Unstylish Ejection From VIP Seat

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It all started with an email from our MP to the citizens’ association offering tickets to a StyleWeek event last Sunday. Gifts from politicians usually come with lots of strings attached. The exchange often goes like this: I’ll give you $5,000 wrapped up in a designer T-shirt and you’d better vote for me. Or else! But this wasn’t election season. So I took the MP’s email at face value:

“Complimentary tickets are available for FashionBlock. When: Sunday, May 28th 2017, starting at 8pm. Where: Knutsford Blvd. Please email me to let me know how many tickets you need. Thanks.” I didn’t have anything planned for that evening, so I decided to take up the offer. I was rather surprised to see on the ticket that admission was free.

A complimentary ticket is not quite the same as a free ticket. Usually, a complimentary ticket is given as a courtesy to attend a paid event. Not a free show. Getting a complimentary ticket for a free event from an MP was a lot like feeling obliged to be grateful that politicians are actually doing the job for which they are elected. And for which they are paid!

Anyhow, I put aside my reservations and headed to New Kingston. I parked at the lot at the corner of Barbados and St Lucia avenues, where some young men had a good hustle charging $200 for entry. I firmly pointed out the fact that this was a government parking lot, which should be free on a Sunday evening. They apologised, waved me in, and kept right on charging other patrons.

 

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

 

I went to the closest entrance to the Fashionblock event, at the corner of Knutsford Boulevard and Barbados Avenue. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read my complimentary ticket carefully enough. That entrance was only for VIPs. My free ticket said: “out barrier, restaurant side.” And it was standing room only.

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Now I am not one of those people whose navel string is buried under a VIP tree. But there was no other seating. And I had no intention of standing up to watch “Jamaica’s Biggest Fashion Event Ever”. By the way, that tag line reminds me of Sean Spicer’s ‘covfefe’ declaration that Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Period.

I asked if I could get a VIP ticket, and a nice young man went off to find out. He returned with a young woman who let me in and ushered me to a seat. But she didn’t give me a ticket. About half an hour later, before the show had even started, she came back and told me she was at risk of losing her job. He had broken the rules by putting me in the VIP section. So I had to go “out barrier”.

I asked if there was no one who could allow me to stay. She said no. The lady she would have to ask was not around. Earlier, Dewight Peters, who was putting on the show, had greeted me in passing. I don’t suppose the young woman thought she could ask him to give me a VIP ticket. She escorted me to the exit and I headed straight home.

This story has several morals: 1) beware of ‘freeness’ from politicians; 2) always read the fine print; 3) do not ask for and accept favours from powerless people; 4) know when to retreat; 5) always remember that where bones are not provided, dogs are not invited. In this instance: Where VIP tickets are not provided, certain people are not invited.

 

‘ARTS IN THE PARK’

 

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Earlier that day, I’d gone to Arts in the Park at Devon House. That was an excellent event for which neither a free nor a complimentary ticket was needed. It’s a pity it didn’t seem to have been well advertised. Lots of young artists were exhibiting their work and there was live music. A small exhibition from the JCDC art competition is at one of the shops. The main show is located at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

The National Gallery hosted a panel discussion on the Jamaica Biennial 2017, which closed that day in Kingston. The exhibition at Gallery West in MoBay goes on for another month. A very contentious issue came up. VIP artists are invited to exhibit. Less-important artists have to submit their work for evaluation. If they’re lucky, they get picked. Hopefully, this unfair system will soon be phased out. All artists should have an equal chance to be accepted or rejected.

From Devon House, I went to The Pantry on Dumfries Road, where the artists Philip and Marcia Henry were hosting ‘The Gathering’, an exhibition featuring masters like Alexander Cooper, George Rodney and Ireko Baker, as well as many younger artists. Philip’s Ambokele Vibration drummers and guest artists were in full flight. It was a beautiful marriage of art and music.

There is so much creative energy in Kingston: music, art, literature, fashion and a whole lot more! Last Monday, Jamaica’s first Centre of Gastronomy was launched at Devon House. This Friday, Caribbean Fashionweek starts at Villa Ronai in Stony Hill. With its lush sculpture gardens, the venue was a premier destination for cruise ship passengers coming into Kingston Harbour in the 1960s. In spite of our social and economic challenges, Kingston is a capital city. And not just for VIPs!

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Follow Fashion Monkey

Jamaican proverbial wisdom warns that ‘follow fashion monkey never drink good soup.’  Of course, not all monkeys are particular about the soup they drink.  Some are quite happy to follow fashion – good, bad and indifferent. Monkey see, monkey do. For discriminating monkeys, originality does matter.  They set the fashion trends that others slavishly follow.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I’m using both ‘fashion’ and ‘monkey’ in exactly the same symbolic sense as the proverb does.  The primary issue is neither tasteless fashion nor hairy primates drinking soup.  It’s about creative people who don’t simply mimic others – in whatever field:  culinary arts, architecture, music, IT, and, of course, fashion.

