So I have had this post bouncing around in my head for weeks now, but I never got around to writing it. I was re-inspired, however, during a recent shoe shopping expedition. While looking for casual sandals, I came face to face with an entire shelf of Christian Louboutin knock-offs at my local Aldo store. There is really no debate here, they are clearly knock-offs. Exhibit A:
For those of our fine readers who can't tell just by the pictures, the shoe on the left is the genuine article, whereas the shoe on the right is the knock-off that retails for about 1/7 the price. Incidentally, I kind of like the peep-toe detail of the knock-off.
What this post is really about though, is the difference between a knock-off and a fake. A fake tries to pass itself off as something that it is not. For example, about 90% of the Louis Vuitton handbags that you see are fakes. From a distance they might look like the genuine article, but up close, it's quite apparent that they are not. There is no other way to put it - fakes are gauche. Much like people, you should always avoid items that pretend to be something they are not.
Knock-offs, on the other hand, don't try and pass themselves off as the real deal per se, but rather "borrow" the design elements that made the genuine article the latest "it" item. Like the stacked wood platform sole, for example. In the restaurant industry the magic number is three. If you change three ingredients, you're allowed to claim a recipe as your own. Anything less than three and you're stealing. I don't know what the magic number is in the fashion industry, but I imagine there is one. So while you might dismiss the designs you see on the runways during fashion week as purely ridiculous, the details that made those clothes special will eventually filter down to your local mall in a more palatable, or wearable, version. Yup, chances are everything that you're wearing at this moment is a knock-off of something else. Sad but true.
Occasionally, the proliferation of knock-offs will get the original designer's knickers in a knot. In 2003, Hermès went so far as to file lawsuits against distributors of the "Jelly Kelly," a rubber version of the Kelly handbag that took New York by storm that summer. I've already blogged about the pure perfection that is the real Kelly handbag, but seriously, how could you possibly think this is the same thing?
It makes me laugh when I think that Hermès felt this warranted legal action. The company claimed the Jelly Kelly diluted the cachet of its own brand image. Ironically, in 1996, Hermès sold its own plastic version of the Kelly as part of a promotional campaign. Clearly Hermès felt its dominance in the plastic bag field was being challenged.
So what does this all boil down to? The genuine article is almost always the best. It reflects the originality and creativity of the designer and is the trend-setter as opposed to the trend-follower. It is also almost always unattainable. Especially for those of us on a budget, which sadly, does not include $20,000 handbags and $1,000 shoes. So what's a girl on a budget to do? Opt for a well designed knock-off that merely evokes the thought of the original without pretending to be the original. And avoid fakes, they're just tacky.