Fashion breeds imitation. As Miranda Priestley so cuttingly explained in The Devil Wears Prada, what’s seen on the runway very quickly percolates into even the most commercial of markets. It’s no surprise than that the word “knockoff” is constantly on the tip of the tongue of designers and consumers.
Most people can readily identify that the table of goods seen on a street corner in Chinatown contains fakes (it’s even easier to come to this conclusion when labels read Pvada and Luis Vutton). But what happens when a trusted brand gets caught in the imitation debate?
Just this month, the Kardashian Kollection for Sears previewed its wares before its official August 25 debut. Among the assorted tops and dresses was a handbag alarmingly similar to Botkier’s Trigger Clyde bag, which was released back in Fall 2009. Almost every aspect of the Kardashian kreation looked identical to Botkier’s design: the zippers, studded handles, and side tassels were almost a mirror image. Monica Botkier, the founder of the eponymous brand, brought her shock to twitter while her lawyers served both Sears and the Kardashians with a cease-and-desist letter. Sears pulled the bags from shelves, but it’s unlikely that we’ve heard the last of this debacle.
The Botkier Trigger Clyde handbag (left) and similar design from the Kardashian Kollection for Sears. Images via Planet Botkier.
Outrage surrounding a reality television clan may not seem too shocking, but an epic battle between two esteemed couture houses does. Christian Louboutin, famed purveyor of high-end high heels, is suing Yves Saint Laurent for allegedly copying his signature red sole. A judge ruled against a preliminary injunction that would prevent YSL from continuing production on their own shoes: the judge claimed that the ability to trademark a single color would hamper the fashion industry, which brings us to our final case study.
Retailer Thursday Friday suffered the wrath of Hermes at the beginning of 2011, when the French luxury house claimed that Thursday Friday’s $65 “Together” tote created “brand confusion” with its canvas screenprint of the iconic Birkin bag. Fast forward to the present: Thursday Friday is now threatening legal action against a company selling knockoffs of the “Together” bag—itself an accused knockoff—on Ebay. What a tangled web!
As the Kardashians refute copycat claims, Loubotin appeals the judge’s motion and Thursday Friday tries to take down its competitor, we have to ask, what’s in a design? Imitation has always inspired healthy competition, but when does it go too far?
I’m going to venture the opinion that, in the case of the Kardashian Kollection, the handbag in question is undoubtedly a knockoff. Louboutin and Hermes’s cases are much trickier: on one hand, brands should be able to protect their products, but creative freedom shouldn’t be stifled.
What say you, readers? Are knockoffs detrimental to the industry, and when does an inspired design become a fake?