Proverbial wisdom from another culture authoritatively declares that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’  We know how that goes. We’re accustomed to being copied:  our music, language, body language, fashion and religion.  Even our distinctive style of ‘badness’ attracts imitators. And if we don’t feel flattered that’s just too bad for us. We’re supposed to be grateful.

But imitation often looks a lot like downright theft. Plus, you can’t take flattery to the bank. In an age in which intellectual property does have real value, it’s not flattering to have your creative ideas stolen. You can’t just let people monkey around with your intangible assets. Protection of rights is essential.

‘Fashion over style’

All the same, some imitation is positively good, especially when it drives healthy competition and gives consumers choice.  An excellent case in point is our weeks of style and fashion. Pulse Investments Ltd. first staged Caribbean Fashionweek in 2001.  Saint International followed suit in 2004 with Style Week.

It was dancehall icon Gerald ‘Bogle’ Levy who popularised the quip, ‘fashion over style.’  He got the ranking right.  Admittedly, I’m prejudiced. Pulse’s CEO is my brother, Kingsley.  Objectively speaking though, he’s one of the most enterprising people I know.  Who would have thought that Jamaica could have created an international modelling agency?  Let alone two, and counting.

Saint’s CEO Deiwght Peters was once employed by Pulse.  He learnt all he could then set up shop.  Saint models have followed in the footsteps of the Pulse originals and have also done Jamaica proud.  I suppose Kingsley really ought to feel flattered by Deiwght’s imitation of the inventiveness for which the Pulse brand is widely known.

The case of Caribbean International Fashion Week is a whole other story.  If you googled ‘Caribbean Fashion Week’ last week, the first item that came up as news from New York was this: ‘IMAN Cosmetics to be the Exclusive Makeup Sponsor for Caribbean International Fashion Week.’

Believe it or not, this US-based Caribbean Fashion Week has absolutely nothing to do with the Jamaican original.

But the publicity for the event brazenly started off using the name ‘Caribbean Fashion Week’ and even appropriated Pulse’s CFW logo in an apparent attempt to pass off the imitation as the original. Kingsley, who is an attorney-at-law first and foremost, quickly put a stop to that. The belated addition of ‘international’ still doesn’t distinguish the copy from the original.  Our Jamaican event has always been international.

On top of that, the New York version was scheduled to premier last Wednesday, the very same week that Pulse’s Caribbean Fashionweek 2011 kicked off.  The organisers of Style Week have the good sense to try to upstage Fashionweek by coming first and at a decent interval – in the month before.  By contrast, Top Job (TJ) Public Relations, the promoter of Caribbean International Fashion Week, is doing a great job of deliberately creating confusion.

Protecting Jamaican brands

Glenda Lugay

I guess Kingsley could feel flattered if he tried really hard.  Glenda Lugay, CEO of TJ Public Relations, came to Caribbean Fashionweek in 2008 to promote one of her clients, Sushma Patel, a designer from India whose iridescent creations express the bling aesthetic of traditional saris.

Ms Lugay seems to have liked what she saw at CFW and decided to run with it.  All very well and good.  But she needed to give credit where credit is due.

Ironically, TJ Public Relations doesn’t seem to be practicing what the company preaches.  According to the website of the Beverly Hills-based firm, TJ ‘works with a variety of entrepreneurs and small businesses in areas such as brand management and consulting.’  Brand management is not the same as unfairly exploiting a ‘foreign’ brand.

Jamaican companies face a major difficulty as we try to protect our brands overseas.  Successive governments have not signed on to the Madrid system for the international registration of trademarks.  The system comprises the 1891 Madrid Agreement and the less restrictive 1989 Madrid Protocol, which are administered by the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva.

The advantage of the Jamaican government’s signing on to the Madrid Protocol is that a trademark registered here would eventually be protected in all the countries in the system.  So Pulse’s Caribbean Fashionweek trademark couldn’t be ‘imitated’ in the US, which is a signatory to the Madrid Protocol.

At present, Jamaican companies have to register their marks individually in every single country in which they are seeking protection.
This is a costly business.  It would be so much cheaper to pay one set of fees locally and benefit from international coverage.

The advantage of the Madrid system is also its disadvantage.  Local registration is ‘married’ to international.  If the terms of local registration are altered, so are the international.  But, as in a good marriage, the pros of entanglement often do outweigh the cons of going it alone. The Jamaican government really should make it much easier for owners of locally registered trademarks to protect their intellectual property globally – for better or worse.