The Proenza Schouler boys certainly weren’t alone. WWD called Brian Reyes’s leg-baring tunics a “big Prada-esque question mark” and slammed MaxMara for dumbing down Yohji Yamamoto. Style.com noted that Alessandro Dell’Acqua “didn’t touch on anything Prada and Dolce & Gabbana (or even Helmut Lang...) didn’t do 10 or so years ago.” Christopher Kane’s collection, according to the Times, brought to mind “the late Nineties of Daryl Kerrigan.”
Those designers all garnered negative critiques for their apparent cribbing—and justly so, right? After all, as every schoolkid who’s ever sat through a plagiarism lecture can attest, copying is wrong—it’s cheating; it’s taking the easy way out. The issue, then, is what constitutes copying. And in creative disciplines, the line is hardly clear. Even Shakespeare had his sources, and Botticelli didn’t invent Venus. Which is not to equate even the loftiest of fashion designers with either, but rather to acknowledge their parallel reality: In fashion, as in other artistic disciplines, where one takes a reference can be as powerful as where it was found. Certainly in the emotional world of fashion, the topic is fodder for endless debate.
The issue exploded into prominence after Marc Jacobs’s spring 2008 show in New York, one this magazine and WWD loved, the latter noting its references as a creative strength. Some other critics, however, lambasted the designer for those references, citing John Galliano, Chanel and, most of all, Martin Margiela and Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo. “Most disappointing was that Jacobs spent a significant amount of time merely repeating or paraphrasing what [has already been] said aesthetically,” reviewed The Washington Post. “This collection seemed to emerge from the pages of other designers’ old sketchbooks.” But it was Suzy Menkes’s review in the Tribune—“A bad, sad show…an echo chamber of existing ideas,” she wrote—that drew a heated response from Jacobs.
“I’ve never denied how influenced I am by Margiela, by Rei Kawakubo; I don’t hide that,” Jacobs remarked to WWD. “I’m a designer living in this world who loves fashion. I’m attentive to what’s going on.… I have never insisted on my own creativity, as Chanel would say.” (He refers to a Coco bon mot: “Show me a man of originality, and I will show you a liar.”) A month after his controversial New York show, Jacobs would punctuate that statement with his Paris Louis Vuitton collection; the designer collaborated with none other than appropriation artist Richard Prince.
Throughout his career, Jacobs has admitted to being influenced by Yves Saint Laurent—also an obvious inspiration for Miuccia Prada, herself one of recent fashion’s most borrowed-from designers. In fact, she and Jacobs are among the rarefied few who are often applauded for spinning motifs sourced elsewhere into brilliant stories of their own.