But the bashing Jacobs took this season only proves that the critics’ love-hate relationship with derivation is an ever swinging pendulum. A designer may be lauded for appropriating one season—as happened when Jacobs’s Yves Saint Laurent/Walter Albini–inspired fall 2007 collection was nearly universally praised—and castigated the next. Over the years, many major designers have been so chided. Calvin Klein was at various times chastised for leaning toward Giorgio Armani and Helmut Lang; a retailer even termed his fall 1998 show “Comme des Calvin” for its strong Japanese motifs. Klein’s successor, Francisco Costa, has taken shots as well, most recently in spring 2007 for a stunning resemblance to Lang.
Ralph Lauren, whose look has inspired not just single collections but entire companies—most notably Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica—hasn’t been exempt either. Early in his 40-year career, Lauren was bashed by the English press for co-opting the artisto-Anglo look as his own. (“Bringing coal to Newcastle,” the designer can lightheartedly quip now.) And in 1994 he was famously sued by Yves Saint Laurent over a sleeveless tuxedo dress. Given that the suit was filed in a French court, it’s hardly surprising Lauren lost. Still, “it was totally ludicrous,” says Lauren. “You know, my first day of doing things, I made men’s wear for women and made evening clothes. Why would I want to rip off Saint Laurent? I never saw [his dress].”
And what of Ghesquière, one of the most imitated designers around? He’s launched legions of spacey androids, and next season his sculpted florals will no doubt find a fan base among knockoff lovers too. But in spring 2002 he starred in his own derivative debacle. That season hintmag.com revealed that some of his garments aped the work of deceased California designer Kaisik Wong, specifically a patchwork top from 1973. The Frenchman openly admitted the mistake at the time, explaining that when he saw an image of Wong’s garment, he assumed it was a theatrical costume.
Yet for that same collection, Ghesquière said he was inspired by another patchwork prince, Koos van den Akker, whose influence he acknowledged prior to the show. Had Ghesquière been aware of Wong, would it have made a difference if he had cited him as a reference as well? In other words, acknowledge the tribute and call it a day?
Were it so easy. Last fall Derek Lam received criticism from those who felt a twinge of déjà vu of the Balenciaga show four months earlier; for others, Lam’s wayward zippers, second-skin fabrics and high Eighties waists were textbook Azzedine Alaïa. The Tribune curtly opined that “Derek Lam was so into Alaïa [his collection] began to look like a job application.”