While most designers take an active stance against fast fashion copies, Balmain's Olivier Rousteing does not mind. Rousteing, 28, landed at the helm of the Paris-based design house in 2011, after having served as the assistant of Christophe Decarnin, who was known throughout the industry for his rockstar-style, which drew on Balmain's couture heritage and carried astronomical price tags (think: an embellished Balmain jacket could easily set you back five figures). Decarnin left the house following his Autumn/Winter 2011 collection. But back to Rousteing: Maybe it is his relatively young age that makes him a bit unconventional (read: uninformed and irresponsible) than some other creative directors. Maybe it is the fact that Balmain is an established house and thus, arguably not as affected by fakes as younger brands. Either way, he spoke out quite boldly to The Independent about being copied by fast fashion chains, namely, Zara, and we are - as usual when it comes to Rousteing - unimpressed.
Upon speaking with Rousteing, Alexander Fury of The Independent writes: "Copying – namely the high-street ripping off high-end designer duds for a fraction of the price – which has always been endemic chez Balmain. Decarnin's bold-shouldered blazers launched a thousand knock-offs, and the instantly-identifiable looks Rousteing has made his trademark have done the same." Of this, Rousteing says …
I think it was Coco Chanel who said if you're original, be ready to be copied. I love seeing a Zara window with my clothes mixed with Céline and Proenza [Schouler]! I think that's genius. It's even better than what I do! I love the styling, I love the story... I watch the windows always, and it's genius what they do today. They go fast, they have a great sense of styling and how to pick up what they have to pick up from designers. I'm really happy that Balmain is copied - when I did my Miami collection and we did the black and white checks, I knew they would be in Zara and H&M. But they did it in a clever way - they mixed a Céline shape with my Balmain print! Well done! I love that.
Not surprisingly, many designers do not share Rousteing's sentiment for fast fashion copies for intellectual property reasons. The designer duo behind, Proenza Schouler, the New York-based label that Rousteing cites above, openly opposes design piracy. In fact, Lazaro Hernandez, one of the founders of the brand, testified before Congress in favor of copyright protection being extended to fashion designs, saying:
There are countless, undiscovered small designers across America working in their studios waiting to have someone buy their clothes or accessories. Established or undiscovered – we all have been touched by fashion design piracy. We luckily survived despite its disastrous effects, but many colleagues whose names you will never hear, had to close down […] One of our most popular designs has unfortunately become a typical example of the problem we highlight. Our PS1 satchel is one of the most knocked off designs on the market today. We have attempted to assert our rights and fight this piracy – but without success – because unfortunately it is currently legal under U.S. law.
Aside from glorifying design piracy (a practice that is largely illegal in the U.S.'s international fashion capital countries), Rousteing is simply not acknowledging the reality that comes along with the production of fast fashion: Human rights abuses. Zara, in particular, a brand that Rousteing singles out as "genius," has been the subject to an array of astounding manufacturing allegations, which range from the dependence on Bangladesh suppliers that bypass an array of essential health and safety violations (both H&M and Zara's parent company, Inditex, were, in fact, linked to the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 garment factory workers) to the use of slave labor in its South American factories. These events diminish any value of those "Céline shapes with my Balmain print" that Zara was hawking, if you ask me.
Ultimately, while such copying suggests that Rousteing is creating influential collections, it is arguably inappropriate for him to speak so highly of fast fashion and design piracy when he clearly is not informed of the entirety of the situation (aka anything beyond the fact that fast fashion retailers democratize fashion by providing copies for the girls that "cannot afford a thousand-dollar jacket," which is a noble effort when it is not linked to human rights abuses). As I have said in the past, if the consumer is not paying a reasonable price for garments, someone else is paying for the difference, and it is usually laborers, as we have seen over the past year or so alone in Bangladesh. Hopefully designers will not continue to look to the practice of fast fashion lightly, as it really is a matter of life or death, and is something to educate about and not blindly glorify.