of contemporary designs is probably a better weapon against “theft” than legal measures could ever be, because big companies can always outlast small ones in court, but they can’t fire back at indies on social media effectively without sounding like pompous bullies.

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