Monthly Archives: June 2017

Fashion Trend Bontok has managed to reach Fever Pitch

When I was a kid, every time my family went on vacation, my mother would break out her fabulously fake Louis Vuitton fanny pack. We have photo albums filled with her posing in New York, Boston, L.A. and Quebec City, a white tee tucked into faded mom jeans and the fanny pack around her waist. She didn’t care that it was so blatantly fake. It was a gift from her girlfriends (before she moved to Canada from South Korea in 1975), and although she did own an authentic LV Speedy, she was more interested in the hands-free practicality of her “travel bag” than the inauthenticity of a perfectly fine and damn-fly-looking fanny.

Clearly my mom was ahead of her time, because fakes have gone from fashion faux pas to must-have, thanks primarily to the high-end bootlegging ways of Demna Gvasalia at Vetements and Alessandro Michele at Gucci. Gvasalia was the first to turn the fake on its head with his high-end appropriations of brands like Thrasher, Champion and Canada Goose. (Legit collabs with Champion and Canada Goose would follow.) He took his logo-subverting skills to Balenciaga via his cheeky flip on the Bernie Sanders logo for Fall 2017. Michele began toying with luxury Gucci bootlegs last year when he showed “fake” Gucci tees (inspired by the popular ’80s Chinatown knock-offs) for Resort 2017. And this past May, he one-upped himself with a series of blatantly faketastic “Guccy” sweatshirts.

This tongue-in-cheek parodying of counterfeit culture has been directly influenced by the rise of streetwear—because, despite its four-figure price tags and posh clientele, Vetements is a streetwear brand. And if you squint really hard, Gucci is starting to look like one, too. “The boundary between high and low fashion has blurred so much that it has almost disappeared,” says Hannah Watkins, senior editor of prints and graphics for global trend-forecasting agency WGSN. “Street culture has been so influential on the catwalk and vice versa. There is no line anymore.”

Harlem couturier Daniel Day (better known as “Dapper Dan” of Dapper Dan’s Boutique) was one of the first to blur that line. Day became famous in the ’80s for co-opting luxury logos for his over-the-top, hip hop-inspired designs. The idea first came to him in 1983, when a customer in his shop was bragging about his new Louis Vuitton clutch. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if he’s so excited about that little pouch, imagine if he had a whole outfit made out of logos?’” Day began custom-making his own all-over-print “Gucci” bombers, “LV” sweaters and “Fendi” track suits for clients like Run DMC, LL Cool J, Bobby Brown and Salt-N-Pepa. “I didn’t do knock-offs…I did knock-ups,” says Day. “The original styles were drab and boring. I created something that was more exciting than what the brands themselves were doing.” In the end, litigation forced Day to shutter his shop in 1992.

Twenty-five years later, fakes have come full circle. In perhaps the most epic “real fake” fashion moment to date, Michele paid homage to a Dapper Dan design, sending a fur bomber jacket with enormous double-G-printed balloon sleeves down the runway for Gucci’s Resort 2018. It was a luxury appropriation of a Dapper Dan appropriation of an original Louis Vuitton logo. “It’s pretty bonkers,” laughs Shannon Schafer, senior fashion director at Nordstrom. “But maybe things need to be a little bonkers right now to break through all the noise and really be disruptive.”

Even Louis Vuitton is getting in on the crazy logo play. Take, for example, its recent bag collaboration with Jeff Koons. The pop artist’s “JK” initials appear in the brand’s insignia.

“The big designers are almost embracing the idea of the bootleg because they’ve realized it’s driving their brands,” says Watkins. “They’re not taking themselves so seriously anymore. But they’re clever—they know it’s a trend right now.”

The trickle-down has been hardcore—Aritzia riffed on Vetements with its own capsule of DHL-esque sweats. And indie brands and millennial artists have also taken up the appropriation call: Ava Nirui is Helmut Lang’s digital editor by day and makes luxury-logo mash-ups by night; Imran Moosvi sells his flashy custom bootlegs to the likes of YG, Lil Yachty and Tyga; and 17-year-old Austin Butts made his own Yeezy tees, which Kanye liked so much that he included them in his own pop-ups. Not long ago, a “cease and desist” would have been the response, but now it’s a different story. “If the big designers were to go after these pop-up people now, I think it would be detrimental to their brands,” says Watkins. “Whether it’s a fake or a real design that’s being spread on social media, it’s increasing their visibility and creating hype, which is what every brand wants.”

The rise of the faux fake has also increased the cachet of the obvious fake. Instagram is flooded with selfies of swag-y millennials showing off their so-bad-they’re-good duds. Even Vogue fashion news writer Liana Satenstein recently posted a photo of a fakes haul (a “Versace” tee and blatantly bad “Chanel” totes) from Tbilisi, Georgia. This trend is more about the ironic attitude than the actual garment—it trumps authenticity and even bad taste.

