A burning ambition
11 December 1996
Alex Carter-Silk's arrival at DJ Freeman six months ago has not gone unnoticed amongst the wags at the firm.
The maverick fashion guru found himself spread across four pages of the most recent issue of the firm's in-house magazine Unfettered News (of the World) under the headline "Known arsonist joins DJ Freeman. The front page joked: "Alexander Carter-Silk, fashion guru of the legal world, yesterday strenuously denied rumours that he was in fact a convicted serial arsonist with the chilling motto "Burn handbag, Burn".
Inside, the Private Eye of Fetter Lane satirised Carter-Silk in a collection of items. Among them was a spoof film billing: "Alexander Starter-Ruck in Get Starter, a study in terror, starring Alexander Starter-Ruck, several trainees (now in intensive care) and about six petrified assistants." There was also: "Alex Carter-Silk - a case Study in How to Win Clients", featuring Fionnula Thoroughbred-Smythe and Carter-Silk, who was said to be "passing on his way to do a photography shoot in the library".
That Carter-Silk, now the head of design and copyright law at DJ Freeman, found himself the subject of such a lampooning does not surprise anyone who knows him. Larger than life, he is described as both "gregarious" and "a great storyteller".
Who else could tell the tale of how he came to be a lawyer with such a touch of drama as Carter-Silk? About to be kicked off his articles because he had failed Part II, he claims he was sitting at his desk when the consultant who had created the practice walked in, said "I don't feel well" and dropped dead.
By the time he qualified, Carter-Silk claims, he was the highest fee-earner in the small Bolton/London firm Corner & Co, and was consequently made a partner on his first day as a newly-qualified solicitor.
His entry into the fashion world is another story. Corner & Co did not own a photocopier and so Carter-Silk trekked downstairs to use the photocopier in the clothes shop. It was over the photocopier that he became friendly with Achilleas Constantinou, then chair of the Fashion Design Protection Association.
The meeting led to instructions, and now Carter-Silk claims to do more "copying" work than any other lawyer. "Copying, not counterfeiting," he emphasises. "There are people who do more counterfeiting work than me."
He elaborates on the difference between the two: a counterfeiter passes his work off as a product of someone else, while a copier reproduces the design and sells it as his own.
By their very nature fashion garment are similar - there is no protection for a dropped waist or a raised hem. It is the design that makes the difference, though it is not illegal to use the elements of a design, even down o the dye and material.
Dropped waists and raised hems, Schiaparelli or Lanvin designs, it is all business for Carter-Silk. "Show me three dresses and I'll tell you which is the copy," he says.
He says he compares unique points when it comes to fashion copies. "There was a coat with a raglan sleeve. It happened that the designer had drawn it freehand. We unpicked the two sleeves and laid one on top of the other. The edges matched perfectly.
"Or: the designer of a handbag had made a mistake and couldn't buy the right size zipper. The copier had done exactly the same. How likely is that?"
On the other hand he does sometimes have to tell designers to grit their teeth and live with what looks like, but is not, a copy.
Carter-Silk practised at West End firm Edward Lewis before his defection to DJ Freeman. While fashion may be his speciality, he will offer advice on all types of law. He is a keen pilot and also acts for Cabair, the largest hirer of aircraft in the UK. Steve Read, the company's commercial director, says of him: "He does anything that has a remotely legal angle for us."
Flying is just one of the hazardous activities that Carter-Silk is involved in (some say he was once a professional motorbike racer), but he wants to soar even higher: "Fixed-wing is boring. I said I'd learn to fly helicopters when I had time. I haven't but I am."
Carter-Silk has certainly made an impression at DJ Freeman in his short time at the firm. But lawyering would seem to be much too dull a job for this all-rounder. The movies beckon.