Not too long ago, Attico, the new label founded by street style stars and former fashion editors Giorgia Tordini and Gilda Ambrosia, called out Spanish fast fashion label Mango for copying. This so-called "social shaming" - in which a designer calls out a copycat for well, copying, on his/her social media accounts - is a common occurrence in the age of social media, and more often than not, such claims of copying arise from blatant line-for-line reproductions of original designs by fast fashion retailers.
It is not unusual, after all, for fast fashion retailers to churn out cheap copies that look a whole lot like the real thing. Zara, H&M, Forever 21, and co. have made built lucrative businesses on selling garments “inspired by” others' designs, a perfectly legal and ethical move - when they are, in fact, erring on the side of inspiration (as opposed to imitation).
The entire fashion industry is based on the ebb and flow of inspiration and facilitation of trends, after all, and so, if it is fair for a big fashion brand to take inspiration from another big fashion brand, it is fair game for a fast fashion retailer to be inspired by them, as well.
It is important to note the distinction between imitation and inspiration here. Imitation refers to the production of identical copies and/or the substantial copying other artistic works. This is the type of replication that would likely run afoul of intellectual property laws, if we considered it in a legal context. Speaking outside of the legal realm – largely because copyright law is notoriously limited for garments and accessories in the U.S. and thereby, not particularly helpful – imitation is the blatant replication of the cut, construction, print, pattern, and/or other features of another garment or accessory.
Imitation is different, of course, from inspiration, as the latter entails taking existing elements and interpreting them in a new or original way. Inspiration is extremely common place in fashion, largely because so much has already been done.
With that in mind, many times designers or the many social media accounts/websites dedicated to “spotting copies” will post side-by-side images and call ‘IMITATION!’, when the word they are actually looking for is … inspiration.
The promotion of inspiration - even by fast fashion retailers - may seem like a strange argument coming from a website that is largely protectionist in nature, one that believes that designers and garments deserve the same level of protection as photographers and photos.
However, there is a very fine line between imitation and inspiration, and it is an important one – one that cannot be confused or widely misused – because fashion so thoroughly depends on the ability to draw inspiration from existing sources … because the silhouette of the pencil skirt already exists and the button-up white shirt has already been done. If we were to start calling ‘COPY!’ every time an existing element was used, we would be clothing-less within a season or two.
But back to Attico and Mango. It is not a stretch to assert in a blanket manner that Mango is a copycat. Its imitation of all things Alessandro Michele for Gucci, for instance, or Chloe or J.W. Anderson, has been widespread. That, however, does not necessarily mean that its take on the Asian-inspired dress is a copy, per se.
One thing that oftentimes leads to mis-labeled copies is the utilization of standard silhouettes, which is arguably what both Attico and Mango did here. Not only is this a standard silhouette and one that commonly includes embroidery, it is one that the fashion industry has already done many times over, long before Attico.
Proenza Schouler, for instance, sent its take on kimono dressing down the runway for Fall/Winter 2012, complete with satin frocks and nature-inspired embroidery. Before that, Jean Paul Gaultier showed similar designs for its Fall 2001 couture collection, Roberto Cavalli for Spring 2003, Tom Ford for YSL in Fall 2004, and Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton for Spring 2011 – just to name a few. In short: Asian-inspired silhouettes and embroidery have been on the runway in the past and will show up again soon.
It is striking that Mango opted for the same color scheme and that Ambrosio worked with Mango as part of its #MangoGirls campaign, but before we cry ‘COPYCAT!,’ this one might require a bit more thought.