Copycat Fashion

It’s always been pretty common for fashion designers to take ideas and inspiration from each other.

There are dozens of examples out there but here’s one to show you how blatant and reckless it can get:

In 2003, Dolce & Gabbana produced a necklace that was virtually identical to a Vivienne Westwood design from 1989.

Here we have a very well-known fashion brand trying to sell almost an exact copy of a design from another very well-known fashion brand.

Stefano Gabbana posted this image to Instagram with the caption: “We were stupid and ignorant when we did this!!! We say SORRY to the Genius #viviennewestwood as we pay much attention to her work!!”

But hey, at least they admitted it and apologised… 14 years later.

In other cases, plagiarism is harder to prove:

Dolce & Gabbana recently called out Chanel for copying an element of a shoe design.


Not a direct copy but a similar idea.

Chanel told Teen Vogue their design was simply inspired by Greece and Greek culture.

Another recent example where the idea is similar but the execution differs significantly is luxury brand Balenciaga’s version of the humble IKEA shopping bag.

Balenciaga’s US$2,145 bag, made from premium Italian leather:


IKEA’s 99 cent bag, made from 100% polypropylene:


IKEA said it was “deeply flattered” by Balenciaga’s apparent homage to their product.

And it seems in fashion, any idea can be poached, not just clothing and accessory designs. Earlier this year, Alexander Wang posted a video to his Instagram account suggesting Philipp Plein had copied his runway show concept.

It also seems that the internet, particularly social media, has increased the accountability of fashion brands that plagiarise.

Fashion commentators and consumers are quick to take to Twitter, Instagram and other online forums to point out similarities in the designs of different brands.

Last month, a ‘tipster’ contacted fashion news/commentary site ‘Fashionista’ to bring to their attention “that Saint Laurent’s 2017 runway clutches are eerily similar to the work of Tongoro, a Senegalese brand…”

Fashionista contacted Tongoro’s founder, Sarah Diouf, who said:

I couldn’t believe my eyes… This is our bag. … For those who don’t understand, it’s like working on a project and getting an ‘F’ and seeing somebody copy you and getting an ‘A-plus’ credit for your work.” 

Left: Tongoro’s Mburu bag. Photo: @tongorostudio/Instagram; Right: A similar style, seen on the Saint Laurent Fall 2017 runway. Photo: Imaxtree. via

Though Saint Laurent hasn’t issued a response to these allegations, little-known, independent artists and designers are increasingly harnessing the power of social media to try to get powerful, multinational brands to take responsibility for shameless plagiarism.

In some cases, social media backlash has prompted the copycat brand to take the offending product/s off the market.

In 2016, Tuesday Bassen, an independent artist based in Los Angeles, used Instagram to tell the world that fast-fashion brand Zara had been copying her artwork.

Tuesday Bassen posted this image to Instagram (@tuesdaybassen) with the caption: “I’ve been pretty quiet about this, until now. Over the past year, @zara has been copying my artwork (thanks to all that have tipped me off–it’s been a lot of you). I had my lawyer contact Zara and they literally said I have no base because I’m an indie artist and they’re a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter. I plan to further press charges, but even to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far. 〰 It sucks and it’s super disheartening to have to spend basically all of my money, just to defend what is legally mine. ⚡️ EDIT: Some of you are asking how you can help. Repost and tag them, on Twitter, on Insta, on Facebook. I don’t want to have to burden any of you with the financial strain that comes with lawsuits.”

Zara said in response: “On receiving these allegations, the relevant items were immediately suspended from sale and an investigation opened…”

(Zara seems to be a particularly bad offender, with artist Adam J. Kurtz starting an Instagram account @shoparttheft, dedicated to bringing attention to Zara’s intellectual property theft from indie artists.)

This month, Laurie Lee Burley of ‘Laurie Lee Leather’ accused online fashion retail giant Asos of ripping off her designs after visiting her showroom during London Fashion Week.

Laurie Lee Leather’s original jacket on the left. Asos’ jacket on the right. Laurie Lee Burley posted this image to Instagram (@laurieleeleather) with the caption: “IMA JUST GONNA LEAVE THIS HERE @asos and remind you that I remember you coming to London Fashion Week Designer Showrooms and photographing my stuff – including this very jacket that was on display.”

Asos responded, telling Fashionista, “We take IP [intellectual property] concerns extremely seriously and immediately took the jacket off our site while we investigate further.”

Also this month, Gucci was accused of stealing the concept of an ad-campaign from a student at London’s Central Saint Martins.

This image was posted to the BA Fashion Central Saint Martins Instagram account (@bafcsm) with the caption: “On the left is the work of @pierlouis7, a womenswear student on @bafcsm, posted 7 weeks ago. On the right is a still from a @gucci post yesterday. Look at both accounts and write below what you make of this. Wherever your influences come from, it is vital to credit. Young emerging designers and artists only have their ideas to trade. #CREDITYOURINFLUENCES#PAYYOUNGCREATIVES with thanks to @gerrit_jacob

Gucci rejected the plagiarism allegations.

It’s likely that big, profit-driven brands have always practiced this sort of plagiarism but if plagiarism is increasing, one possible reason is the advent of ‘fast fashion and with it, the need to churn out ‘new’ designs more and more quickly.

It’s possible that designers just don’t have enough time between collections to think up their own ideas.

It’s also possible that fast fashion brands, like serial plagiarists Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Zara, find it impossible to stay ahead of trends because they change every week!

Taking ‘inspiration’ –  i.e. stealing – from young creatives is an easy, albeit morally bereft, solution.

Obviously it’s lazy, dishonest and extremely unfair for any company/individual to profit from an artist’s idea without that artist’s consent and without giving that artist any credit.

As a Central Saint Martins teacher wrote on Instagram:
“Young emerging designers and artists only have their ideas to trade.”

The only upside to being copied by a well-known brand is all the free publicity an emerging designer/artist can get if the story goes viral and gets picked up by the press. I for one, had never heard of Tongoro, or Tuesday Bassen, or Laurie Lee Leather, or Pierre-Louis Auvray until Saint Laurent, Zara, ASOS and Gucci (allegedly) ripped them off. I doubt free publicity does much to soothe the sense of injustice felt by plagiarised designers, though.

At least social media provides a platform for people to stand up for the rights of artists and to ensure brands that steal designs don’t get away with it as easily as they used to.

What do you think?

Could some of these cases just be coincidences?

Why do you think plagiarism happens? Will it ever stop?

How should designers be compensated when their designs are plagiarised?

Is it enough for the copycat brand to simply stop selling the plagiarised item? Should they pay the original designer any profits made from their designs?


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