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by Vault Education Editors | August 13, 2010


Fordham University School of Law will open a new law institute in the fall. But instead of focusing on securities law or employment law (two well-established institutional foci Fordham currently lacks), this institute will be the first to explore the heady world of fashion law. The Fashion Law Institute will teach and research a variety of legal topics--intellectual property, real estate, international trade, etc--and how they affect the fashion industry.

Fordham University School of Law Fashion Law Institute websiteIn a recent New York Magazine article, "Fordham's New Fashion Law Institute Will Serve, Protect, Talk Shoes", writer Shakthi Jothianandan lets the content of his interview with Institute Director Susan Scafidi speak for itself. Says Scafidi: "Fashion is a pink-and-lavender discipline. It's associated with women and gay men, and there is an ongoing perception that this is a lighthearted subject. It can be, but the legal issues are every bit as complicated and hard to crack as in any other field." If only I were so classy.

Can I see that gravitas in the pink? A quest for legitimacy

This is the kind of thing my mom calls "law and a banana," the banana being something that relates to law only insofar as law relates to anything--architecture, blogs, restaurants, dog fights. So when Scafidi described her aspirations as both "training lawyers of the future" and seeing fashion law established "with the same gravitas as any other [field of law]," I find myself in an all-too-familiar position. I am skeptical. It strikes me that maybe there is a reason these pink and purple warriors who, Scafidi claims, might "otherwise feel a little bit alienated by the law," are having trouble gaining the level of legitimacy enjoyed by those studying international or medical law. So, here's a question: What could one do with a degree in fashion law?

Fashion houses and designers have always had lawyers. Sometimes they have different lawyers for different needs--somebody they go to for intellectual property, somebody they go to for real estate, somebody they go to when they have an employment-law question, somebody they go to when they have an immigration-law question. But small fashion houses often don't have a single in-house counsel, [and] that's where we can help.

Basically, if your dream is to grow up to be in-house council for a small fashion house, the Fashion Law Institute is the place for you. Let's say, however, that you want to make the fashion industry more sustainable. It's probably best to focus on sustainability law in your second and third years. Want to protect designers from knock-offs? Intellectual property law. What about stopping big firms from outsourcing labor to Africa and working small children to the bone in sweatshops? Well, that would be employment law or international human rights law. Even better, specializing in those fields would give you the flexibility to explore other options if you didn't get that fashion house dream job, such that you would still be working in sustainability, intellectual property, employment or international human rights law; you just might have to work for a law firm or the International Court of Justice.

WWEWD: What would Elle Woods do?

Legally Blonde Elle Woods in the CourtroomMuch like Scafidi, fictional Harvard Law School student Elle Woods was passionate about fashion. A pink-clad force of the law, the girl could definitely bond over a good pair of shoes. She even used her fashion knowledge to crack the case, ultimately proving that the man who was pretending to have an affair with her sorority sister was actually gay!

All right, so what if Elle Woods had decided to specialize in fashion law? Students often choose courses based on professors rather than content, and Elle might not have been able to resist a professor with shoes of that caliber. Well, if she were applying for any position outside of fashion (defense attorney leaps to mind), she would have to camouflage that specialization into oblivion with more generic law experience and, ideally, another specialization in something far more (if I were feeling charitable, I would say "mainstream," but instead I'll go with...) useful. Even inside fashion, unless Elle were trying to work as in-house counsel for a small fashion house, she would need to emphasize her knowledge of other areas of the law in her resume.

But, here's the rub: Elle Woods might have taken a class at the institute, but that would have been the end of it. And for good reason. A specialization in fashion law doesn't open nearly as many doors as it closes, and a girl like Elle Woods does not like to be tied down.

--Written by Madison Priest


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