Recently, Zara debuted its Streetwise Collection, a line of tops, bottoms, and shoes that depending on your interpretation, either make the wearer look like an extra in the new Star Wars movie… or are an obvious knockoff of Kanye West’s latest Yeezy Season collection.
I wouldn’t go so far as to claim I was in the room with Zara’s designers when they conceptualized the collection, but there is some definite congruity between the Streetwise Collection and Kanye’s signature aesthetic of drab tans and olives rendered in baggy cuts with exaggerated lines.
But regardless of Zara’s true intentions, the court of public opinion has already ruled that they’ve stolen from Kanye.
Now, here at High Fashion, I’m not necessarily against knockoffs per se—mainly because if you buy designer, you’re dropping lots of money on clothes that you could spend on weed.
One cannot discount how important it is, if one likes smoking weed, to actually be able to afford weed.
I’m not going to lie, I have a few pieces in my closet right now that are facsimiles of other pieces—one of my favorite pair of jeans is Zara’s rip of Balmain’s biker jeans, that I bought for $75 instead of, like, $1,500. Do you have any idea how much weed the remaining $1,425 can buy a person? A fucking shit-ton is how much.
Meanwhile, design houses often get away with slapping their logo and a few distinguishing marks on their goods that are essentially the same as something you could buy at Costco—sometimes these in-demand labels even use the same factories as their downmarket competitors.
So much of life is a scam, and nowhere is that more true than in the world of high fashion (not to be confused with my column High Fashion, which is one hundred percent confirmed scam-free).
Still, this isn’t true across the board—for every cheapass designer who’s buying t-shirts in bulk in Bangladesh, there’s another who’s employing highly skilled artisans to create unique goods that are genuinely superior to the competition. And besides, part of the point of buying designer goods is, like, actually buying designer.
Owning something like a Rolex or a pair of Saint Laurent boots means you have the right to say you actually own something that few others do. It’s a way of taking part in a greater tradition of design and aesthetics, and owning something that comes with a great story.
For example, one of my favorite hats is a custom-made Modu Designs strapback hand-emblazoned with the words “Eski Boy”—the nickname of the famed British rapper Wiley. It might have cost me a pretty penny, but there are only two of the hats in existence: I own one, and the designer told the mutual friend who hooked us up that he gave the other to Wiley himself.
In a way, the reward of putting on an expensive-ass pair of pants is the same as the reward you get from smoking a joint full of A1 Kush you bought that very day—in addition to making you feel great, it’s a testament to the hard work you put into earning the right to feel great. (Here, you get bonus points if you don’t develop a debilitating addiction to buying nice shit.)
Still, that’s not to knock knockoffs, but instead to argue that we should reframe the conversation around them. Sometimes you want to smoke some weird schwag weed that will barely get you high, and sometimes you want to take one hit off something and be gone until next week. That doesn’t mean one is necessarily better than the other, it just means they’re similar products that do different things.
Let’s think about places like Reddit’s r/FashionReps, which are dedicated to finding the best in fake designer merch, to the point where boardmembers’ efforts to find stuff that looks like fancy stuff often ends up costing them more time, effort, and potentially money than to just find a deal on the thing they’re trying to get ahold of.*
For these people, it’s the quixotic journey to replicate the real thing that yields the reward—not the actual goods themselves. In a way, they get the same ability to tell a story with their fashion choices as someone who bought the real thing, it’s just that their values are completely different than those of someone who buys exclusively designer.
So instead of looking at knockoffs as copies of the actual thing, we should view them in the same way that we look at, say, The Big Lebowski vs. this porn parody of The Big Lebowski. The quality is way lower, sure, and they might be a bit goofy-looking because the attention to detail just isn’t there, but ultimately, they serve a totally different purpose.
*Keep in mind that you can get totally burned by places like this—I have a friend who bought a fake Vetements hoodie for $20 from some weird Korean website he found off r/FashionReps, only to discover that he’d bought a hoodie that didn’t have the cool long-ass arms that Vetements hoodies are known for, AND turned out to be a Youth Large rather than a regular-ass Large.