In the spirit of shameless fakery, I wore my mom’s “vintage” fanny pack (which I dug out of storage a couple of years ago) to an industry party. It’s a little crushed on one side, and the lettering on the “leather” patch has practically worn off, but this only adds to it’s subversive charm. Of course, it was all anyone wanted to talk about. “That is pure perfection,” said a friend. “It’s realer than the real thing.”

Real Cost of Buying Fake Designer Goods

I arrive at what appears to be a vacant storefront near Toronto’s Wychwood neighbourhood. The windows are papered over, and there’s no sign on the door. But the door is unlocked, so I tentatively enter a room lined with large plastic bins crammed with a veritable Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory selection of designer goods: fur-lined Gucci mules, crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutins and a rainbow’s worth of Valentino “Rockstud” pumps. A narrow corridor leads to another room with floor-to-ceiling shelves overcrowded with Chanel, Saint Laurent and Céline purses. None of them are the real thing.

To gain access to this secret depot of luxury fakes, you need to be referred by a previous customer. Ava*, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who has been shopping here for the past two years, told me about the place. I’m not the only one here on this rainy Thursday afternoon. A mother urges her daughter to decide which Chanel bag she likes best. Across the room, a woman is trying on shoes with the proprietor of the business, a tanned blonde who appears to be in her early 40s. I recall the conversation I had with Ava about her. “I don’t know her name,” she told me. “We all have her in our phones as ‘Bag Lady.’”

The quality of counterfeit products has always ranged from bags that practically scream “Channel” beneath interlocking Cs to borderline-indistinguishable Hermès fakes that cost $2,000 (instead of $20,000 for the real deal). The goods on offer at the Bag Lady’s store range between $350 and $1,500—a fake Louis Vuitton tote, for example, will run you close to $700. According to Rania Sedhom, a lawyer with the Bespoke Law Firm in New York who counts Moda Operandi and The Luxury Marketing Council among her clients, some counterfeiters today can produce fakes that are good enough to elicit a double take, instead of an eye roll, from discriminating purse hounds. They typically buy the original designer bag first, she says, study it in order to replicate it and then source high-quality materials from the same leather mills that supply the designers. Not only is the leather of some high-end fakes super-creamy but the advent of 3-D printing allows counterfeiters to create an exact prototype of what appears on a real designer bag and mass-produce it. Fakes are also becoming easier to buy. Sedhom claims that a retailer you’ve never heard of might pop up on Instagram or Snapchat with a link to a website claiming to sell authentic merchandise with a convincing backstory.“Once they get a ‘cease and desist’ letter, they’ll shut down, open under a new name and then continue to sell their merchandise,” says Sedhom. She suggests steering clear of sites where you’re buying directly from an individual. Instead, she recommends sites like The RealReal, which authenticates all merchandise before putting it up for sale.

Some luxury brands are smoke bombing counterfeiters by embedding radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, which are the size of a grain of rice, into their products. The technology uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track the whereabouts of an object. RFID chips are beginning to gain traction in the United States but less so in Europe, where stringent privacy laws forbid tracking people without their knowledge and consent. In theory, customers can use their smartphones to scan the RFID chips and authenticate their purchases. Exactly where the chips are embedded is harder to say—companies often change the placement to make it more difficult for counterfeiters to replicate the products.

For Ashlee Froese, a fashion and branding lawyer at Fogler, Rubinoff LLP in Toronto, buying counterfeit items—whether they’re good fakes or not—isn’t the biggest issue. She wants consumers to be aware of the dark side of the business. Since these bags are illegal, she says, it’s unlikely that the owners of the factories in which they are manufactured pay attention to upholding workers’ and human rights. And it’s even more unlikely that these businesses are coughing up taxes on these illegal goods, which means less money is going toward essential infrastructure like roads, education and health care. According to some press reports, the Canadian counterfeit market is worth $20 billion to $30 billion. The scariest part of buying fakes, adds Froese, is that law enforcement has linked the illegal profits to international terrorist organizations.

When I asked Ava why she and her friends would rather purchase fakes than save up for a real bag, she answered, “I guess it’s because we’re all so impulsive.” Counterfeits are a form of short-term gratification: You get to wear the It item while it’s still cool but don’t have to pay the full price.

