Are You Wearing Knockoffs?

When we think of knockoffs in fashion, we typically think of the cheap imitations of luxury brands such as Chanel and Gucci, which can often be found in the back alleys of major metropolitan centers. But the practice of copying designs is much more pervasive than you think. Peek behind the curtains of fashion production rooms and you’ll find that many — if not most — designers are ripping off designs in some way. 

And it’s not just the companies you’d expect, either. We all know that fast fashion brands are quick to mimic the latest looks. Just check out this collection from Zara, for example. It’s essentially a rip off of avant-garde designers such as Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, and Maurizio Altieri (for those keeping track, this is the fifth mention of Rick Owens at Put This On). Companies like Zara have built business empires by copying runway looks and offering them at more affordable prices to the high street consumer. 

No, the fast fashion stuff is obvious, but copying happens elsewhere as well – even among “top designers.” Maison Martin Margiela’s German Army Trainers and Common Projects’ white Achilles Lows, for example, are essentially rip offs of earlier designs by other companies (albeit with ever-so-slight modifications). Then, of course, there are all the rip offs of Common Projects’ work. Nigel Cabourn also often mixes and matches things he sees in vintage pieces, but sometimes, things are pretty straightforward reproductions. Speaking of reproductions, many of those niche Japanese labels many of us covet (e.g. Buzz Rickson, The Real McCoys, Toys McCoys) are just reproducing vintage garments they’ve found at flea markets

Free Culture and Innovation

Johanna Blakely, who serves as a Deputy Director at a media-focused think tank at USC, gave what I think is one of the best talks on this issue at TED. In a nutshell, her argument is: fashion’s free-for-all culture drives trends, which in turn, pushes innovation. In other words, fashion evolves like this: one company introduces a risky, but good design, and when it proves successful in the market, other high-end designers copy it. This creates a trend. Eventually, the trend becomes safe enough for mass-market fashion retailers to copy (since they have to wait until they can move millions, not just dozens, of units). These retailers milk it for all its worth, and when high-street consumers start wearing the style, early-adopters move on to other things (perhaps out of snobbishness, or just not wanting to pay top dollar to look like everyone else). This gives those earlier experimental brands an incentive to innovate. As Blakely puts it, without this free-for-all copying culture, the world of fashion would be much less vibrant. 

Naturally, the argument is not without its opponents. This week, The New York Times hosted a discussion on intellectual property rights in fashion, and a few writers argued that the industry needs much stronger protections. Admittedly, I wasn’t terribly convinced by their arguments, but one good point they did touch on is that, when a big brand rips off a smaller company, it can be a devastating blow to a young designer, who can’t afford to have the wind taken out of his or her sails. Those “hot trend” moments can make or break their career. 

Of course, there are also the ethics surrounding intellectual property, which is a separate (and perhaps thornier) issue. One thing is for sure, however — we as fashion consumers can avoid the kind of knockoffs with fake luxury labels (the kind sold in those downtown alleys), but it’s almost impossible to not wear something that has stolen a bit of design from somewhere else. When Oprah asked Ralph Lauren in 2011 how he’s been able to keep designing for so many years, he answered: “You copy. Forty-five years of copying; that’s why I’m here.”

Real People: Intent vs. Practice

Nearly every piece of clothing we own was designed as part of someone’s vision, whether that vision was personal or creative or focus-grouped for impact on the mass market; prep pastiche, minimalist performance, louche Italian cafewear, what have you. Those visions are are articulated through runway shows, catalog photography, in-store merchandising, astroturf marketing; whatever. It’s tempting to buy into these visions entirely, and acquire a lot of one line (or vintage era, or subcultural dress code) in order to be coherent. These unified worldviews can also be intimidating, sometimes intentionally so, implying that a certain level of commitment is required to wear, for example, a designer leather jacket.

I think that’s unrealistic and ridiculous.

Brian in DC provides a good example of building a coherent wardrobe from seemingly disparate sources. He wears some relatively accessible basics (like Uniqlo and Steven Alan), with more unusual, special items, like his Rick Owens leather jacket or a wool Veronique Branquinho coat (Branquinho’s label hasn’t made menswear in a few years). He doesn’t shy away from heritage-influenced brands either, like Nigel Cabourn or Folk. Runway shows don’t usually say “comfortably understated” to me, but Brian’s photos do. It helps that Brian seems to know what he likes: quiet colors, refined fabrics, mixed textures, and fitted but not tight silhouettes. The outfits pictured above are a template for modern casual wear, and Brian’s approach of finding what works for him from perhaps unexpected sources is a model for filling and refreshing your closet.

-Pete

Redditor daou0782 explains the difference between a $450 black t-shirt from Rick Owens and a $5 black t-shirt from Hanes. He then talks about the importance of details, and how there are two ways to appreciate clothing: clothes as means-to-an-end, and clothes as an end in itself. I don’t wear long, drapey, black tees, and wouldn’t pay $450 for one, but daou0782’s post is pretty interesting and sensible. 
(Note, this is the third Rick Owens post at Put This On in the last two weeks, which is kind of strange.)

