By Jennifer Braun
The bed jacket, a lightweight coat made to be worn while sitting or reclining in bed, originated in the nineteenth century and was especially popular during the early to mid-20th century (note 1). This type of garment served as a source of inspiration for Canadian designers Richard Lyle and Jennifer Halchuk of the label Mercy (note 2). Their rendition of the bed jacket for spring 2008 –produced in a delicate floral print – was not meant to be worn for warmth in bed, but rather to be worn as a garment of fashion. This jacket is now part of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2015.06.001) and what is especially notable about it is that it became the subject of an international case of copyright infringement.
The infamous Mercy jacket is tea-stained beige cotton voile featuring a vintage red rose print. Lyle and Halchuk sourced the fabric from textile design company Ascher Studio (note 3); the fabric was tea-dyed and custom quilted for the jacket. The lightweight, loose-fitting jacket is waist length with rounded edges at the bottom front, an elastic hem, and an interior drawstring in the back. The ¾ balloon sleeves have elbow dart detailing. An asymmetrical frayed beige silk sash hangs along the front of the jacket and creates a set bow on the right side. Halchuk developed the pattern from scratch and came up with the idea while working on a MAC Cosmetics campaign Danse. Mercy’s Spring 2008 collection featured other garments in the same fabric including dresses and tops. Halchuk reported that the entire collection did well, but the jacket was especially popular. At the time, the Mercy jacket retailed for about $300.
Canadian journalist Nathalie Atkinson noticed a similar jacket in the March 2009 issue of Teen Vogue, where the jacket had been credited to Diane von Furstenberg’s Spring 2009 collection. The jacket also was worn by Jessica Alba on the March 2009 cover of Elle.
Although Atkinson recognized that issues of copyright in fashion were systemic, she thought this case was particularly problematic since von Furstenberg was president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America at the time, as well as an active spokesperson on fashion design copyright protection.
In a personal interview with Atkinson in November 2015 (note 4), she revealed to me that a key factor in her decision to pursue this story was because of von Furstenberg’s status: “She was at the time canvasing for this, so it was like caught with the hand in the cookie jar and so it was more the idea – it wasn’t like, I’m going to be the mouth piece for Richard and Jennifer at Mercy to pursue this. It was very much – this is an interesting test to case, to sort of look at these issues…”.
Atkinson observed the small details and design gestures of the Mercy jacket and noticed the similarities in the von Furstenberg copy. “There’s a finger print that a designer has,” Atkinson explained: “[Mercy is] not only a brand that I had covered, but they’re something that I wore, so that sleeve shape in particular, and the way there were like three – I think there were like three stitches to bring the elbow in to give it a balloon […] it was something that I recognized.”