Seeing Double: A Look Into Fashion’s Knockoff Culture

What’s the line between inspiration and copying?

The counterfeit and knockoff fashion culture has sprouted millions of replications of popular designs. Across the world, brands both big and small have to deal with the possibility of having their unique designs copied and sold at a lower price and quality. This isn’t new information. A 2014 exhibit in The Museum At FIT featured original designs juxtaposed with copies dating all the way back to 1903. Fast forward to more than a century later in 2017, the UK counterfeit fashion trade reached USD450 billion alone despite the dedicated work of their special anti-counterfeiting police unit.

Two pairs of denim pants

The perpetuation of knockoff fashion culture has us doing a double-take before purchasing. (Photo from Mica Asato via Pexels)

It’s not just high fashion couture houses that get victimised with knockoffs and dupes. In 2019, a report by SEMRush found that the luxe streetwear brand Supreme topped the list of online searches for fake alternatives. Certainly, being a hyped-up brand opens itself up to getting designs replicated and sold for cheaper. But that's not to say that small brands don't face the same dilemma. 

The legalities behind knockoff fashion culture

While blatant artistic copying is mostly protected by intellectual property and copyright laws, there is still a lot to be done with fashion laws. In fashion, the silhouette and shape of a design cannot be “unique” per se. Some will argue that there’s nothing unique anymore and every piece of art, including fashion, is inspired by past designs. So the distinction between inspiration and copying remains unclear.

Case in point: Zadig&Voltaire’s ZVinitiale bag. Social media fashion police Diet Prada just recently pointed out that the ZVinitiale’s hardware and logo look eerily similar to Louis Vuitton’s logo and Hermès Constance straps. But since the LV and Hermes logos are nowhere to be found on the ZVinitiale, it’s perfectly legal for Zadig&Voltaire to sell it as their own design.

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Zadig & Vuitton & Hermès? French boho rocker brand @zadigetvoltaire did a mini influencer push over the weekend for their new #ZVinitiale bag, and that hardware had us doing a double take. The ZV ‘initiales’ have combined into a logo that’s more than a little familiar... knock off the top of the ”Z” and you pretty much have Louis Vuitton’s “Twist” hardware, only without the function. Originally debuting in the FW14 collection by Nicolas Ghesquiere, the twist logo hardware was an instant hit, gracing several bags in the LV lineup in the years since. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ But Vuitton wasn’t the only luxury brand that seemed to be on their moodboard. The strap construction of the ZV bag is lifted from the Hermès Constance, an under-appreciated icon of bag design which launched in 1959. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Bonus: A little digging turned up a noteworthy bit of ZV’s history. In 2012, brand founder Thierry Gillier spoke to the press about plans to open a luxury hotel on Paris’s Left Bank. Speaking to the press, he mentioned that the hotel would be uber exclusive. “We are going to select guests. It won’t be open to Chinese tourists, for example.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The backlash was swift, with Chinese netizens promising to boycott both the hotel and the brand. It seems to have been effective... the hotel appears to never have opened and the proposed site on Rue Grenelle is still only home to a retail store and offices lol. • #lvtwist #louisvuitton #zadigetvoltaire #zvinitiale #zvtribe #frenchstyle #bloggerstyle #hermes #hermesconstance #birkin #luxury #luxurygoods #designer #designerpurse #purseaddict #hardware #logo #logomania #ootd #wiwt #bag #fashion #purse #thierrygillier #hotelzadig #Paris #madeinfrance #leather #dietprada

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However, if you happen upon a bag with an Hermès design and logo, for example, then that is considered a counterfeit product and therefore illegal. Counterfeit is placing a trademarked logo on a product not made by the trademark holder. Singapore’s trademark laws, as explained on the Singapore Legal Advice blog, indicate that buying a bag with the logo “COUCH” wouldn’t be considered counterfeit, while something labelled “COACH” and “COÅCH” fall under the category of counterfeit. 

Similarly, fabric prints could be protected by copyright. However, the idea of a design such as the cut of a dress would not fall under copyright and trademark laws. These are just examples of gray areas in fashion laws.

Knockoff fashion as an international phenomenon

Now that we know the basic legalities surrounding the issue, let’s explore the global phenomenon of knockoff fashion culture. We have fast-fashion brands that release “heavily inspired” designs to an international market. Perhaps the biggest culprit today would be the platform Fashion Nova, which has come under fire several times for replicating the clothes worn by celebrities like the Kardashians, Jennifer Lopez, and more.

A collage of the Versace 'Jungle' dress and the alleged knockoff from FashionNova

Fashion Nova had a controversy last year for supposedly copying J.Lo's iconic "Jungle" dress. (Left) The official reinterpretation of the Versace "Jungle" dress. (Photo from: @versace) (Right) The FashionNova dress. (Photo from: @fashionnova)

With the help of social media clout, Fashion Nova and other fast-fashion brands have garnered a following for offering affordable alternatives that make buyers feel like they’re living the same lifestyle as their favourite celebrities at a much, much cheaper price.

The appeal of having a knockoff fashion product sprouts from the status symbol it holds. After all, people still believe that buying and having expensive-looking designs, in turn, makes them look expensive as well. High-fashion brands have instant global recognition and, for a lot of people, such products become representations of their identity. After all, fashion and style are means of self-expression.

What can we do now?

A fashion designer pinning fabric to a mannequin

While less-obvious knockoffs are still technically legal, it's best to support original designs when we can. (Photo from Polina Zimmerman via Pexels)

While it’s not our fault if we unintentionally fall for a counterfeit fashion item, it’s still our responsibility to do our research before going through with a purchase. Knockoffs have the appeal of looking similar to trendy items, so it helps us feel like we’re fitting in. Still, take into consideration if the brands we’re purchasing from operate under ethical and humane practices. Alternatively, we could also buy authentic luxury brand items secondhand from trusted sellers. At the end of the day, how a fashion item looks on you depends on your confidence and ease of carrying it. Own it and wear it well.

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