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Critical Mass 3

Once again, as the dust settles in New York and the fashion scene shifts to London, Milan, and Paris, Counterfeit Chic features the fashion editors and critics whose prose upholds the social norms against creative designers copying one another too obviously.  In other words, here's a look at how the press does the work that U.S. law will not -- so far. 

For the Spring 2008 season, the New York Times' Cathy Horyn offered a "demerit" to the Proenza Schouler boys, who despite their "talent and charm" suffered in her opinion from "a detectable Balenciaga influence" that "cast a degree of doubt over the designers' ability to establish a clear brand identity."  (Then again, who hasn't been influenced by Balenciaga over the past couple of seasons?)

The most vituperative comments were reserved for Marc Jacobs, whom both the International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes and the Washington Post's Robin Givhan took to task for making them wait over 2 hours -- until after 11pm -- for a derivative show. 

In Givhan's words, "Most disappointing was that Jacobs spent a significant amount of time merely repeating or paraphrasing what designers such as [Rei] Kawakubo [of Comme des Garçons], [Martin] Margiela and the Dutch team of Viktor & Rolf have already said aesthetically." 

Menkes concurred, adding that the "magpie collection was vaguely comprehensive to fashion buffs because it was an echo chamber of existing ideas from John Galliano's haute romantic 1920s ladies to Jacobs's own foraging in the vintage closet." 

So incensed was Jacobs by the criticism that he fought back with a call to WWD, in which he not only addressed rumors regarding the reason for the late start but also defended himself against charges of copying.  In his words:

I've never denied how influenced I am by Margiela, by Rei Kawakubo, those are people that inspire my work; I don't hide that.  For her [Menkes] to turn this into this hate fest for me and my collection I think is ridiculous....I expect people, whether we're two hours late or two hours early or we don't show at all, to look at what they see:  the clothes.  Of course there are comparisons to other things.  I'm a designer living in this world who loves fashion...I'm attentive to what's going on in fashion, I'm influenced by fashion, that's the way it is.  I have never ever hidden it.  I have never insisted on my own creativity, as Chanel would say.  I have my interpretation of ideas I find very strong.  Jil Sander is influenced by Comme des Garçons, Miuccia Prada is influenced by Comme des Garçons, everyone is influenced by Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela.  Anybody who's aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by those designers.

Jacobs has a point:  influence is one thing, imitation is another.  On the other hand, writers like Menkes and Givhan have significant experience at telling the difference -- and when it comes to upholding fashion's creative standards, they're not afraid to wield some influence of their own.

Related entries:  Critical Mass, Critical Mass 2