Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. Unfortunately, in the fashion world, flattery can be costly. The clothing and accessories chain Warehouse is the latest high-street retailer to land itself in the fashion dock for stealing one of its designs from a luxury brand. It joins a string of chains from Topshop and Kookaï to Marks & Spencer and Oasis that are costing the designer industry tens of millions of pounds a year in lost sales.
Jimmy Choo threatened legal action against Warehouse after it was tipped off that the fashion chain had copied one of its hottest-selling bags of the summer. The £650 clutch, christened the "Marin", was seen in a host of celebrity hands, including those belonging to Victoria Beckham, Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff.
Warehouse, which promptly removed the offending black clutch from sale, reached an out-of-court settlement with Jimmy Choo, forcing it to destroy thousands of the bags and pay just under £14,000 in damages and costs to the footwear specialist.
Tamara Mellon, president of Jimmy Choo, is waging war against high-street plagiarists. Already this year she has scored high-profile victories against Oasis and Jane Shilton to add to her tally of triumphs against M&S, Shoe Studio and New Look, which had to stump up £80,000 for copying a design last autumn.
Hannah Merritt, head of legal at Jimmy Choo, said: "We will not tolerate copies of our products being sold, as we spend significant sums on creating unique and novel designs."
The shoemaker to the stars was alerted to the lookalike version of its "Marin" clutch – which was part of its spring/summer collection but has been re-launched for this season in a wider range of colours – after a customer spotted the far cheaper lookalike at Warehouse and alerted the world via an internet blog.
A spokesman for Warehouse said the chain was mortified by what had happened because it "takes allegations of piracy and copying very seriously". The chain's buying director has launched an investigation into how the bag ended up on sale. "Warehouse would never deliberately copy anybody else's designs. When Jimmy Choo pointed out the similarities between the two handbags we immediately withdrew the product from sale," he added.
Warehouse, which is part of the growing sprawl of high-street retailers controlled by the Icelandic group Baugur, was founded by Jeff Banks with Maurice and Michael Bennett in 1976. It was the first mass fashion chain to have its own in-house design team.
Jimmy Choo also took legal action against Dune, the shoe chain, over its Music slingbacks. Although Dune insisted it did not infringe Jimmy Choo's design, it agreed to remove the offending sandal from sale. Lawyers at Shoosmiths, which advises Jimmy Choo, said details of the settlement were confidential.
Rachael Parman, a solicitor at Shoosmiths, said: "Designers are desperate not to lose customers when so much competition exists between them and the high street. Luckily the law supports designers in their battle against copycats." She predicted that the recent wave of legal action being taken by designers, including Louis Vuitton, Chloé and Diane von Furstenberg, would gather force.
Mulberry, the handbag maker, is another designer cracking down on high-street copyists. It has settled disputes with retailers over its Roxanne design and is serving writs against retailers selling copies of its Mabel bag. "We tend to settle out of court and give the proceeds to charity," a company spokeswoman said.Reuse content