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Fashionable History: Knock Offs

October 26, 2009

Oh, knock offs, they’re either the bane of the fashion industry or the knight in shining armor for us common folk. But the art of knocking off high design goes a lot farther back in history than when the booths of Canal Street began of Forever 21 opened its doors. It used to be the only way American society women could be fashionable at all, in fact.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, Vogue was establishing itself as the beacon of style and societal standards for the American wealthy set. Like most women’s publications of the era, each issue would include detailed drawings of what was considered fashionable dress. Since American design was nonexistent at the time, these illustrations were reports from European cities. In the 1910s, Vogue decided that the chicest city was Paris and heralded it as the epitome of style.

However, due to economy and politics, French designers had little to no physical presence in America, neither in distribution nor ad revenue. To own an original Parisian design meant that the customer either had to travel to Paris or have one brought to her from there. Therefore both a great amount of money and connections were required on the part of the lady to be truly fashionable. Obviously, this meant that only a select few managed to do so.

Thus, the knock off was born. Department stores would present showing of Paris originals and then hawk their own copies of the design at a lower price to the defeated women who flocked to the show. Also, Vogue purposely upped the detailing of their illustration for the sole purpose of allowing American dressmakers to copy them. Women often took their magazines to their dressmaker to ask them to recreate what they saw in the pages.

Parisian couturiers were resigned to allow this to happen because they had such limited reach on American soil. However, with their newly established relationships and resources, attempts to curtail this copying began after World War I, officially beginning the conflict between designers and department store businessmen.

Originally written January 13, 2009

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