I read this really interesting post about copyright laws and fashion the other day on The Vancouverista, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Clothing is utilitarian and you can't copyright a design; you can only get a logo trademarked which is why there are knockoff logo purses getting busted at the night market, but it's okay for H&M etc. to be full of designer impostors. The point that is made in the video is that this is best for the industry as it forces designers to constantly innovate and push fashion further. I do agree with that. The video focuses on high-end luxury labels though, and makes the point that the Gucci customer is not shopping for knockoff on Canal Street. Of course.
Several people I went to school with work as "designers" for clothing companies and a big part of their job is travelling to New York and buying all the seasons trends at Barney's etc. and bringing the clothes back to be copied. Not just used for inspiration, but taken apart to make patterns, sent to factories overseas so the fabric and trims can be matched, and referred to as "the Chloe top" or "the Acne jacket". It's a reality of the business, but I feel a little bit sorry for these employees who got a job thinking that they were going to be designing clothes!
Where I think that it gets a little more confusing is when a mass-market retailer blatantly copies an independent, emerging designer. It's pretty common - Urban Outfitters is a repeat offender(repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat) and as a designer, I think that's pretty low. I'm sure Urban Outfitters etc. employs plenty of designers - let them design.
But I wonder how different my job is. Clients bring me pictures everyday of dresses they want made. Sometimes it's a bunch of "inspiration" pictures that capture a feeling, sometimes it's one dress that they just want copied. I'm happy to work from existing dresses to get an idea of what a client wants, and I think that my creativity comes into play when I can suggest options that might work better for them, and some clients are great: the literally want me to design something for them. It does bug me though when I get a sense that someone just wants a knockoff or that they want that $10,000 gown for a quarter of the price. When I sense that I say "Well, if you want exactly that dress, you should buy that dress. If you want a dress that is similar to that but fits you and is suited perfectly to you and uses that dress as a starting point - that's what I can do."
A couple of times I've had customers, generally ones who want a knockoff, ask me if there are any legal or ethical "issues" with me copying a dress. I tell them that there are no legal issues, and ask if they have an ethical issues with asking me to make a copy. That usually shuts them up!
I'd be really interested to know what you think. Is it a good thing that fashion is free for the copying? Would you buy a knockoff? A fake Chanel bag?