Business of Fashion’s topic this Monday was the question of copying in the fashion industry. Some valid points are raised, such as the difficulty that smaller brands face when trying to gain recognition as fast fashion companies produce replicas at a fraction of the time and cost, but I’m not convinced that we should be clamping down on these copyists, be that to protect designers or save consumers from themselves.
Copying is what keeps the fashion industry moving, and it’s also what allows people to create the persona that they present to the world, regardless of their budget. As Miranda Priestly has already explained to us, trends start on the runways*, and trickles down into lower priced stores, until everyone’s sick of that trend and we start looking for the next one. Do we really want to take that away from people? Shall we leave fashion for only the super rich while the rest of us peasants save our Sunday best to church? Brown linen tunics for the plebs… I like knowing that even though I can only afford real Dolce & Gabbana once in a while, they’ll inspire next season’s high street collections and I can get the look at my own budget.
Secondly, I don’t really have much respect for intellectual property, and I don’t think you can claim ideas so that nobody else can use them, in the same way you can claim physical objects. As far as I’m concerned, if you pay a factory to churn out 10,000 dresses that look almost exactly like a Valentino one, then sell them at a twentieth of the original price, you’re well within your rights to do so. You can’t own that kind of thing, and it’s (IMHO) morally wrong to prevent the consensual exchange of goods and services in this way, just because you want to be recognised for your good idea. Bad things happen when we mess with the free market.
Of course, this brings up the problem of counterfeit products. Selling a pair of fake Louboutins at a three digit price to an unsuspecting is simply dishonest and there’s no place for that, but knowingly buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag? Tom Ford dicusses this (around 28:00, but the whole video’s worth watching). Counterfeit buyers are not lost customers, they would have never bought the authentic piece in the first place, and the customer who can afford the real LV values the quality and exclusivity enough to justify the pricetag. Sure, there can be the issue of damaging a brand image, as we saw with the proliferation of fake Burberry around 10-15 years ago, but with enough creativity and innovation, a fashion house can survive this and retain (or regain) their prestigious reputation. Besides, nobody who bought a monogrammed purse from a guy who bundles his wares up in a sheet whenever a police officer approaches ever thought they were buyng genuine goods, if someone so desperately wants a crappy fake handbag to keep up appearances, it’s their problem when it falls apart after three uses.
High-end fashion occupies a special place in the market, and big high street brands need them to survive. Although it might feel like emerging designers are stuggling to gain recognition for their creative efforts, there will always be demand for the innovators, and this competition should be seen as the opportunity to remain relevant and cutting edge. Carving out one’s own little niche in the market, and then staying there, is simply a case of survival of the fittest.
*kind of, fashion designers don’t exist in a cultural vaccuum.