Redditor daou0782 explains the difference between a $450 black t-shirt from Rick Owens and a $5 black t-shirt from Hanes. He then talks about the importance of details, and how there are two ways to appreciate clothing: clothes as means-to-an-end, and clothes as an end in itself. I don’t wear long, drapey, black tees, and wouldn’t pay $450 for one, but daou0782’s post is pretty interesting and sensible. 

(Note, this is the third Rick Owens post at Put This On in the last two weeks, which is kind of strange.)

Thick Flannel Shirts
Over the weekend, Jesse listed this Spring’s Seven “Must Have Or You’ll Die” Essentials. Do you know why? Because he lives in Los Angeles, and in Southern California, the four seasons are: spring, summer, summer with slightly chillier nights (but not by much), and spring with slightly chillier nights (but again, not by much). Dear readers: know that I - as your correspondent in the Bay Area - understand that we’re still solidly in winter. Here in the Bay, it’s still cold enough to need chunky sweaters, heavy coats, and the occasional pair of gloves. 
It’s also useful to have a few thick flannel shirts around. I’ve been wearing mine every once in a while with jeans and a leather jacket, and prefer ones made from heavy, coarse fabrics. My favorite sources so far include:
John Lofgren: A highly underrated and underappreciated workwear label. Really nice, thick fabrics made into shirts with slightly short, vintage-y cuts. Available at John Lofgren’s site directly, but also Self Edge and Bench & Loom (although the last two don’t have woven shirts right now).
Flat Head: A Japanese workwear label that draws a lot of inspiration from American motorcycle and hot rod subcultures. They have two lines of shirts – the mainline, which is slim and shorter fitting, and Glory Park, which is just a touch bigger. Of all my flannels, these are easily my favorite, but they’re expensive. If you don’t mind the price, they’re available at Self Edge and Rivet & Hide.
Five Brother: A genuine workwear label that recently started making slim fitting shirts for the fashion crowd. These are made from vividly colored fabrics with coarse weaves and a dry hand. Of all the companies on this list, Five Brother probably offers the best price to value ratio. You can find them now at Bench & Loom, but in the past, Context and Hickoree’s has also carried them (they will again this fall).
Nigel Cabourn: Always a favorite, but his prices are stratospherically high. If it matters, his flannel shirts are sometimes reversible, although the other side of the one I bought is perhaps too “fuzzy” to realistically use. Still, he has some nice subtle detailing that the other brands don’t offer (unique pocket designs, smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and extra, extra thick fabrics). Available at Nigel Cabourn’s own website or any of his stockists. If you’re not able to afford those retail prices, you’ll have to trawl Yoox and eBay like me.
RRL: Ralph Lauren’s ranch inspired sub-label. The fabrics on RRL shirts really run the gamut, but in general, they’re typically a bit flimsier than the aforementioned brands (at least when it comes to fall/ winter shirts). On the upside, they can often be found on deep discount (I bought mine for about $75). These are available at Ralph Lauren’s website, and certain niche stockists such as Unionmade and Frans Boone.
The best part about wearing thick flannel shirts? With designers such as Daiki Suzuki and Heidi Slimane incorporating them into last year’s looks, you can simultaneously feel very “aritansal heritage workwear” and “high fashion au courant.” Plus, Rick Owens wears them! The dream of the 90s is alive in menswear. At least until spring comes for the rest of us. 

Thick Flannel Shirts

Over the weekend, Jesse listed this Spring’s Seven “Must Have Or You’ll Die” Essentials. Do you know why? Because he lives in Los Angeles, and in Southern California, the four seasons are: spring, summer, summer with slightly chillier nights (but not by much), and spring with slightly chillier nights (but again, not by much). Dear readers: know that I - as your correspondent in the Bay Area - understand that we’re still solidly in winter. Here in the Bay, it’s still cold enough to need chunky sweaters, heavy coats, and the occasional pair of gloves. 

It’s also useful to have a few thick flannel shirts around. I’ve been wearing mine every once in a while with jeans and a leather jacket, and prefer ones made from heavy, coarse fabrics. My favorite sources so far include:

