Denim is a notoriously cutthroat business, as documented in Douglas Keeve's Dirty Denim series on the Sundance Channel.
The latest jeans saga puts Levi's up against Japanese jeans company Evisu. Only weeks after Scott Morrison, current chief executive of Evisu and founder of Paper Denim & Cloth, shared plans for a Levi's-inspired collection called Tribute, Levi Strauss & Co. accused Evisu of violating a 1999 agreement between the two firms. In an interview with Dazed Digital, posted two days ago, Morrison said of his autumn/winter collection for Evisu:
"We used the word ‘reference’ as a starting point. It’s obviously a broad term, but the idea was to go back to Evisu’s love affair with Levi’s, Americana and especially the 1944 Levi’s 501 XX. The history is that during the war, the US government forbade all use of unnecessary fabrics. So Levi’s had to stop sew on the thread on the back of each jeans back pocket, and they painted them on instead. Hence the Evisu painted on seagull logo! There’s a great 'reference' tradition within Evisu and we took that thought process and applied to key items from history. We wanted to start re-telling the origins of how Evisu came into being."
Morrison also told WWD earlier in March the collection "would pay homage to Levi’s 1944 501 jeans, its 1890 'Nevada' pair and its 1917 'Campbell' jeans."
Where reference ends and a violation of copyright begins is a very fine line in fashion.