Clearly, there are scores of designers who have riffed unapologetically on other designers’ standards. Anna Sui has her own particular take on Ossie Clark and Biba. And veritable legions, from Adolfo and St. John to Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto, have had their way with Chanel. Last fall Yamamoto glanced unmistakably toward Louis Vuitton with all-over double-Y logo patterns in a witty send-up of the famous monogram.
“Yves Saint Laurent, Madame Grès, Chanel—certain designers have gone into the history book,” says Tuleh’s Bryan Bradley.
“[These names are] part of the fashion vocabulary,” agrees Lam. “It’s like saying you can’t send jeans down the runway without deriving from Levi Strauss.”
Cynthia Rowley halfheartedly jokes that perhaps there should be a statute of limitations, after which ideas can enter the public domain. “To me,” she says, “the difference is timing.”
The fall 2007 Burberry Prorsum show makes for a perfect example. Christopher Bailey worked a medieval motif inspired by the house’s knight logo. The problem is that only the year before, Prada had spun a spectacular urban warrior tale of its own. “This was just too soon for Bailey to have launched a similar crusade,” declared WWD at the time. In response, Bailey says he hadn’t even seen the Prada collection in question. “I never looked at it,” he insists. “Very few designers ever go to any of the shows. But a lot of the journalists go from one show to another, so they have a bigger memory bank.
“Call it the zeitgeist,” adds Bailey, “but there are moments when several people are feeling the same thing.”
He has a point; isn’t that how trends are born? “Fashion is very mysterious,” says Diane von Furstenberg. “It is a mood, l’air du temps. Then come the silhouettes, cut, color, fabric.”
“Sometimes, you actually just arrive at something that somebody else has arrived at,” says Kerrigan. “If you’re influenced by rock ’n’ roll and punk, which a lot of us are, you’re going to arrive at a lot of the same things.” She does call attention to the fact, though, that for smaller concerns like hers, the inspiration-versus-derivation issue may sting a bit more. “Journalists don’t recognize the work of the smaller designers, only the bigger ones,” she says. “So even the small designers who are original, it can be said they copied somebody else. Or it’s like you’ve never done it at all.”
Maria Cornejo, whose Zero collection has become a favorite among young, in-the-know fashion lovers, maintains that more than one well-known designer has browsed her Mott Street shop, only to feature a design reminiscent of one of hers in a later season. She says she even contacted one such “fan” to tell him or her—she’s ultradiscreet—to stop. “And I’m not talking H&M or Zara—that’s different. I get upset when somebody on the same level as us, selling to the same stores, is, as you would call it, ‘directly inspired.’”