Looking at the fashion industry in the last decade, you’d be forgiven for finding it challenging to differentiate real from fake. Logomania, endless collaborations and bootlegs-turned-partnerships have been rife, with brands tapping into the hype that a perfectly aligned, yet organically created mash-up can create. It seems that both emerging creatives and cheap knock-offs have become a major source of inspiration for luxury fashion brands, making it increasingly difficult to tell what’s real, and what’s fake.
But perhaps the traction in this movement lies in its subtlety: what happens when real and fake are indistinguishable, but more importantly, what if it doesn’t matter anymore? The dissolution of the binaries ‘real’ and ‘fake’ in producing goods has led to innovative and creative new collections, jobs and a new level of hype-driven marketing. Let’s take a look.
Fashion has essentially been a free-for-all over the years – appropriating and reworking has been both allowed and criticised in the industry. Take Ava Nirui, aka Avanope – the Sydney-born creative started making ‘bootlegs’, posting them on Instagram, and quickly went viral. Blending streetwear with luxury, one of Ava’s most memorable pieces was a ‘Champion x Gucci’ hoodie, on which the artist embroidered ‘Gucci’ to incorporate Champion’s ‘C’.
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Repeating this process frequently with a whole host of brands, Ava’s hobby transformed into a career when Marc Jacobs hired her for a collaboration which poked fun at the (often) misspelt names found on fakes. The collection was called ‘Mark Jakobes’ and featured the name on hoodies and tees, which sold-out almost instantly. Similar things are happening with Nicole McLaughlin – a creative making playful ‘bootlegs’, which have resulted in her being named Arc’teryx’s first design ambassador.
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So it seems brands are taking note – and maybe even encouraging The Fake. The idea of bootlegging for many has moved beyond harmful appropriation, to actually being a pretty good idea. However, this is often only the case when money isn’t involved.
As we’ve seen with Hermès’ ongoing NFT drama, some brands still take issue with creatives profiting from their trademarks, logos and likenesses. With Avanope and Nicole McLaughlin, brands were gaining exposure and not losing money to the creatives as nothing was actually on sale. With NFTs and traditional fakes though, there is still a very real culture of suing – just ask Mason Rothschild.
Sometimes though, brands do both. Take Dapper Dan, owner of the legendary Dapper Dan’s Boutique in Harlem, and all-round fashion influencer before they were a thing. His custom pieces gained notoriety by repurposing logos from fashion houses that had historically overlooked black clientele. Dan screenprinted the monograms of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, MCM and Fendi on premium leathers to create silhouettes synonymous with early hip-hop style: tracksuits, bomber jackets, baseball and kufi caps. In the process he became a pioneer of luxury streetwear and a pariah of the fashion industry, but this wasn’t always the case.
Dan’s popular creations actually propelled the luxury of existing labels, referring to them as “knock-ups” as opposed to “knock-offs”, and saying he simply “blackenised” the brands. Fendi didn’t agree though, hitting him with a trademark infringement case that saw him having to close his boutique and return to selling from his house and on the streets.
It was Gucci that saw things change for Dan. When the internet spotted comparisons from a 2017 puff-sleeve monogram jacket to one of Dapper Dan’s 1989 creations, the anger was palpable. Dan’s shop had been forced to shut down by wounded luxury brands, only for the same echelons to now appropriate and ‘fake’ his work, entirely uncredited. At the time, Gucci attempted to play it off by calling the jacket a “homage” to Dapper Dan – notably without any compensation.
This led to a change in fortunes for the slighted creative, when Gucci eventually hired him to design a capsule collection. The collaboration, perhaps created from pressure, eventually evolved into Gucci paying for a new, appointment-only atelier in Harlem for Dan, in tribute to his original boutique.
Gucci then took its relationship with fakes further – collaborating with artist Trevor Andrew on a series of accessories that had the words ‘REAL’ and ‘FAKE’ splashed across Gucci bags. Here their obsession with fashion’s fakes as a source of inspiration was never clearer: they were quite literally spelling it out.
First proposed in fashion theory in 1928 but consolidated over the last century, it seems that copies keep trend cycles in motion: people will always forge inspiration from forgeries, and bootlegging has now been adopted by brands as a useful source of creative inspiration. Just don’t try and profit from it.