Fashion is a collective effort. Whilst designers themselves will often hold an individualised design aesthetic, every season shows come together in trends that reflect the cultural barometer of the time. These similarities and unified cultural nods have been part and parcel of the fashion industry since the invention of the Ready-to-Wear concept in the early 20th century. However, the addition of trends agencies to this mix has resulted in an ever greater tendency for designers to design en suite, with specific trends increasingly prolific across the runways.
In a sense, similarity is an inevitable element of the modern-day fashion narrative. Yet, the omnipresent power of fast fashion retailers has pushed the concept of inspiration to the forefront of the collective fashion consciousness. In fact, 2015 saw a slew of retailers pass off garments that bore rather a striking resemblance to their high-end designer counterparts.
Perhaps most infamously, online retailer NastyGal posted an image of Taylor Swift at the Billboard Music Awards last year accompanied by the caption, “One piece wonder @taylorswift in the #NastyGal Frisco Inferno Jumpsuit”. It didn’t take long for numerous comments to point out that the jumpsuit Swift was wearing was actually a Balmain piece. Interestingly though, the blatant copy quickly sold out, despite being grossly misrepresented.
Whilst most fast fashion retailers are guilty of dodgy replications, Zara has built a name for itself through a specific ability to mimic the trends, and often iconic shapes, of high-end darlings such as Celine, Alexander Wang and Balmain. Unlike other forms of creative output, such as literature or art, fashion garments and accessories are classified as ‘functional items’ and are excluded from most intellectual copyright protections. This means that, although a design house may have an iconic silhouette or design trait, there is nothing to stop a competing brand from replicating that design. The specific print of an item can be protected, but the way in which it is presented is not. What’s more, the nature of the industry means that designs are shown six months before they arrive in stores, allowing sneaky fast fashion copycats with an efficient supply-chain pathway to get ‘inspired’ designs into stores before the originals have even been produced.
With the law itself foggy, and high-quality replications on your doorstep in a fortnight, why would you wait six months and studiously save for that bat-winged crepe knit blazer? Simply head on down to the high street and pick an almost identical copy up for less than a quarter of the price and a good five months earlier.
Replication is said to be the highest form of flattery, but it becomes a serious issue when designers, particularly young and emerging brands, looking for a foothold, simply can’t keep up with the logistical prowess of a fast fashion retailer.
Marques’Almeida are one of the latest brands to be targeted for replication, with their iconic frayed denim aesthetic most recently featured on the landing page of the Zara website. It’s true that Zara haven’t breached any laws in their new collection of frayed denim trousers, but it’s easy to see where they found their inspiration. Moreover, whilst Prada may disapprove of Zara’s replication of the Pre-Fall florals, their bottom line is unlikely to be greatly affected. Yet brands like Marques’Almeida are often targeting the same sort of clientele as these big chain brands, looking to be an investment piece alongside more affordable items.
So how important is the idea of origin for the modern-day consumer? How much is originality worth? Enough to pay £285 for the real thing, when a nearly identical version is available for £32?
It seems the buck must stop with the consumer themselves. Fast fashion has its advantages: it has democratised a previously elitist industry and allowed almost anyone to engage in the fashion dialogue. But we must remember: for design to flourish, creative endeavour must be fairly rewarded.
Words: Skye-Maree Dixon
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu