Copy Cats

Left: Valentino Sandal | Right: Yvonne Bennetti Italia Shoe

Shortly after Nicolas Ghesquiere joining the luxury fashion house of Louis Vuitton, his shrunken version of the travel trunk, the Petite Malle bags, became hot property in the world of fashion. So much so, that the bags were replicated by fashion brands all over the world. Not only did BCBG Max Azria and Sam Elderman create their own versions of the petite sized trunk, but also the likes of Aspinal of London, Mark Cross and House of Holland. Could this be considered a compliment, a simple adaptation or interpretation? After all imitation is the highest form of flattery. Or is part of a bigger problem under the intellectual property umbrella? The original design of the trunk in question isn’t unique to Louis Vuitton however, trunks have been made for thousands of years by the Chinese and the most common trunk styles seen today date back to the 18th century.

Thirty years ago, journalist Michael Gross wrote an article for the New York Times regarding the garment-industry knockoff and the prevalence of the cheaper copy of an expensive design. The story centred on a cabbage rose sweater that was shown by English design house Crolla in early 1984. That March, Jean Paul Gaultier showed an oversized, hand embroided sweater. Shortly after that an employee at American knitwear manufacturer Berek sent a photo of the French designers sweater to Uruguay to have it duplicated. American designer Adrienne Vittadini clearly also had taken a liking to this particular garment with it showing up in her collection in the spring of 1985.

A marketing director at Gaultier told Gross that knock-offs ‘popularise the look’. “When they want the real thing, they know where to get it.”

Outlander, a division of American brand Leslie Fay made a US$60 version of the said sweater and sold about 500 dozen in three or four styles. Vice president for the company told Gross that you would have to be stupid to close your eyes to what is happening on the runway.

No apparel garment is left unturned in the quest for similarity to cash in on the popularity of the designs. It doesn’t just happen overseas either. I was disappointed to see similar styles of top luxury brands replicated by New Zealand designers. Take for example the Valentino Rockstud Sandal and New Zealand designer Yvonne Bennetti’s Italia Shoe. Now you tell me – what came first the chicken or the egg?