Let’s Talk About… How Knock-Off Fashion Became Cool
Photograph by The Urban Spotter/Blaublut Edition
Why high-end designers are looking to fakes and bootlegs of their own brands for inspiration instead of filing a cease-and-desist order .
You can question the ethics of the counterfeit market, but you can’t knock the business model. Offer consumers an expensive-looking product for less, and chances are they’re going to buy it. What’s harder to understand, though, is why anyone would pay designer prices for something that looks fake. But fashion works in mysterious ways.
One of MR PORTER’s top-selling items this year is Gucci’s “fake logo” tee, which takes its inspiration from the kind of “Gucci” you’d find in a Chinatown flea market. A bootleg of a bootleg, in other words. Elsewhere, Balenciaga has appropriated corporate iconography to create counterfeits of its very own. Look at one of this season’s key pieces, an embroidered denim jacket that riffs on – ie, rips off – the logo of US senator Mr Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
It’s not just the news that’s fake in 2017 – fashion appears to be following suit. Rather than sending a pack of lawyers after the counterfeiters, big luxury brands are beginning to realise that if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. But what does it all mean? And what does it say about contemporary luxury? As we have done with previous trends, it’s time to apply more intellectual rigour to the topic than it really deserves. Let’s talk about it.
I don’t get this Gucci thing, MR PORTER. Why would I spend £300 on a T-shirt that looks like it cost £10?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The logo might be inspired by a fake from the 1980s, but you’re still buying a premium product. As you’d expect of Gucci, the cut and fabric are of the highest quality.
But what’s cool about a fake logo?
A more pertinent question would be: what’s cool about a real logo? Logos are obnoxious. They’re trashy. They’re for people who want everyone to know that they’re wearing an expensive brand. Part of the reason people love Gucci’s fake logo T-shirt is because it pokes fun at real logo T-shirts.
Were logos ever cool?
Back in the 1990s, branding was anything but discreet. Flashy logo tees and house monograms were everywhere in a display of ostentation known in the fashion biz as “logomania”. Ironically, it was the counterfeit market that spelled the end of that trend.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, knock-off products began to flood the market. In Britain, Burberry’s iconic house check became associated with so-called “chav” culture. It got such a bad reputation that pubs started banning people from wearing it. In response, Burberry pulled the check from its collection. Meanwhile, other brands were beginning to realise the danger that the counterfeit market posed to their business. In 2000, when Supreme released a skateboard deck decorated with a suspiciously Louis Vuitton-esque monogram print, the Parisian fashion house wasted no time in slapping the New York streetwear brand with a cease-and-desist order.
The same Supreme and Louis Vuitton that just collaborated on a major collection?
The very same.
What about Balenciaga copying the Mr Bernie Sanders logo? Is this some kind of political statement?
Let’s not get carried away. Balenciaga also used the logo of its holding company, Kering. This ironic appropriation of corporate iconography was used to great effect by Vetements in its spring 2016 collection, which featured a T-shirt decorated with the logo of deliveries and logistics company DHL.
So, in summary: logomania is back, but in an ironic way?
Something like that, yes.
Say I buy into this trend. How will people know I'm being ironic, and not ostentatious?
Choose the right pieces and it should be fairly obvious. The “fake” Gucci T-shirt took its inspiration from a bad fake, not a good one. Similarly, there's a starkness and simplicity to the subversive new Givenchy logo – almost as if it was applied by stencil – that screams well-executed-poorly-executed counterfeit. That make sense? Good.