According to a recently published book, The Knockoff Economy (with many thanks to my friend Maria who told me about it), imitation spawns innovation. In previous posts we tackled the issue of imitation in art, architecture and fashion wondering what is the difference between the concepts "being inspired from" and "copying" and why - if the latter is banned - we're all at it.
The authors of the book point out how not all copying is bad since the process eventually leads to innovating things or to democratising specific designs especially when a designer dress for example is "copied" by a high street retailer.
Yet what interests me is not only how copying by high street retailers erodes the status of an original design (or how annoying and totally puzzling is seeing Anna Dello Russo being praised for 'designing' a horrifically baroque accessory collection for H&M that seems to be a mash up of vintage Versace stuff...), but in how some major fashion houses/contemporary designers often borrow inspirations from other ones or from easily identifiable iconic looks from the past (or, in the case of Proenza Schouler's S/S13 collection, from someone else's S/S12 collection, strangely obtaining more or less the same results...) and still getting praised.
In the last few days we have seen a few examples of such things: the ballerinas featured in Thom Browne's presentation for his Bauhaus inspired S/S 13 collection wore helmets that called to mind Germana Marucelli's space age aluminium helmet (1968-69); Marc Jacobs' S/S 13 optical designs were a crossover between André Courrèges' 1965 collection and Marucelli's late '60s optical art collection.
At London Fashion Week, Willow's white see-through dress with orange prints gave the impression the white fabric of the garment had been ripped to reveal the bright textile underneath, recreating the same effect of Schiaparelli's tear dress.
To the list we may add the red leather bags at Ralph Lauren that looked like the plastic cut out bags in fluo colours from Fiorucci (circa 1983-84) and Victoria Beckham's boots with cut-out toes echoing Courrèges' iconic footwear.
You could argue that these examples could be considered as reinventions rather than mere copies of previous looks, and in some cases you may even add that – as it happens for remixed tracks or with tracks entirely made from samples borrowed from other artists and that end up being catchier and more successful than the original ones – the "remixed" look is better or more desirable than the original one (besides, they obviously prove that there are cycles in fashion and that things keep on coming and going in and out of fashion).
Yet, in the last few seasons, we have seen the boundary between inspiration, copying, stealing and copyright infringement fading in front of our eyes and the funny thing is that, despite not many people complain about this, we have recently seen quite a few court cases involving famous designers/fashion houses battling for copyright reasons. Just a few days ago Chanel was fined 200,000 euros for stealing a design from a small knitwear supplier called World Tricot (shame on you, Mr Largerfeld).
I personally think that young fashion design students may end up being the first casualties of all these copying and reinventing routines, as they may end up thinking their job is all about recreating something or just stealing it (even though I have to say that most of them are way more intelligent, clever and open than some highly paid and famous contemporary Creative Directors who seem to spend a lot of time browsing the Internet to look for inspirations...).
The other casualty of the copying/revisiting process is the research aspect in fashion (already highlighted in various posts on this site) that seems to be neglected by the majority of fashion houses, uncapable of slowing down and even stopping for at least one season to take care of this aspect, since the main aim is hitting record sales and marking off another stellar fiscal year.
In a way it's understandable: just like reblogging/retweeting is easier than writing something new from scratch, re-creating/revisiting is easier (and above all quicker) than coming up with something brand new and original. Yet, while the former has led us to filling the net with a lot of "digital" trash, the latter has filled our wardrobes with a lot of undesirable and unoriginal junk. Decluttering, in both cases, is much needed.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos