Fashion Logo Parodies, Strictly Tongue in Chic

Some people spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars to ensure that designers’ logos are prominently featured on their handbags, sneakers and jackets. But for $28, a different kind of fashion-insider cachet, knowing and impudent, can be bought. That’s the price of a T-shirt from Reason Clothing, whose apparel uses nearly identical fonts of high-fashion labels to turn Dior into “Poor,” Fendi into “Trendi,” or Balmain into “Nawman.”

Reason is one of many streetwear brands currently dealing in label parodies. (We are not convinced that all of the designs grouped into the category of "parodies" are actually parodies. More about that HERE). T-shirts produced by the year-old brand Conflict of Interest NYC include “Ballinciaga,” “Bodega Vendetta,” and “Ill Slander.” A “Homiés” shirt (after Hermès) made by Brian Lichtenberg of Los Angeles has been worn by Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. The designer has also spoofed Céline (“Féline”) and Balmain (“Ballin”).

Often, the riffs take the form of imperatives. One NYC Paris T-shirt demands, “Célineme Alone,” while a friendlier Criminal Damage shirt turns Givenchy into “Giveintome.” A popular line of hats and shirts by the label SSUR spins the Comme des Garçons logo into an Comm des FuckDown.

“It’s fashion, but it’s poking fun at high fashion,” said David X. Prutting, 32, a photographer and a founder of the Billy Farrell Agency, who recently wore a Conflict of Interest shirt smattered with logo parodies to a party he was photographing at Jeffrey, the luxury boutique in the meatpacking district. “It’s lower-end, obviously, but it’s meant to build a community.”

Some of the designers responsible for the parodies insist that they’re high-fashion fans themselves. “I not only love the brands, but I also am indebted to them, even financially,” Mr. Lichtenberg said. “I’m wearing an Hermès bracelet right now, and the same with Balmain. I have, like, 20 pairs of jeans. (Mr. Lichtenberg is currently involved in a rival legal battle with his younger brother, Chris, the designer behind Alex & Chloe, over the Balmain parody design. His brother filed aw lawsuit against him for stealing the BALLIN design. And then Brian filed a nearly identical suit against Chris in federal court). Céline, I have a bunch of accessories. It’s things I love and admire.”

Many fans of the parodies, too, are eager to cite their mainstream fashion bona fides. “I actually have really expensive stuff, but it’s kind of trendy to have something poking fun,” said Ricky Campbell, 32, who wore a Homiés shirt to a Fashion Week party celebrating a new book of photography by the modeling agent Scott Lipps. “I have Louis Vuitton, and all the hot brands, so it’s kind of funny.”

Greg Garry, a photo editor, has collected label-parody apparel ever since finding an accidentally misspelled shirt reading “Channel” in Chinatown nearly a decade ago. “I always call Canal Street ‘Coco Canal,’ ” said Mr. Garry, 42. “Canal Street knocks everyone off, and now people are starting to knock Canal Street off, sort of.” Favorites in his collection include a shirt by the brand House of Diehl with a Ghostbusters logo peeking out from behind the double C.

But whether lovingly intended or not, parodying the labels of haute-fashion brands can be a legally perilous endeavor. Some brands are concerned their market value is being diluted by the existence of parody items; the Reason Clothing founders, Phil Bassis and Jonathan Totaro, said they have pulled products after receiving legal notices on multiple occasions. It also seems that the designers behind LPD NYC pulled two players from its Dream Team: Dolce and Gabbana, after receiving notice from D&G's legal team.

In one high-profile example, the designer Fahad Al-Hunaif originally made a prototype, just for fun, of a hat with a vulgar parody of Cartier. It drew so much interest that Mr. Al-Hunaif produced a limited run of the hats — a few dozen, he estimates — before being served with a cease-and-desist letter from Cartier. (He suspects the brand found his parody after the photographer Terry Richardson posted several photos to his blog of the model Cara Delevingne wearing one.)

For his next project, Mr. Al-Hunaif took on the distinctive Maison Martin Margiela logo, rendering it in Arabic script. “I literally got two samples of the V-neck and the snapback and then I got a cease-and-desist letter from Margiela,” he said.

As more and more brands attempt to parody a relatively small number of high-fashion houses, they might face the age-old fashion issue of market oversaturation and customer fatigue. Someone seeking an Yves Saint Laurent parody, for example, could choose a “You’re So Vain” shirt by Oh Hell Clothing; a Chapel Clothing “LSD” T-shirt; a snapback hat by Paislee that features yen, dollar and British pound sterling symbols; or an “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves” shirt by either Reason Clothing or What About Yves, both of which sell the style independently. (Though maybe not for long: Saint Laurent has reportedly taken legal action against the “Ain’t Laurent” designers and stopped doing business with the Parisian boutique Colette, which stocked them.)

Reason and Brian Lichtenberg, too, each sell Homiés shirts. “I don’t know whether he saw ours first, but I know that we didn’t see his,” said Mr. Bassis of Reason. “It’s not crazy to think someone would have the same idea.”

Mr. Garry, the collector, had another complaint. “Now that it’s become a trend and I’ve seen so much of it lately, I might stop doing it,” he said. “It’s the whole Groucho Marx thing: I don’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”

Mr. Al-Hunaif is also expanding his horizons. “I actually have this new T-shirt that I just made, which is basically a full print of tiny iPhone emojis all over,” he said. “They’re coming out really soon, so I’m working on that. If I don’t get a cease-and-desist.” After a pause, Mr. Al-Hunaif wondered: “Who owns emojis, actually?”