The concept of fashion law and criminal law rarely collide quite as spectacularly as the February 26, 2014 report in the New York Daily News that the $150,000 pearl gown worn by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o during the recent Academy Awards ceremony had been stolen from the actress’ hotel room at the London West Hollywood hotel. Of course, theft is theft, whether the item stolen is a famous gown or simple cash, jewelry, or personal property. It may, however, be more difficult for thieves to fence a unique dress that was seen by millions of viewers around the world, which may explain why the thief reportedly anonymously returned the dress days later. (Or it may be that the thief simply learned that the dress was not really made of genuine pearls as had been widely reported.)
Regardless, the incident highlights an important facet of award ceremony fashions. Each year, it becomes clearer that the fashions worn on Oscar night are big business, which complicates questions as to whether the focus on award-season style undervalues the creative contributions of the individuals being honored at these ceremonies. The designers of these fashions, however, also deserve credit for the countless time, energy, and creative output poured into developing a new look that will generate a buzz on Oscar night. And often, they see their work exploited only hours later by companies that proudly sell knockoffs of even the most unique and original designs. As a result, it would not be surprising to see the brands that outfit the stars—or the celebrities themselves—arrange for increased security, not only in the days after high-profile events (where celebrities can make for tempting targets), but also in the days leading up to it, in order to preserve as much of a head start on copycats as possible. As we have noted previously, because the U.S. does not protect fashion designs in the same way as many other countries, it is very important for fashion brands to be strategic in applying the legal protections that do exist.
Furthermore, as the Daily News article notes, the recent theft underscores the need for insurance sufficient to cover any losses.