Monday, August 18, 2008


I hate to be a shit-stirrer, but Fashionista never fails to annoy me with its superiority complex. Most recently, they've been defending their incessant "Adventures in Copyright" feature in which they deride people (the shoppers, not the companies) for purchasing knockoffs from Forever 21 and other cheap stores. There's something to be said for originality (though it's hard to find these days), but what bothers me most is the condescension apparent in their posts. Their moral authority seems to rest not on a respect for creative property, but rather on their own admitted purchasing power. Right after bashing a Forever 21 copy, they'll coo over Zara, J.Crew's effective Balenciaga-blazer ripoff, or tell you how to design your very own Elizabeth and James sequined tee. See the pictures above as they identify Sergio Rossi knockoffs just weeks after painting their very own version of his shoe.

They defend that last one by saying that by not selling it for profit, they are above the knockoff industry. But how do they excuse the first two? It seems to me that they hold more expensive copies in higher regard, when really, these should be criticized more intensely. A shopper spending $60 on a Balenciaga knockoff would never spring for the real thing, but someone with $500 to spare on J.Crew's version just might.

My favorite example of classic holier-than-thou Fashionista writing is intern Kyle Hayes's little article about a friend who turned up for drinks wearing (GASP!) some knockoff clothing:

"Since she's a good friend of mine, I asked her if she was familiar with the origins of her outfit. She responded, 'Oh yeah, I know. I mean, it's not like I can afford the originals, so I just got these instead.'

I winced. Such an irrelevant excuse and yet kept in a holster."

Because not being able to afford something is TOTALLY irrelevant. Um, go get some money!

Someone posted a link to a fantastic New Yorker story on the piracy paradox, which is this:

"The paradox stems from the basic dilemma that underpins the economics of fashion: for the industry to keep growing, customers must like this year’s designs, but they must also become dissatisfied with them, so that they’ll buy next year’s. Many other consumer businesses face a similar problem, but fashion—unlike, say, the technology industry—can’t rely on improvements in power and performance to make old products obsolete. Raustiala and Sprigman argue persuasively that, in fashion, it’s copying that serves this function, bringing about what they call 'induced obsolescence.' Copying enables designs and styles to move quickly from early adopters to the masses. And since no one cool wants to keep wearing something after everybody else is wearing it, the copying of designs helps fuel the incessant demand for something new."

They make several other good points:

-"There’s little evidence that knockoffs are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy—estimates value the global luxury-fashion sector at a hundred and thirty billion dollars— and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger."

-"The absence of copyrights and patents also creates a more fertile ground for that innovation, since designers are able to take other people’s ideas in new directions. Had the designers who came up with the pinstripe or the stiletto heel been able to bar others from using their creations, there would have been less innovation in fashion, not more."

-"While knockoffs undoubtedly do steal some sales from originals, they are, for the most part, targeted at an entirely different market segment—people who appreciate high style but can’t afford high prices."

So yes, it's annoying to see constant rip-offs in Forever 21 and Steve Madden. But a company like Balenciaga or YSL is not hurting financially because of it. Smaller designers have less of a safety net, but even Mayle, who was ripped off by Forever 21, said her sales were way up (despite her decision to close shop).

I'm not necessarily defending knockoffs. I don't usually buy them (to my knowledge), but I don't have as big a moral issue with them on the grounds of creative property as some others do. Direct replicas are tacky, but more often than not, these supposed copies just seem to be inspired. Plus, who's the bigger asshole: the one who spends $900 on an original t-shirt or the one who spends $34 on a shirt that looks a bit similar? Pot, kettle, I know. But the point is, frugality has its value.

Where I do have an ethical problem with knockoffs is the way they are produced, but this criticism applies to all fashion. There are $500 dresses made in China alongside those $14.90 skirts you see en masse. If you're going to attack sweatshop labor, make sure those designers and companies who engage in it but just so happen to make a larger profit and prettier goods are included as well.

What really makes me furious is the overt classism displayed by Fashionista. Fashion, like many other lifestyle industries, has historically relied on exclusion (and the use of conspicuous consumption to show status). Obviously in an ideal world, everyone could go out and find original and cheap vintage or indie designer pieces. If you know where to look, good pieces are out there, and there are so many wardrobe_remixers who look amazing in all vintage, but the market is such that vintage stores are quickly turning into consignment shops. A dress from the 60s now often costs more than its modern incarnation. And to say that "if you can't afford the real thing, go find something ELSE and don't sit at our table" is just disgusting. People involved in fashion generally want to engage with trends, and trendy items are often direct or indirect knockoffs. To not purchase the "REAL thing" or the "copy" is often to sit out on a trend cycle, and how many people hoping to break into the fashion world want to do that? The truth is, equality of opportunity is still a far cry from reality.

{images via Fashionista}


laura said...

"Definitely not someone you'd expected to show up sporting an F21 knockoff and an "I know' smirk."

Ouch. Can you imagine being her "really cool friend"?



clarafier said...

you act like there's something wrong with not wanting poor people to have nice things. pfth.