  • John Lofgren: A highly underrated and underappreciated workwear label. Really nice, thick fabrics made into shirts with slightly short, vintage-y cuts. Available at John Lofgren’s site directly, but also Self Edge and Bench & Loom (although the last two don’t have woven shirts right now).
  • Flat Head: A Japanese workwear label that draws a lot of inspiration from American motorcycle and hot rod subcultures. They have two lines of shirts – the mainline, which is slim and shorter fitting, and Glory Park, which is just a touch bigger. Of all my flannels, these are easily my favorite, but they’re expensive. If you don’t mind the price, they’re available at Self Edge and Rivet & Hide.
  • Five Brother: A genuine workwear label that recently started making slim fitting shirts for the fashion crowd. These are made from vividly colored fabrics with coarse weaves and a dry hand. Of all the companies on this list, Five Brother probably offers the best price to value ratio. You can find them now at Bench & Loom, but in the past, Context and Hickoree’s has also carried them (they will again this fall).
  • Nigel Cabourn: Always a favorite, but his prices are stratospherically high. If it matters, his flannel shirts are sometimes reversible, although the other side of the one I bought is perhaps too “fuzzy” to realistically use. Still, he has some nice subtle detailing that the other brands don’t offer (unique pocket designs, smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and extra, extra thick fabrics). Available at Nigel Cabourn’s own website or any of his stockists. If you’re not able to afford those retail prices, you’ll have to trawl Yoox and eBay like me.
  • RRL: Ralph Lauren’s ranch inspired sub-label. The fabrics on RRL shirts really run the gamut, but in general, they’re typically a bit flimsier than the aforementioned brands (at least when it comes to fall/ winter shirts). On the upside, they can often be found on deep discount (I bought mine for about $75). These are available at Ralph Lauren’s website, and certain niche stockists such as Unionmade and Frans Boone.

The best part about wearing thick flannel shirts? With designers such as Daiki Suzuki and Heidi Slimane incorporating them into last year’s looks, you can simultaneously feel very “aritansal heritage workwear” and “high fashion au courant.” Plus, Rick Owens wears them! The dream of the 90s is alive in menswear. At least until spring comes for the rest of us. 

I mentioned Rick Owens in my post yesterday, and needless to say a guy who consistently designs intentionally overlong, body-hugging clothing is not someone I get the chance to mention a lot, but it gives me the excuse to link to this interview with Self Edge’s Kiya Babzani on The Crossfire, in which Kiya tells his Rick Owens story.

…we got an order on the online store a couple of years ago and it’s for four or five different items – a couple of Iron Heart things, a couple of Flat Head things. And the credit card was declined over and over again… and then it went through finally – and that triggers a fraud alert for us. So I’m looking at it and thinking – OK, it’s going to Paris, it’s going to Owenscorp – I don’t know what that is! It doesn’t have someone’s name on it… so I e-mail the person, I didn’t even put it together – Owenscorp. So I e-mail the person and she says, “oh it’s for Rick – he wants these things, sorry if the credit card didn’t go through – he just wants it sent to his studio. And I’m thinking, “holy s—-, this is Rick Owens.” It’s his assistant e-mailing me! …
A year goes by and I get an e-mail from the woman at his studio – “Rick lost his favorite flannel [shirt].” It was a red buffalo check from Iron Heart. “Please send another one and charge us.” Well, that was a year before and we didn’t have that flannel anymore. But then I looked and in New York or somewhere, we had it in blue. So I e-mailed her and said, “well, we have it in blue” – and she replied, “no worries, mail it. We’ll dye it.” And that was the end of it. We sent it to her and never heard back. But I thought, “dye it? You can’t dye a buffalo check flannel.” But then I was thinking, “I’m not arguing with Rick Owens.” Maybe Rick Owens has this crazy-ass way of dyeing. It’s a blue and black flannel, how are you going to make it red and black? You can’t, it’s impossible!

The rest of the interview is worth reading, too. Kiya gives one of the best explanations I’ve heard of what differentiates Japanese denim lines and why he chooses to carry the lines he does.
-Pete

I mentioned Rick Owens in my post yesterday, and needless to say a guy who consistently designs intentionally overlong, body-hugging clothing is not someone I get the chance to mention a lot, but it gives me the excuse to link to this interview with Self Edge’s Kiya Babzani on The Crossfire, in which Kiya tells his Rick Owens story.

…we got an order on the online store a couple of years ago and it’s for four or five different items – a couple of Iron Heart things, a couple of Flat Head things. And the credit card was declined over and over again… and then it went through finally – and that triggers a fraud alert for us. So I’m looking at it and thinking – OK, it’s going to Paris, it’s going to Owenscorp – I don’t know what that is! It doesn’t have someone’s name on it… so I e-mail the person, I didn’t even put it together – Owenscorp. So I e-mail the person and she says, “oh it’s for Rick – he wants these things, sorry if the credit card didn’t go through – he just wants it sent to his studio. And I’m thinking, “holy s—-, this is Rick Owens.” It’s his assistant e-mailing me! …

A year goes by and I get an e-mail from the woman at his studio – “Rick lost his favorite flannel [shirt].” It was a red buffalo check from Iron Heart. “Please send another one and charge us.” Well, that was a year before and we didn’t have that flannel anymore. But then I looked and in New York or somewhere, we had it in blue. So I e-mailed her and said, “well, we have it in blue” – and she replied, “no worries, mail it. We’ll dye it.” And that was the end of it. We sent it to her and never heard back. But I thought, “dye it? You can’t dye a buffalo check flannel.” But then I was thinking, “I’m not arguing with Rick Owens.” Maybe Rick Owens has this crazy-ass way of dyeing. It’s a blue and black flannel, how are you going to make it red and black? You can’t, it’s impossible!

The rest of the interview is worth reading, too. Kiya gives one of the best explanations I’ve heard of what differentiates Japanese denim lines and why he chooses to carry the lines he does.

-Pete