Homage or plagiarism pt.2

The whole matter of the resurgence of East West Musical Company jackets has grown legs. Since I wrote my entry various sources are decrying Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière for his recent rendition of an East West jacket. An article from 2002 written by Cathy Horyn, fashion editor of the New York Times has also seen fresh eyes as Ghesquière has done this sort of thing before (thanks to Eva and Becky for the links). There’s also the matter of Urban Outfitters who also copied (scroll down) the East West jacket under their private label Pins and Needles. Their version of the jacket priced at >$300 has sold out. All versions of the EW parrot jacket I saw were pretty cool. Original EWMC jackets are here and here. People also left links to more in comments.

Commentary from the public is mixed. Some think Ghesquière committed a fashion crime deserving multi course punishment such as being guillotined, then drawn and quartered, then burnt at the stake after which he should be hung by his thumbs while being subjected to repeated encores of Achy Breaky Heart. Obviously, his greater crime is disappointing the public, not a good move for a couture house. Several people wrote expecting me to wax eloquent on the depth of his trangressions but I find it difficult to rouse anything approaching outrage. The EW jacket is nearly forty years old. No doubt it is unbecoming of a haute couture fashion house to copy another designer -dead or alive- but this is hardly the first time. Maybe that is what should be the bigger story. His crime is actually poor brand management (I say this cynically). Other well known designers, for all their lamentations of being copied and meritous of Congressional protection, are no less guilty of copying so the only difference seems to be who is exposed in the fashion press. In sum, the bad guy is someone who doesn’t have a good PR machine for damage control. The mainstream fashion press has yet to write of Diane Von Furstenberg’s plagiarism of Mercy and I doubt they ever will. Go figure.

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  1. dosfashionistas says:

    To my thinking, the litmus test is whether the original designer is harmed by the copying. If not, it may be bad design practice but you can’t say it isn’t a common practice. If it didn’t happen constantly, we wouldn’t have the term “knock-off”…..

    At one of my first jobs in the fashion business the girl at the front desk was there more for ornament than brains. One day she came undulating back into my cubicle to show me the dress she was wearing and tell me that the boss had thought it looked so good on her that he wanted me to, “What’s the word you use? Bump it off?”

  2. Connie says:

    Definitely plagiarism. Homage is when you give credit for a design inspiration and develop something new based on the existing item. DvF gets no creativity points whatsoever and there will be no more DvF patterns for me. At least a “knock-off” is an honest crook.

    It’s too bad that some of these designers (not to mention politicians) don’t know how to get off the stage gracefully when they have nothing new to offer. They would then be remembered as creative successes rather than dismal has-beens.

  3. ken simmons says:

    And speaking of original, does anyone think the East West jacket is original? It is directly inspired by Art Nouveau that enjoyed a revival in the late 60’s and 70’s which can be traced back to William Morris’ wallpaper and bookplate designs of the mid to late 1800’s as well as the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley.

  4. carla behrle says:

    Fascinated… finally reading these posts & comments – as one who made a very, very limited “homage” to this exact jacket about 14 years ago, when I was handed an original “parrot” jacket and asked if I could “re-create” it by Patricia Field in NYC.

    I have always been bored with & un-interested in doing any type of “knock-off”, but when I saw this original jacket, as a designer/techie, I saw a challenge.

    As Kathleen said in her earlier post “the design was exemplary but the execution was not.”

    The original jacket, unlined, poorly finished & marked a size medium, did not fit me, @ 5’1 and 95 pounds at the time, or a PF employee who was about an inch taller and 6 pounds lighter.
    It could barely be zipped over any type of chest & you could not move your arms due to the shoulders being so narrow across the back and the sleeves were so tight you’d get stuck in it trying to get it off. No lining did not help either. It maybe would’ve fit a skinny 12 year old boy in 1975, not in 1995.

    I saw that jacket and really wanted to do justice to what was an incredible design & concept by doing it right! Treating it the way it was crying out to be treated!

    I made a completely new pattern (btw the curved seaming on the original was strictly decorative, it did nothing for fit- ditto the cb seam- good for cutting the skins- but no shaping at all!) I aimed to keep the original period look of the jacket intact while making it fit a body.

    My version was full metallics, fully lined, faced and included the original’s stash pocket. (a very good reason why the collar was so big!)

    We made 5 pieces for Patricia Field & one that I kept. (The appliquéd & inlay pattern pieces were completely graded for each of the 3 sizes.) Later on, 5 more pieces were made for a Victoria’s Secret Ad. 4 were completely re-cut into another concept at the last minute and the 5th, unchanged, was put in the stylist’s personal collection, and that was it.

    That & I never claimed the original idea as my own, by omission or otherwise.

    In Nicolas Ghesquière’s case, since he has such a long and ingrained habit of sending out 1) line-for-line copies of vintage pieces, always 2) without crediting the source and usually 3) without making any distinct improvement or change to the original…

    This not only implies a distinct shortage of ideas on his part, but I feel by these 3 points, it definitely starts veering into plagiarism as opposed to “Homage”

    …when you have the sort of resources that a house like Balenciaga has, you would think they could get the guy some help! :)

  5. Kathleen says:

    Speaking of couturier copyists, Danielle (FinalFashion.ca) sent me a link this morning to an entry about the famous YSL Mondrian dresses. Apparently, YSL wasn’t the originator of the concept. YSL copied a US value brand called Jr. Sophisticates. The designer at the latter firm btw, was the then unknown Anne Klein. True to form -as when a bigger brand copies a less sophisticated one, quality improvements were evident in the YSL copies.

  6. Babette says:

    The copying that occured in the 50s was licensed. Rights to copy were purchased. Inspiration is one thing but referencing, stitch for stitch, is not kosher.

  7. E says:

    Hi Kathleen.. I know this is a LOOOONG time passing to post but I have to give my insight. I can’t reveal all but YES after 5 yrs of working in Paris(internships, PT temp work), most designs houses big n small these days do minor RnD and MAJOR buying of vintage pieces to “inspire” them… As you said homage is giving credit where it’s due. This IS the important point because it acknowledges the WORK that had gone before in realizing and coalescing an original idea(well executed or not). People can only the improve on an idea because a designer/craftsman had laid the groundwork of what the idea could be. In the case of certain designers, they ONLY admit to “homage/plagerize” after being called out for copying (kinda like being caught inflagrante with their pants down) a design from a long deceased brand/designer without giving credit. By NOT recognizing the originator of the idea, it whitewashes and ignores the efforts made – aka what Nicky boy did to Kaisik Wong.

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