Having a déjà vu moment
In many cases, imitation is the best form of flattery. This is often true in fashion: how nice it must feel to be the mind behind a trend that launched lookalikes (or, in simpler words, a trendsetter). Surely the Olivia Palermos, Mary Kate and Ashley Oslens and Karl Lagerfelds of the world take at least some pride in their sartorial creations that spread like wildfire.
Although as far as product creation and design goes, while copying an idea might be flattering, it also infringes on certain creative rights. Intellectual property, copyrights, patents–it's all about protecting what's yours. Is it fair that another piggybacks off your success? I recently listened to a This American Life podcast about the inner workings of patents. It's an interesting institution, to say the least, although I'm not going to venture into that realm of discussion because a. it hurts my head, b. it has little to do with fashion and more to do with business and tech and c. because there is entirely too much legal jargon involved (hence head-hurting).
It's not a secret that trends move from the runways down to mainstream stores. How would us mere mortals be able to take part in the graphic black and white, peplum, pointed-shoe trends without that? In part, I think that's one of the functions of high fashion: to inspire mass-produced brands to follow suit.
Often, there are cases that go past this norm, which leads to what appears to be utterly complete imitation.
I think I was first affected by this phenomenon with J.Crew's bubble necklaces. A few years ago, they were, as I've heard from a friend, brought back on the market by the company, and became a huge hit. They were everywhere, and everyone wanted them. Despite that J.Crew is known for affordability, the necklace rang in at about $150–a price I thought was a little steep for a necklace made of metal and plastic, even if it was gold-plated.
Naturally, some clever product designer came up with the idea to create a similar necklace– so similar as to not solicit a difference from its original "designer" necklace– at a price the general people could afford. What does that sound like? A lot of business.
I know this isn't a new idea. In the food and drug industries (for clarity: not the illegal kinds of drugs), cheaper generic brands are the norm. I almost always buy the generic brand of Claritin, but that's because it's chemically exactly the same as the real thing. When it comes to potato chips, though, I'll never buy the generic, because, in my opinion, it's simply not as good. (Food is very important to me.)
I've done a bit of research, and have found three non-J.Crew necklaces (pictured on the right side) that have an eerily similar appearance to those from J.Crew (pictured on the left side). Am I defending J.Crew because I have an unabashed love for the Blythe blouse and everything Jenna Lyons does? Well, maybe. At the end of the day, discounting competitiveness, it must feel good to be a J.Crew jewelry designer.
The blatant copying of things really creates a catch-22 type situation. On one hand, as I've said above, I'm all for brands staying true to their creative integrity, and only creating things that stem from original designs. On the other hand, my snarky inner self wouldn't mind paying less for something that looks exactly the same. If I'm being dramatic, I'd say it's a battle of my conscience vs. bank account.
With the Internet, particularly Pinterest, it's easy to be "inspired" by something. People throw the world "inspiration" around all the time, but what does it really mean? It could mean "I like this," "I want to do something like this," "This idea brings me to a new idea" or "I want to do something exactly like this." It's a slippery, slippery slope, being inspired by something versus duplicating it.
Everyone is guilty of copying (or at least really, really wanting to) a good idea. I know I am. What the heart of this piece is getting at principally comes down to this: where has creativity gone?
"Believe in who you are, and do what you love. Do not try to copycat people. You can be influenced by people, but do not do a photocopy of someone else's work. There is no limit to imagination, you just have to let it grow. That's the important thing—that's what people see at the end of the day, when you're true to yourself. If you're just a big copy, you can please [when it comes to] marketing and money and blah blah blah, but you can't stay for a long time when you're not being dictated by what you love deeply."
-Christian Louboutin on the Coveteur
Image credits: Top, John Rawlings for Vogue in March 1956; jewelry images on left from J.Crew