Modern Couture would not exist without Knock Offs

Without knockoffs, there is no couture

I was recently in New York to style for fashion week. My daily commute consisted of passing through subway stops, Canal Street being one of them. I knew that I had to pay my dues to luxury fashion by visiting Canal Street before I left New York, perhaps by buying a knockoff bag.

I ended up never buying a knockoff. I fell into the societal pressure of not wanting to be “fake” or “cheap” because people would know that I could never afford a Christian Dior book tote. While purchasing this bag wouldn’t really uplift my “status,” I was in love with the artistry of this tote. So, did I want the bag for its artistry or did I want the clout? It’s a bit of both and I’m not ashamed to say so.

Many would believe I did the right thing by not engaging in intellectual property theft. The fashion industry cyclically feeds off of knockoff culture and the hidden intricacies buried within. It’s not always as stark as duplicating a Louis Vuitton bag and selling it for a quarter of the price.

We wouldn’t have accessible fashion without knock-off culture. In the hierarchy of fashion, every level copies or is influenced by another designer. From fast fashion brands stealing fresh off the runway to luxury brands stealing from smaller designers, no one is left out of the conversation. Couture and fast fashion is always in conversation with one another, conveyed through the language of mimicry.

The copyright law for fashion is fairly loose. The only big no-no’s are the replication of logos, graphic designs or textile designs, all to a certain extent. The majority of the time, certain types of cuts or structures are not protected. If Prada does a puffy balloon sleeve, Zara can mass produce this look as long as the Prada logo is nowhere to be found. Many court cases involving fashion copyright infringement remain long-standing because of this system.

Why not just tighten the laws surrounding fashion copyright law? The capitalism-driven fashion industry could not survive. Tighter restrictions mean only elite luxury brands are in control, meaning fast fashion brands could not survive, ultimately killing off a huge consumer demographic of the common folk who could not afford luxury fashion. Although harmful to consumerism and environmentalism, fast fashion gives luxury fashion a voice. Couture could never trickle down to us “lowly” consumers if there wasn’t a huge demographic that wants to participate in high fashion but doesn’t have the financial means to do so.

But there’s another side to the coin — the faces of the powerful luxury brands. These brands are reported to knock off smaller designers time and time again. In 2016, Tuesday Bassen, the founder of Tuesday’s of California, an up-and-coming fashion brand of that time, found her designs were stolen by Zara. Bassen accused this multi-billion dollar company of intellectual property theft. In response, she got a letter back from Zara saying, “what do you want to do about it? Nobody knows who you are,” Bassen said on the Articles of Interest Podcast.

In the ‘80s, fashion designer Dapper Dan crafted ingenious knockoffs of brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi. After being accused of copyright infringement, his designs were taken away and he had to work underground for 20 years. To his astonishment, Gucci had taken one of his iconic looks, a balloon-sleeved logo jacket that had his craftsmanship written all over it. For a while, it was as if they were both speaking to each other, on opposing sides, arguing. Now, Dapper Dan has become Gucci’s conscience. Brands like Gucci only come to life with knockoffs that elevate their value in everyday society.

Luxury fashion brands have a chokehold on us, but smaller brands also have a creative influence on luxury brands. Both ends of the spectrum feed off of each other, but the majority of the time it’s usually the big fish of the industry, the ones with more financial capital, that take the bait and is still able to swim with it. Creative capital — ideas, artistry, ingenuity — seems to not matter in an industry where the real driving factor is money and power. Somehow, I now feel a lot more comfortable buying a knockoff bag from Canal Street, knowing that I am merely participating in the conversation of fashion that will never come to an end.