The fakes in the Bag Lady’s sketchy shop are convincing—at first glance. But when I take a closer look, there’s something slightly off. The gold and silver designer logos haven’t been stamped hard enough, so they’re almost floating atop the leather. My eye gravitates toward a pair of silver-foil Gucci loafers, but I don’t try them on, let alone make a purchase. The downsides—both human and legal—to purchasing a fake concern me, and so, too, does the hollow feeling of inauthenticity that they elicit. There’s a thrill to wearing a recognizable logo—I get that—but if it’s a fake, taking pleasure from the artifice may come with its own karmic shadow.

Consider the New Stiletto Design Zvelle Your Ultimate Good Luck Charm

In the year since Sophie Grégoire Trudeau wore a pair of Zvelle shoes on her official visit to Washington to meet the Obamas (remember them?), the little line out of Toronto has seen its fortunes grow. Designer Elle AyoubZadeh’s staff has doubled in size, and for the person “who dresses from the feet up,” she has introduced the Noor stiletto. “We were offering shoes that were more suitable for work or going out casually,” says AyoubZadeh. “As we built our customer base, we wanted to offer something more.”

The limited-edition Noor is handcrafted at a family-owned factory in Brazil using combinations of suede and satin. But the most charming aspect is its anklet strap inspired by a bracelet AyoubZadeh received from her parents when she was just 13. Recreating those charms proved to be a challenge because they had to be the right size to be impactful. At first, they were too small. “When you wore them on your feet, it was really hard to appreciate them,” she says. The second time, she went a little bit bigger, but “the third time, they turned out perfect.”

AyoubZadeh likes her pieces to have special meaning, and the five charms—an Egyptian cat, a Hamsa hand, an evil eye, a pyramid and an upside down heart—promise good luck in Middle Eastern culture. Fun note: The upside down heart actually means “five” in the Persian alphabet (AyoubZadeh was born in Iran), and five is also her lucky number. “It’s not just for design’s sake,” she says. “There’s a lot of meaning culturally, socially and globally.”

This is Why We’ll Never Kick Our Double Denim Addiction

In its ceaseless quest for fresh ideas, fashion adores the obscure, the forgotten and the extinct. Which is why the current double-denim trend is so troubling. If “total jeans” is shorthand for “working class” (i.e., not minimalist or maximalist but Marxist!), our sudden enthusiasm for it may mean that the proletariat has gone the way of the dodo.

Not convinced? When Chloé picked French party-girl/stylist Natacha Ramsay-Levi to take over the brand, she put out a picture of herself with lank hair, jeans and a frayed jean shirt. She looked like she’d been operating heavy machinery.

Sure, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren dabble in denim-on-denim, but the rest of the fashion world is doubling down on it, too. A.P.C. produced a denim boiler suit. Vetements, Burberry, Yeezy, Off-White, Sacai, Y/Project and Ottolinger all did double dungarees. If next year’s Met Gala looks like a convention of the Third International, it will be because even Christian Dior, that purveyor of the leisure class, has caught the left-wing bug. “Not so long ago, I was wearing an Acne denim shirt, where the colour was light denim and the body was a tiny bit darker, along with vintage jeans, and everyone said, ‘You did denim-on-denim—that’s weird,’” says stylist Sheila Single, who co-founded the magazine honore. Now, it’s the height of chic to dress like a cowboy or a welder.

Designer Nicolas Ghesquière often takes his bows in jeans and a jean jacket. But for the rest of us, the Canadian tuxedo look stuck around only for a nanosecond. It has since shape-shifted from boot-cuts and Western shirts into couturish cuts, treatments and volume. “Denim has come a long way, of course, and it’s not only associated with factory workers anymore,” say Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient of the Berlin-based brand Ottolinger. “People of all social classes wear denim and in all sorts of situations. We like it because of that. It’s timeless and basic. You can always wear denim.”

Y/Project is a brand that does high-society denim. Its jeans morph into thickly folded cancan frills at the shin. Off-White’s total denim look for Fall 2017 is overlaid with rust-coloured shirred tulle so that it looks dirty from afar and dainty up close. “Designers used denim in a new and clever way by changing it into prêt-à-porter,” says Single. “They used it in jackets and pants as a noble fabric, bringing in frills and zips and changing it to something less casual. Because it’s not classic shapes; it’s more modern. Now, it’s ‘haute couture.’”

Even the ordinary wear and tear on jeans has been riffed on. At Sacai, rips and tears were fancied up with zippers. Bösch and Gadient torched and poured acid on their denim: “It’s our own take on the garment and the fashion we do. It’s like discovering something new.”

Jeans used to be a no-brainer: what you threw on to do the laundry. Now, they send a message. It can be unexpectedly high-brow and refined or an ironic comment on the ordinary working man. With post-Brexit and U.S. election soul-searching, the demise of the latter has been the topic of many a dinner-party conversation—and now, it seems, on the runways, too.