Reading between the lines of their correspondence, it becomes evident what it’s like to be a small fish in an industry of whales. Numerous parties work feverishly on a project, inevitably some aspect, probably a very considered one, must be cost-engineered to stay on budget, which is done without much consideration for the original partner or designer, yet someone on the lead team had to sign off. By the time the final project is unveiled, and the small fish realizes what's happened, the whales have already packed up and sailed on.
Ultimately, Matson (the client) did blame the budget.
When Liebes’ had to up her estimate from $1500 to $2750, they said her design became prohibitive, and because they felt it was a co-design job, they were justified in their decision to go around her. Dorothy ended up reducing her design fee and received $1000 for her work on the project, less the time spent on navigating the run around and the threat of litigation – the cost of doing business. And perhaps that was Mr. Loewy's sentiment as well. It's not personal. It's just business.
Dorothy Liebes had a profound influence across design fields, helping to shape American tastes in areas from interiors and transportation to industrial design, fashion, and film. This wouldn't be first time or last time a designer copied the "Liebes Look.” As her popularity grew, it would happen on a pretty regular basis. A decorator or designer would borrow a sample and take it somewhere to be knocked off for less.
It was because of this experience Dorothy was inspired to become a more vocal advocate for design and IP protection for designers. After this debacle, she reached out to the editor of the trade journal Home Furnishing to gauge interest on getting the word out – I'm still trying to track this down.
In the course of my research, I came across a page in her draft manuscript about her thoughts on copyright law, which summed it all up for me. So I'll end there...
All my life I have mindful of a saying of Coco Chanel:
"That when they stop copying me, I'll know I'm finished."
This is a sort of comforting little slogan for a designer but it also portrays a bit of gloom. When you think that some idea with which you have wrestled gets out, appears everywhere, and the next thing that you know it's reproduced. This is one of the interesting things about our copyright laws.
If you change it even as much as one thread or use a different fiber, even though the look is exactly the same it is not considered a flagrant breach of law. The present copyright law is about to be changed so I hear to intent to reproduce, intent to copy. But even so it hasn't mattered awfully much to me, and when I realize that Mme. Chanel thought that it was pretty good to be copied, I took heart yesterday in this year 1967. To see under draperies and curtains in the home furnishings.
Daily our bible of the trade world, that some new fabrics ("new") were shown which are absolute replicas reproductions or anything else that you want to call it of some that we did for bloomcraft four or five years ago. Before that we had based the same weave on things for Goodall. Only the fibers were quite different. But the look is the same. Hollywood invented the word look, and I think that it is a very expressive one, which we use a great deal.
Speaking of creativity, we have our antennae out all the time for a new and orginal look. They are few and far between, and often when you really trace design you realize that it is an international language. There are many ways of saying things. Sometimes all good. Often times boringly repetitions.