22 November 2012

Knockoffs, Diffusions, Collaborations & Snobbery

Soo Joo in
H&M x Margiela for Dazed & Confused

Been thinking about it for awhile -- every time a collab line comes out from H&M we hear the same arguments about brand legitimacy coming into question, snobbery, etc. My thoughts on designer knockoffs a la Jeffrey Campbell and H&M, Zara, etc are really mixed and complicated. I wrote this post on tumblr awhile back and had it saved, I'll just copy here:

when it comes to fashion houses and exclusivity and fast fashion, i always hear people  complaining about how combining with h&m will ruin the brand or whatever and I just find it very interesting because: 
mmm and rei and all these high fashion brands that i see, they are really post modern and seem to combine these aesthetics and textures from ‘low fashion’ and street culture and use fabrics that were traditionally considered low brow and they make them high fashion when they combine them with ‘higher quality fabrics’ though we all know full well that that $500, $700 dress is just as likely to be made out of polyester. how many times have i gone into barneys or jeffrey or whatever and played with the fabric and realized they’re asking $700 for a shitty basic ass cotton/poly blend? come on.
you buy just as much for the name as for the clothes you know? people are mostly bummed about the fact their favorite brand won’t be ‘exclusive’ but fashion is for everybody because it is so malleable. you can’t pull something off, someone else can, you can wear something, someone else can wear it differently. style is malleable. you can still retain your private connection to a brand and let someone else who isn’t as aware of the brand culture wear something from it too. a lot of my fav brands, they constantly collaborate with people, but you don’t see people shitting on them for doing so. i guess that is because from the get go, rei threw all the rules in the wind and when everyone was still having a boner over traditional luxe fabrics she was using cheaper fabrics and black and made everyone look like futuristic bag lady nomads or something. i think the more progressive you are, the more willing you are to break the barriers between classes and pricepoints. if you can still be high fashion but operate on multiple demographic levels i.e fast fashion and RTW it should be admired. designers don’t really have any way of protecting their own ideas from copycats and those copycats are fast fashion brands, so the only real way they have of cashing in on someone else profiting from their ideas is to join them when they can and take the money and run.
why throw shade at a designer for making it easier for you to buy something they created? chances are fast fashion buyers aren’t going to suddenly love their new shirt so much they go drop 400 bones to buy the non-diffused line version of it, so the ‘integrity’ of the brand you so love and adore is still there if you want it.

This TED talk is something I watch literally all the time -- probably at least once a month, usually once every two weeks. I can never figure out how to feel about it, but it always makes me think.

What is fashion to you? How does fast fashion and knockoffs impact the way you approach clothing? I think it's such a complicated thing most of the time. Buying knockoffs sometimes fills me with shame and this shame is reinforced by my friends who recognize that they are knockoffs and say it's terrible that the designer had their ideas stolen. This shame sometimes deters me from buying shoes that I think are pretty, even though they're the only ones I can afford because the originals are so out of my reach. Hey man, I would if I could, you know?

That's why I'm totally happy with seeing big brands like Margiela collaborate (and essentially just recreate their key looks) with fast fashion retailers; none of the guilt, all of the look. I think it's messed up when people shame you for your purchases just because you can't afford the real thing, but it also makes me uncomfortable to condone knockoffs of an original and beautiful design, because when you buy it, none of that money you're paying for the idea of the shoe goes back to the creator, just the thief.

*sidenote: this is not a response to the BoF op-ed I linked on twitter a few days ago, i actually wrote this post when the collaboration was just announced.


Hazel said...

What's insane to me is that she mentions high fashion designers get their inspiration from "the street" and most people on the street, I would say, wear fast fashion, but fast fashion copies the high fashion designers. SO IT'S THIS BIG CIRCLE?!

Girl with the most cake said...

I tend to think that even if I'm wearing a knock-off it's important that I know who the original inventor of the look/idea/design is (if we're talking about high fashion knock-offs). It feels much nicer to wear something authentic, but sometimes authenticity isn't the priority.

I used to have mixed feelings like you do when I was a CD collector - I would feel bad for buying Russian versions of an album b/c my money didn't go to the people I felt deserved it (the artists) and I didn't get nice booklets with the music, either.

When it comes to other types of knock-offs it gets tricky. There's this russian indie brand of clothing that made some "Comme Des Fuckdown" shirts about a month ago and I was so disgusted at them just blatantly re-selling a foreign idea I stopped talking to those who were associated with that situation.


It's such an interesting conversation - i find collaborations to be a great idea, allowing the masses to become more familiar with designers they may not have heard of, essentially educating them of the most influential artists and designers of our time on a platform they can understand.

As for knock-offs, you can copy a shoe, or a dress, or a print, but you can never knock-off true creativity. While Zara may be producing the exact dress as Celine, they can never knock off Phoebe Philo's brain or thought pattern, and she will continue to blow them out of the water.

I myself wouldn't purchase a knock off from one of these retailers (mostly because i hate supporting mass manufacturing of clothing overseas) but I would never judge another for choosing to shop within their budget. After all, credit card debt doesn't really look good on anyone.

Taps said...

Hey man,
Just wanted to say I'm enjoying your blog at the moment. Not that I wasn't before, but I'm just really appreciating the discussion of fashion as philosophy and politics, it's really cool. I was meant to go to a feminist/trans friendly discussion group on fashion, and I was going to mention your blog as an example of particular awesomeness. Alas, I got sick and didn't go. But anyway keep doing what you do :).

Yasmeen said...

There are two arguments that I hear often and I'm not sure they're mutually exclusive. The first goes like, "Fast fashion is poison. It ruins our ability to truly appreciate quality and hard work and makes us jaded to true art i.e. designer clothing/shoes" (or something to that effect) and the other goes like, "Designer clothing perpetuates a sense of exclusivity and divided the fashion masses. Fast fashion promotes accessibility and inclusion so it's better!"

Like you, I see problems and points in both arguments. I've seen shitty quality designer clothing and I've seen sturdy, durable designs. I do think fashion should be accessible but how much is too much? And why does something need to be durable if people aren't? x_x Such a difficult dilemma. I could probably write a dissertation on it.

Frigid Lady Monster said...

Like the TED video says, high fashion is (or at least should be) cognizant of its demographic. I guess the question then, is whether designers are upset because the integrity of their design is compromised in the copying process, or because persons of a lower class now have access to "their" art. It's a rather dark view of the situation, but to suggest classicism in fashion doesn't exist is willful blindness.

Jo said...

Very interesting post... AND interesting comments above too! Thanks for making me ponder on an aspect of fashion that I'd never really put much thought into!

Jo x amomentwithjo

thefashionserf said...

Yes! Finally! I've been making this argument for-EVER. High-end, fast, and street fashions are all cyclical and influence each other. Whew. Thank you for that.

Maria Nichole