Piracy Fuels the Fashion Industry

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
September 8, 2014

When, in 2011, Oprah Winfrey asked Ralph Lauren how he “keeps reinventing,” Mr. Lauren answered: “You copy. Forty-five years of copying; that’s why I’m here.” Mr. Lauren, a Jewish kid from the Bronx who built a spectacular career reinterpreting the look of the old WASP aristocracy, was at least partly joking. But what made the quip funny was the fact that knockoffs are — and always have been — a pervasive part of fashion.

During the Depression, New York apparel houses were famed for their copying; as Time magazine noted in 1936, “a dress exhibited in the morning at $60 would be duplicated at $25 before sunset and at lower prices later in the week.”

It is important to remember that copying in fashion is nothing new because today one of the most common arguments for stricter regulation of clothing designs is that the Internet makes copying so fast that it destroys the incentive to create.

For 75 years, fashion has been an industry prone to mistaken predictions of its own demise. During World War II, the fashion designer Maurice Rentner declared that the quick copying of designs would “write finis” to the dress industry. And for decades after the war, fashion insiders have predicted that everything from trans-Atlantic air travel and fax machines to computer-aided design and digital photography would speed copying and destroy their business.

Read the full piece at the New York Times