The following is a sample interactive article that I created for my Writing for New Media II class:
Vera Wang shocked the business side of the fashion industry when she decided to charge customers nearly $500 (3,000 Yuan) to try on dresses in her Shanghai bridal salon. Negativity was sent reverberating back to the designer, and because of the backlash, she has decided to drop the try-on fee entirely, not only at this store, but also at other stores with similar fees in place.
(Ideally, I would insert a map of stores that have a hover feature to show the try-on fees that were in place.)
She did so claiming, “We wish for all Vera Wang customers to enjoy the same standard of excellence worldwide.”
Media outlets and others that heard of the try-on fee saw the fee from the Chinese American designer as a prejudice and ridiculous business move. But, Wang claimed to only have implemented the fee to “protect the copyright of the designer” and limit the amount of counterfeiting of her designs. Considering how big the market is for Vera Wang knockoffs, and just as an artist in general, this seems like a reasonable goal, right?
(Infographic with information about counterfeit goods would go here. Something like the image below.)
Well, not really. You see, fashion designs can’t be copyrighted.According to a New Media Rights website, copyright laws are in place to “encourage creativity so the public can benefit from that creativity.” That being said, anything “functional” and “utilitarian” can’t be copyrighted. So, despite how avant-garde a design may be, the functionality of clothing trumps the design aspect, and therefore makes fashion designs non-copyrightable.
(A video about copywriting would be inserted, like the clickable image below.)
So Wang will never be able to fully copyright-protect her designs, which is why she was trying her best not to stop, but to limit the amount of counterfeiting of her unprotected designs. Keeping with the vein of encouraging creativity so the public can benefit from it though, isn’t that what we are all trying to do as artists and designers? Aren’t we all trying to create art that will inspire others to create art much in the same way that we are inspired by other art and artists?
Now I’m not saying that producing nearly an exact replica of something is art, necessarily, but I am saying that there’s an art to counterfeiting—no matter how ethical or unethical it may be.
What can be considered unethical is when counterfeiters try to pass off their designs as the real deal. But, counterfeiters don’t always do this. Some are very up front about the fact that their the products are fake. And there’s definitely a clientele for both counterfeit and designer markets, alike.
In the case of Dapper Dan, counterfeiting was art. This Harlem-based artist made a statement with his counterfeit goods and started a trend in the rap music culture. That’s what took him to the next level. He wasn’t just counterfeiting, he was doing something new and different with the same designer brands that already existed.
Not all counterfeit goods do this, Dapper Dan is a very specific example, but there is an undeniable counterfeit culture that exists.
Counterfeiting is so prevalent in China, that they “dominate the consumer market for luxury items.” The market is so huge there that the government can’t even really monitor it or stop it without putting tons of stores out of business. It’s just become a part of the culture. A culture that takes artistry, no doubt.
(Infographic to show rate of counterfeiting in China would go here. Similar to the image below.)
A Business of Fashion article quotes a knockoff designer saying, “For the experts you don’t need to try on the dress to figure out how to copy it, you just need to see it or feel it at the shop.”
There’s a certain talent that goes into being able to see a dress in person or online and know what it would take to replicate it. It takes a well-trained eye to be able to do this. It takes an artist.
Wang won’t be able to combat such a large counterfeit market, and despite the artistry that goes into replicating one of her designs, some things can’t be replicated easily and cheaply.
If you want the same quality as an original Vera Wang dress, you’ll buy the original. But let’s face it, even Wang’s designs aren’t completely original. All artists are inspired by someone or by something that’s been done before.
We as artists and designers don’t exist in a vacuum. As Salvador Dali once said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Counterfeiters definitely aren’t scared to imitate, and neither is Wang—they just do it to varying degrees.
Philosopher Henri Bergson said, “What I call my ‘present’ has one foot in my past and another in the future.” With an industry such as fashion that is so forward-moving and yet so rooted in the past, even if only so not to replicate it (although we do see the same trends repeated) this idea of the present being fleeting or non-existent was never more true.
In other words, we can’t move forward without looking to the past to create the future in any form of art, especially in fashion. If fashion designs could be copyrighted, we would stop the progression. Although copyright laws are in place to encourage creativity, wanting to stop counterfeit is not a good enough reason to block creative progression in the fashion industry.