–Sharon Armstrong, Attorney
One of my favorite shows on TV right now is Downton Abbey. No mere period drama, this Masterpiece Theatre presentation has become something of a sleeper sensation, partly for its swooning melodrama and partly for its (some would say romanticized) illustration of the English class system, following the upstairs-downstairs lives of the denizens of a grand English manor circa World War I.
And then there’s the clothes. And the jewels. And the hairstyles. After years in a recession, it’s not so far-fetched to understand why audiences would want to spend a few hours lost in a world where characters not only get dressed for dinner (and have a fleet of servants to assist them) but get dressed for dinner in such amazing stuff. The fashions of the show have “started a trend” towards fashions of the 19-teens, reports one blog, while several others comment that the clothes are “to die for.”
Given the fervor around the show and the apparent excitement among its viewers to live a bit of Downton Abbey in their own lives, it’s no surprise that some want to capitalize on the trend. Websites have sprung up to report on how one can dress like the ladies of Downton, pointing readers to shops and websites where they can recreate some of Lady Mary’s (the eldest of the Downton daughters and the romantic lead) looks.
Unlike those websites that simply instruct viewers on how to emulate the fashions of Downton by locating third-party goods that evoke the Edwardian era, PBS was recently in hot water over trying to sell jewelry inspired by the show, due to the fact that PBS tied its jewelry line directly to the show. The “Downton Abbey Collection,” recently pulled from PBS’s shopping website, featured brooches, earrings, cloches, and other finery that at least looked like it was of Edwardian vintage. Surprisingly, it turned out that PBS did not have permission from the producers of the show to sell jewelry tied into the show.
A spokesperson for Carnival Films downplayed the issue, stating that “[t]here is no dispute, it was a mistake on PBS’s part [to identify the jewelry with the show’s character’s].” Carnival’s request was framed as “part of an ongoing conversation with PBS. It isn’t a big issue. We didn’t want viewers to think this was the jewelry that the characters wore.” No doubt about that – the characters of Downtown Abbey probably wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but genuine gems.