Fashion isn’t different from most industries in that good ideas are often imitated and in some cases 100 percent duplicated. Designers can find some refuge under trademark laws that protect brands from things like straight jacking of logos (Chanel’s interlocking Cs) and in certain cases distinct silhouettes (Converse Chuck’s rubber cap toe) and graphics (Adidas’s three stripes). Though laws or not, one needs money to set up and maintain trademarks, plus there are a ton of design concepts that are not protected. As well, savvy companies like H&M, Zara and many more that live and die by poaching appealing ideas often employ teams whose job is to let said copiers know what they can and can’t get away with.
What’s fascinating is not so much that company’s steal ideas from each other (a practice probably older than the oldest profession) but more so how what is being stolen is a reflection of bigger trends. It was just a couple years back that parody take downs of designer logos among streetwear brands were the big thing. Logos including Cuntier, Comme des Fuck Down, Homies were among dozens of take downs, for the most part meant as loving tributes to admired designer brands.
Now the shoe is very distinctly on the other foot. Rather than streetwear poaching logos and looks, high fashion labels over the past year or two have repeatedly have been caught stealing design ideas that have roots in street style.
Looking back at when this shift occurred, the year 2013 stands out as one with multiple events indicating a come down for luxury fashion from its high perch. First of all, like everything in life fashion is cyclical so like Heidi says, “One day you’re in and the next you’re out,” but 2013 was also the year that the Chinese government’s anti-corruption campaign started to actually impact luxury brands with conspicuous branding, a trend that continues to this day with various officials targeted for take down simply because they were spotted on social media wearing something a little too fancy for their pay grade.
Not coincidentally, 2013 was the same year discussions heated up around logo fatigue with multiple brands saying they wanted to draw back on bags featuring prominent logos. Which, trends may come and go, but usually when a company goes from featuring prominent logos to very small ones or none at all, it’s not a sign of great health. Like, Nike aint exactly trying to hide big Swooshy. Just saying. Mr. Zeitgeist himself aka Kanye West capped the year by literally capping Louis Vuitton, declaring the label irrelevant, stating, “Ain’t nobody even thinking about [Louis Vuitton] no more. Nobody thinking about buying no Louis Vuitton.” (And yes, West just performed at an LV sponsored event, but, you know, C.R.E.A.M.)
The year 2013 also marked the rise to prominence of the jogger pant, a silhouette that would become the calling card of the street sport trend. And while it was tagged “Normcore” in a February 2014 article, in reality the story behind the virally catchy description was the cycling back in of ’90s urban based fashion looks which were themed around a combination of authentic outdoor and athletic brands, piggybacked by a host of brands who saw the trend and mimicked it. (Looking directly at you, Tommy H.)
Given trends, it isn’t surprising that high fashion is leaning all over street-inspired looks and yet it is still
infuriating depressing amusing in some ways because there are many in traditional fashion circles who still look down upon street fashion or more plainly, anything they view as being overly associated with the working class or poor, especially if said trend is worn by people of color. It’s bad enough when people culturally are smudged but ten times worse when their ideas are stolen and they’re told by the perps they weren’t theirs in the first place.
One fabulous thing about the internet is that it’s broken down walls whereby a high end label can no longer claim a street-inspired idea as its own and get away with it. Whereas once the fashion worlds of the rich and poor never crossed, now everyone has access to the same Instagram feed. Basically, content is global and we see you loud and clear.
What is gathered here is a fairly recent list of the most egregious high fashion sticky finger offenders. Left off this list are retailers like Zara among many other, for which copycatting is part of the business strategy. And then there are just the sea change movements like jogger pants, a silhouette whose revival is bigger than any one brand, though hat tip to Adidas because let’s be real, its soccer pant is the blueprint.
Note: While one might argue that there is nothing street about billion dollar companies Nike and Adidas, which are featured as victims of thievery below, the items that were jacked are ones that received their seal of approval from the hood. As anyone who knows squat about street style, the youth are the ones who choose which brands and items to knight with iconic status not the reverse. In other words, good luck trying to market to an urban customer because they’re not into pushers. (And woe to your brand should it ever try to perpetrate the myth that its issues are a result of the city-based customer annotation, literally the dumbest thing a brand could ever do.)
First up is Celine’s infamous lift of the Nike Air Force 1. This shoe, which hit retail in fall 2014, one got a ton of coverage on the sneaker blogs, in part because it was so blatant, but also because it was Celine, a crazy influential brand with god-like status among all fashion lovers, street, high and otherwise. It doesn’t have the same power now but a couple of years ago when Celine showed a runway, design offices in fast fashion companies worldwide screeched to a halt long enough to watch, followed by a quick transfer to cad of half the items shown.
