Topshop has destroyed hundreds of dresses after an exclusive French fashion house claimed they were near-identical copies of one of its far more expensive items.
The high street chain has pulled all of its stocks - almost 2,000 dresses - of the £35 yellow mini dungaree dress from the rails after Chloé alleged it was unfairly similar to the £185 number in its See collection.
Topshop, part of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia group, settled the claim without admitting the Seventies-style dress was a rip-off of the Chloé design but paid the company £12,000 in compensation and legal costs.The dress can still be viewed on Topshop’s website but all sizes were listed as “out of stock
Topshop had sold 774 of them before Chloé stepped in.
It is the first time Topshop, which has achieved massive commercial success and critical acclaim in recent years, has faced legal action by Chloé over alleged copycat clothes.
But the chic French fashion house, part of the Richemont luxury goods group, has previously taken on another high street chain and recently forced an internet retailer to stop selling a copy of one of its handbags, which can cost more than £1,000.
Chloé, a label worn by Hollywood stars such as Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, has now adopted a “zero-tolerance” attitude to what it regards as cheap copies being made of its sought-after and expensive clothes, and is currently making claims against a series of other well-known shops.
Its lawyers are known to scour fashion magazines - which often advise readers on how to get exclusive designs on the cheap - for evidence of copycat clothes as well as snooping around high-street stores.
They believe the cheap copies risk losing Chloé money but also offend its wealthy customers, who do not want to see hundreds of women wearing the same styles for which they have paid huge amounts.
Gary Assim, a partner in Chloé’s legal firm Shoosmiths, told the Daily Telegraph that action had to be taken.
He said: “This was almost identical, which, given Chloé’s determination to prevent copycat designs, could not be ignored.
“Chloé is also currently taking action against a number of other high street and internet retailers especially with regard to protecting its new Bay handbag design and the Paddington, with its characteristic padlock.”
Topshop yesterday would not comment on the Chloé case except to say “the story is over”.
But Sir Philip told a newspaper: “We paid them £12,000 without any admission over whether it was or it wasn’t [a copy].
“We felt it was easier to do that and get on with the rest of our lives.”
A recent widening of intellectual property rights law has helped fashion houses take on rivals over claims of copycat clothes.
Labels once had to prove an entire item was novel or distinctive for them to prove a rival had infringed their design rights.
But after a change in European regulation five years ago, designers only now need show that one feature - such as a buckle or a neckline - is novel or distinctive, or that the combination of unremarkable parts makes the whole item novel.
This makes it far easier for fashion designers to claim their work has been copied.