The exposure of even the most rarefied fashion via the internet is responsible for many things – good and bad.
Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquière has once again came under scrutiny online as bloggers point out that a patchwork leather jacket from his 2010 resort collection shown in New York earlier this month bears an uncanny resemblance to a "parrot" jacket, courtesy of East West Musical Instruments that operated in San Francisco during the Sixties and Seventies.
The first time Ghesquière was pulled up for plagiarism was seven years ago when Hintmag.com drew attention to the similarities between the designer's summer collection (patch-worked again) and the work of Kaisik Wong (also San Francisco based, oddly enough). This time Jezebel.com ran the story.
But is it really fair to lambast one of the 21st century's most innovative and indeed widely emulated designers in this way? True, the corporate powers that oversee his company have clamped down on the many budget copies of the extremely lucrative Balenciaga Lariat bag so the words pot, kettle and black might spring to mind. That, however, would be to ignore the fact that Ghesquière is not taking business away from anyone by referencing either the designs in question: East West Musical Instruments went out of business more than a quarter of a century ago; Kaisik Wong is no longer alive.
When Kate Moss launched her collection for Topshop in May 2007 she made no secret of the fact that she was taking designer pieces from her own wardrobe – a much-publicised Balenciaga black dress included – and re-working them. Nobody batted an eyelid and this despite the fact that said collection sold for a fraction of the price of the originals that inspired it and that at least similar designs were still available to buy. Anyone who looks closely at the Balenciaga jacket just shown, meanwhile, will see that, surface detail aside, the silhouette – smaller and skinner and with a much smaller collar– is Ghesquière's own.
In the end, such practice is central to fashion's endless ability to reinvent itself in a post-modern world. Marc Jacobs openly cites the work of other designers as influential to name just one. Comme des Garcons, Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang and Vivienne Westwood in particular, meanwhile, could while away the hours identifying the endless re-interpretations of their ideas. It seems not insignificant that none of them bother.
It's not news that designers – and their stylists scour the globe for obscure antique finds. That is part of today's process. There's nothing much new in fashion, after all and respect is due to Ghesquière who has given the world more outstanding originality than most. Finally, his jacket is actually nicer – so, what's not to like?