The thing is, Celine is far from the first brand to copy the iconic Air Force 1 silhouette. Back in the early days of sneaker boutiques, Nike made life very difficult for “tribute” brands when it let store owners know it would kill accounts with anyone who sold imitations of its silhouettes. It’s harder for Nike to do that to Celine because it’s carried by high-end retailers who are less dependent on Nike. Still, don’t be surprised as Nike grows its presence in places like Barney’s and Net-A-Porter if it doesn’t start sitting on those retailers to keep out copycats of its most prized silhouettes.
Isabel Marant knocking off the Stan Smith this spring needs to be stashed under the file for most ironic. Marant’s super popular wedge sneaker was copied like crazy (with Ash the worst offender by far) so you would think she might be sensitive or at least respectful on the topic of sneaker stealing. Or perhaps she thought her version of the Stan Smith was a pay back of sorts for all the thievery that was done to her. Then too, the Stan Smith silhouette has become so pervasive in Paris that it’s become a veritable government issue for the hip and stylish. As such perhaps she thought she was doing a service for the French who couldn’t bear to purchase a German shoe. All 12 of them.
Versace’s version of Kesh’s photo negative design (in above image, Kesh is on the left and Versace is on the right) made big headlines a couple weeks back. To be honest, this is very run of the mill thievery that fast fashion retailers pull off on a daily basis in their sleep. And the artist, Kesh, who made the tee shirt in collaboration with American Apparel in 2013, admitted as much, stating the design had been repeatedly knocked off, even by people she once considered friends. It is even conceivable that someone on Versace’s design team first spotted the graphic while shopping the local H&M for ideas. Yes, that’s how weird and convoluted fashion has become.
And yet, a very big deal was made for a number of reasons. First, the Kesh x AA collaboration was a hugely popular collection, catching as it did the crest of the black and white graphic wave. At the time it was worn by multiple celebs and endlessly uploaded on Instagram to the point where it was like, again with a Kesh shirt, dress, bikini, etc.? Combine that with Kesh’s 86,000 Instagram following plus the outrage factor over the cost of the original ($30) versus Versace’s ($650 seriously? for a tee shirt?), add in coverage on TheCut and you have a story that is officially off to the races.
Adidas going after Marc by Marc Jacobs for mimicking its three stripes in its Autumn 2015 offerings is the latest poach news story and frankly it is an odd one, mainly because Adidas is well known for aggressively and successfully suing companies who use its three stripes on their products, and as big and experienced as Marc Jacobs is combined with the fact that it’s owned by the even bigger and more experienced Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, someone should have known better. Given that the Marc by Marc designs feature four stripes not three (see image above), perhaps the LV legal team decided it could pass, but still, it’s not a good look. As such, between this development and the recent demise of Marc by Marc Jacobs one can’t help but wonder what the heck is going on in the house of MJ.
Korean designer Hyein Seo wins this article’s prize for most times copied by a high-fashion brand, racking up blatant copying and pasting by Fendi and Phillip Plein (from left to right in above pic: Fendi, Phillip Plein and Seo’s original design). The interesting thing about Seo is she’s cut from a cloth that sits somewhere between high fashion and street. Educated at the very exclusive Royal Academy at Antwerp (often a precursor to a career in high fashion), she first showed with the very street smart VFiles in February 2014, an event that led to the jackpot hit of Rihanna deigning to wear her “Fear” stole during Paris Fashion Week. Subsequently she showed a thoroughly punkish collection for her Antwerp graduate presentation called “School Ruined My Life,” a cult streetwear favorite that sold out pretty much on arrival at stores last month.
Nike’s nicking of Off White’s horizontal stripes sort of doesn’t belong here. Both brands are of the same culture and yet, here it is mainly because it’s semi-weird and based in conspiracy, making it too fun to leave out. The very long form analysis is here, but in a nutshell, Off White uploaded a series of pictures to its Facebook and Tumblr pages implying that Nike was poking at the brand with product and an Air Max promotional gift package (above left) that featured its trademark horizontal stripes. We layered on top of that the theory that a member/s of Nike’s design staff did it all on purpose because Off White is led by Virgil Abloh who is besties with Kanye, who not only shit all over Nike in 2013 when it wouldn’t get with his plan but also defected to one of its biggest sworn enemies, Adidas.
There are no doubt many more that are missing from this list, but the ones listed here are the most clear cut and widely covered. Human survival is built on taking a good idea and improving upon it so yes, embellishing to a certain degree is a part of what fashion is. The issue is when a brand or designer helicopters in, snatches an idea, makes minor modifications, then deigns to call it his/her own. And everyone is guilty of this, streetwear and high fashion brands and certainly fast fashion retailers.
Based on who’s copying who, fashion is having a big street-inspired moment though even when the trend passes, major brands should either practice the art of collaboration or at least not act like they’re so far above the street that they don’t even walk on it. While law suits for global brands are more like mosquito bits i.e. mainly annoying, pretending you don’t see people and their hard-fought for stories will forever and always be a very shabby and not at all chic look.