Knock-Off Fashion

I’m very happy that James Surowiecki has used his bully pulpit in the annual

Style Issue of the New Yorker (perfect bound, with a Gucci ad on the outside

back cover) to take a

well-aimed potshot at the ridiculous (and counterproductive) idea that designers

should be able to copyright their clothes. Surowiecki convincingly explains

that when clothes are copied that’s good for the original designers,

not bad.

I do, however, have one question about Surowiecki’s description of the extent

of the "problem," insofar as it’s a problem at all (it isn’t). He

paints a picture of knock-off artists scurrying to copy all the latest designs,

and even claims that "private-label designers for major department stores

trumpet the fidelity of their imitations."

This doesn’t ring true to me. After all, major department stores are precisely

where the high-priced originals tend to get sold: would they really hire people

whose job is to copy those high-priced originals as faithfully as possible –

and then allow those designers to "trumpet the fidelity of their imitations"

in public? That doesn’t sound like good business to me.

On the other hand, as Surowiecki notes, people in the fashion industry don’t

always act in a profit-maximizing way. If they did, they wouldn’t be supporting

this bill. And Condé Nast, which is a prime recipient of the fashion

industry’s billions, might not be so keen to risk angering its biggest advertisers

by publishing Surowiecki’s column.

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