We’ve all heard the fashion knockoff tales. On one hand, there’s the down-market riffing on designer motifs that ranges from the H&Ms and Forever 21s of the world to counterfeit duds channeled through Chinatown dens. But pilfering exists at all levels of fashion, including at the very pinnacle. And up in the stratosphere, it becomes increasingly difficult to categorize, to draw the line between legitimate inspiration and flat-out derivation.
Not a season goes by when fashion critics don’t home in on references within certain collections. Consider the recent spring 2008 Proenza Schouler effort. Designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez received accolades for their precise rendering of a military motif—trim, brass-buttoned vests, slickly tailored striped jackets and to-die-for feathery numbers seemingly dipped in gold. But the praise was more than tempered by an observation repeated by critic after critic: Too close for comfort to the work of Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière, noted The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Women’s Wear Daily, W’s sister publication.