The label’s copyright dispute with Madden gets to the heart of fashion’s appropriation and trademark issues. It was the must-have bag last year


All through the warm months of 2017, my Instagram feed was flooded with photos of people — friends, celebrities, celebrities I think of as friends — carrying Cult Gaia’s Ark bag.

It is delicate and crescent shaped, constructed from bamboo, and reminiscent somehow of both an antique bird cage and a picnic basket.

And it was also initially less than $100, which is fairly affordable; even now, when the smallest version in the natural colour sells for $128, it is still a steal in the fashion world.

But the price didn’t disqualify it from mention in the high-end glossy magazines, including Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. In October 2016, the bag had a waiting list 1,800 people long, according to Cult Gaia.

So it came as no surprise that knockoffs were right around the corner.

Red Dress Boutique and Perennial Chic have their own versions of the bamboo handbag, and Amazon sells versions as well, but it is Steve Madden’s nearly identical model that provoked a legal spat. In February, Cult Gaia threatened to sue Steve Madden for infringement, claiming that Steve Madden’s version — the BShipper, $68 — was a direct copy of the Ark.

In response, Steve Madden turned around and sued Cult Gaia, arguing that by attempting to gain exclusive rights to the bag’s design, Cult Gaia was treating the bag as an original. In fact, Steve Madden’s lawyers argued, the Ark bag “slavishly copies the traditional Japanese bamboo picnic bag design” of the 1940s.


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