When I am not blogging for Creative Pool I am running my vintage clothing market at Brick Lane and Spitalfields. All of the traders there follow the trends and stock their stalls accordingly, working hard to hunt down vintage fashion which ties in with current highstreet trends and altering and remaking garments to appeal to savvy consumers. Most stalls have signs which state "No Photos," partly because it's a bit annoying when some group of guys on a stag do come in to your stall and treat it as a giant dressing up box, having no intention of buying that delicate 1940's hat they are trying on, but the main reason for the signs is to deter the high street researchers who regularly use us as a free pool of trend spotting and design ideas.
At school nothing used to make me more angry than when someone copied my idea, my work, my pencil case choice, even though I was reminded at the time that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The same is true now but what happens in our little market micro-climate is reflected in the wider world of fashion and design and it's one massive grey area.
The nature of trends in design is known as the "trickle down effect." Ie. a high-end designer comes up with the trends for the forthcoming season way ahead of schedule. The rich buy into it and middle classes aspire to it, being able to get their hands on it a few months later when highstreet names remake it for an affordable price. Eventually someone will produce something closely linked to that trend for £1, thus everyone gets a slice of the cake. Helen Mirren describes this very well when explaining the origins of Kim Basinger's bargain bin blue sweater in "The Devil Wears Prada." In this circumstance, everyone wins, but what about when the people who come up with the original idea are not powerful design houses who earn their golden crust but tiny independent designers with amazing ideas but no capital power?
Back in February, Claire's Accessories copied five of independent online jewellers Tatty Devine's necklace designs, including a moustache necklace, a fishbone necklace and a banana necklace, prior to this they were also accused of copying a telephone necklace by Laura Figiel. On one hand this kind of ripping off is pretty low, but then again Claire's Accessories specialise in cheaply made quick fashion which teenagers and children can afford to buy, having previously admired their 25 year old sister's £55 Tatty Devine necklace. Tatty Devine innovators Rosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine have made a book offering expertise on creating your own jewelry in Tatty Devine style, so assumingly it is ok to recreate their signature style, as long as there is some capital gain in it for them somewhere. People in the know will recognise Tatty Devine for their signature cut-out Perspex jewelry, whether it carnates itself in its original format or in Claire's Accessories shops. Should being the original innovator be enough?
Urban Outfitters are continually coming under fire for ripping off independent designers, regularly visiting the Brooklyn Flea market to see what ideas they can steal. One such case is that of Chicago-based jewelry designer Stevie Koernet who has been making cut out shapes of states and countries with cut out hearts stamped in them for the past two and a half years, selling them from between $26 and $100. Urban Outfitters then created a whole line entitled "I Heart (Destination)" and sold them for $19.
Elsewhere in the trend wars, you get high-end designers copying other high-end designers such as YSL who was accused by French shoemaker Christian Louboutin of stealing his trademark red sole shoes. The case went to the New York Court who ruled that YSL had permission to recreate the same design. Everyone knows Louboutin as the inventor of the red sole, but how can you claim the colour red as your own?
Jimmy Choo had more luck with it took Oasis, Warehouse, Marks & Spencer, Jane Shilton and Shoe Studio collectively to court and successfully sued the lot of them for stealing it's designs.
At the darker end of the market is the world of fakes. Louis Vuitton and Burberry were awarded £1.63 million in damages against Singga Enterprise Inc. and Carnation Fashion Company who were producing exact copies of their bags. But how can such a practice be damaging to the designers? Rich people who care about statement bags would never be seen dead with a fake, whereas it allows poorer people to have the same feeling of carrying a bag who were never in a million years going to fork out for an original.
It's a confusing subject which makes my brain ache. The whole business of copying other people's designs is never going to go away, it's just not very nice when it happens to you. Perhaps it's best to look at it as the sincerest form of flattery after all, and in the mean time just try to take inspiration from others and come up with your own take on an idea rather than just imitating it.
Jessica Hazel is a writer, blogger and director of Smoking Gun Vintage