Real Gucci Knockoffs and the Rise of Normalized Dressing
When you think of modern Gucci—Alessandro Michele’s Gucci—it’s very likely that the image that comes to mind is the brand’s logo T-shirt. With GUCCI on the front, flanked by the brand’s iconic interlocked GG logo and its red and green colors, this ubiquitous tee debuted during the Italian fashion house’s 2017 Cruise collection. The graphic print soon appeared on everything from T-shirts to sweatshirts of multiple colors and styles, before promptly selling out everywhere and becoming a street style staple.
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To those with a keen eye, these graphics weren’t Gucci originals. In fact, they were inspired by bootlegs from the 1980’s produced by Korean and Chinese sellers in downtown NYC. In an interview, Dapper Dan reminisced on the era, saying, “They were cheap and profitable, about $18 or $22 USD wholesale.” The poorly-made screen-printed shirts were popular and easy to make. “There was no take-back from Gucci at the time so they spread really fast. What made them successful was because no one had them. No one was doing them at the time." But who would’ve imagined that within a few decades, those bootlegs would become real, authentic, Gucci products?
Alessandro Michele loves to surprise, especially by exploring what it means to be real or fake. Before these prolific T-shirts hit the runway, Michele was coming off a stellar collaboration with GucciGhost, an street-artist who began leaving his “GucciGhost” tag wherever he could. Serendipitously, Michele took note of his work, and instead of suing, he reached out. This partnership spawned an entire collection bearing the GucciGhost tag. When the collection first debuted, skeptics were on high alert. How could one of the biggest fashion houses in the world validate street-art, especially from an artist who was blatantly ripping off its logo? In many other instances, this situation would have warranted a cease and desist. But this marked a shift in the landscape of high fashion, with brands looking to connect to new audiences—and with the rise of streetwear and sportswear—it’s no wonder that being more street-savvy, casual and down to earth was a strategic move.
Michele didn’t just apply the GucciGhost tag onto Gucci products. The collection literally questioned the distinction between real and fake, most obviously with products that GucciGhost customized with the word “REAL." Michele’s fascination with the faux-real didn’t just continue—it became more and more amplified with each collection, culminating in bootlegging the bootleggers for 2017 Cruise.
Following the fake-but-real logo T-shirts, Michele took the bootlegging to another level. For his 2018 Cruise collection, he made authentic Gucci based on iconic knockoffs. For example, sweatshirts misspelled Gucci as “Guccy”—a humorous homage to unapologetic bootlegs—and Michele even knocked off Dapper Dan’s iconic faux Louis Vuitton jacket made for Olympic medalist Diane Dixon, but with the Gucci monogram instead.
According to Gucci, “The 2018 Cruise collection also saw a continuation of Alessandro Michele’s exploration of faux-real culture with a series of pieces playing on the Gucci logo and monogram, including a puff-sleeved bomber jacket from the 1980’s in an homage to the work of the renowned Harlem tailor Daniel ‘Dapper Dan’ Day and in celebration of the culture of that era in Harlem.” Now, Gucci is sponsoring the re-opening of Dapper Dan’s atelier and will offer him authentic, raw materials to work with. Ironically, Dapper Dan is no longer a bootlegger. With Gucci’s blessing—and a great deal of experience in reinventing the old—he’s now making authentic Gucci products.
When bootlegging bootlegs—and successfully so—what does that mean for fashion? Knock-offs will forever remain a fashion faux-pas, but high-end fashion brands are now embracing the “cheap” aesthetic in droves. Replicas thrive as an alternative to their unaffordable counterparts and establish desire in an otherwise unattainable audience. They normalize luxury goods and provide a way for consumers to still own and wear the trend without the hefty price tag, similarly to when fast fashion retailers like Zara and H&M knock off high-fashion designs. In the age of high-low fashion, designers are purposely creating pieces that look poorly designed as a way to appear more accessible and attainable.
Perhaps fashion’s most buzzed about designer, Demna Gvasalia, is the pioneer of this movement. Founding Vetements in 2009 with his brother and a group of friends, Gvasalia wanted to design a line that was more democratic and down to earth that reflected youthwear. This resulted in a brand consisting of graphic T-shirts, hoodies and streetwear-inspired silhouettes that flew off shelves and changed the face of fashion. Some of Vetements’ most popular pieces are tongue-in-cheek (think the Bic lighter heels), while others were knockoffs of other logos, or “inspired” (think the Metallica-Vetements logo). His work for Balenciaga has taken a similar route, with Gvasalia creating high-fashion versions of everyday items (such as a leather iteration of IKEA’s shopping bag) or appropriating Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo to appeal to socially and politically-conscious millennial shoppers. Gvasalia’s aim to make high fashion more down to earth has resonated with customers and solidified his reputation as one of the most important designers right now.
More literally, Gvasalia toyed with the line between real and fake by hosting an “Official Fake” sale in Seoul as a response to the city’s proliferation of Vetements fakes. During the pop-up, Gvasalia designed a range of limited-edition items based on Vetements’ most popular SKUs—just slightly altered for a “fake” look. Diesel took a similar path this season with its “DEISEL” pop-up, where the brand designed its own bootleg items to sell to the public. As fashion moves in a mainstream, ironic direction, more and more designers are embracing low culture as an opportunity for success.
Bootlegging bootlegs have taken fashion by storm by mixing the realms of art, design and style. A definitive product of our zeitgeist, this new fashion direction blurs the lines between the real and the fake, making almost a joke of a regular passing moment. In the meme-filled world we live in, it’s meta that designers are knocking off knock-offs, and it’s ironic that they’re bringing these “normalized” and more accessible products back into the luxury realm. Maybe it’s Gvasalia’s ethos of bringing fashion’s aesthetic back down to earth that ultimately resonates with today’s generation—millennials are tired of inequality, and traditional high-fashion brands’ unattainability just feels passé. Now, luxury goods are taking on a more relatable, less serious, and overall more wearable look, even if the price tag isn’t necessarily accessible.
Appearing accessible and down to earth is also the path Michele decided to take in his latest 2018 fall/winter collection. He teamed up with the MLB’s New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants for co-branded apparel and accessories. The two teams’ “NY” and “SF” logos were dispersed throughout the show, giving high-fashion pieces such as cardigans, coats and blazers a sportier and more casual edge. It was his way of normalizing luxury goods, by applying logos of brands that are the complete opposite of high-end luxury. By bootlegging bootlegs and using ubiquitous sports team logos, it seems many modern-day designers are attempting to look and feel more accessible—a move that has proven lucrative thus far. Whether or not ordinary-looking clothes with an underlying sense of irony should be considered high-fashion, they surely serve as a manifestation of the world we’re living in.