Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, at the Museum at FIT

Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, a current exhibition at the Museum at FIT, tells the long history of fashion fakes.  Interestingly, faking started as soon as designer names became known in the 19th century.  Over the past 150 years many attempts have been made to stop fashion fakes, but few of them have been effective.

I did a double-take when I came to the Paul Poiret brown cloak above, sure that I’d seen it before.  Then I remembered; LivedInVintage had posted photos of it on Instagram after finding it.  After people went crazy over it on Instagram, she was able to be in touch with the people at FIT, who purchased and restored it.

You can’t tell from my photo, but the words, “Authorized Reproduction” are on the label at the very top.  In an effort to eliminate the faking of his clothes, Poiret had his label copyrighted.  The rights to legally reproduce designs were sold, but that did not stop the practice of copying.

One thing I loved about this exhibition was how the labels were reproduced for visitors to see.  I’m always wanting to see the labels of things, so this was a real treat.

The dress on the left is an adapted copy of a Madeleine Vionnet dress called the Little Horses.  Vionnet tried to stop counterfeiting by putting her thumbprint on every label, but that was only partially effective.  You can see a photo of the original dress on the screen.  Note how only the top of the dress has the fancy horse design.

The two dresses on the right are by Jeanne Lanvin.  The complicated design of the petaled and scalloped tiers made the dresses hard to copy.

The black evening dress in the center has a Fashion Originator’s Guild of America label.  The guild was formed to fight fakes by registering each member’s designs.  If a design was found that copied a registered design, the guild members would no longer do business with a firm found dealing in the fake.  Unfortunately, the guild had to be disbanded in 1941 when it was found by the FTC to be in violation of trade laws.

And here is what makes an exhibition like this one so great.  They also had the original registration sketch of the black dress on display.

The red dress on the right is a reproduction of a Claire McCardell “Nada” dress.  According to an ad for the original dress, it was “the dress that created a fashion.”  That means that everyone was copying it.

The dress on the left was by American designer Carrie Munn.  While not a fake or a pure copy, Munn’s work was derivative of that of Dior and Balenciaga.

Couturiers often licensed designs to American manufacturers, which created lower cost clothes with designer cache.  I suppose they figured that Americans would buy the fakes anyway, and so they ought to compete with them.  The green and rust gown is by French designer Jean Desses for Raymodes Negligees, circa 1950.

The dress on the right is a Charles James for Samuel Winston dress.  In the early 1950s James licensed designs to Samuel Winston, but he ended up suing the company for using his work and not putting his label in the dresses.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s French designer Jacques Fath did special designs for American manufacturer Joseph Halpert.  The red dress is a beautiful example.  These were not fakes, but were actually designed in the US by Fath.

This Jean Desses coat has an adaptation label.  That means it was inspired by a Desses original, but that changes were made to the design.

The dress on the left is a licensed copy of a Dior dress.  It was made by Mignon, an American company that often made legal copies.  The red coat is a line-for-line copy of a Balenciaga coat.  It was made for Macy’s Little Shops, using the actual Balenciaga as a pattern.

In 1965 Yves Saint Laurent designed his famous Mondrian dresses, which shows that designers not only copy from each other, they also “borrow” from art.  So, which is the Saint Laurent, and which two are copies?

(The one in the center is the Yves Saint Laurent.)

You might think that this Lilly Dache Sally Victor hat was “inspired” by the Yves Saint Laurent dress, but it was actually made in 1962, three years prior to the famous dress.

Today, copying often takes the form of a company “copying”  itself.   Companies like Missoni do this by collaborating with cheaper retailers like Target.  It might be a bit difficult to tell that the “real” Missoni is the one on the left, but seeing these two in person leaves no doubt that there is a huge difference in quality.

There were quite a few Chanel suits, and Chanel-inspired suits in the exhibition, but the most informative display was this authentic Chanel along side an authorized copy.  The Chanel is on the left, and the suit on the right was made by Ohrbach’s Department Store.  The suits seem to be almost identical, with the exception of the extra set of pockets on the Chanel.

Behind the two suit was a slide show that examined the two suits very closely, and then pointed out the differences in construction.  In fifteen slides, one gets an excellent Chanel education.

Of course I loved this exhibition.  The research at FIT is so through, and the presentation is always beautiful.  I do wish that the lighting in this gallery was more like that of the one downstairs.  It is so dark that details cannot be seen in many cases, especially in black and dark garments.  And it would be great to see the backs of the clothes.  The arrangement of the gallery is linear, so there is more of a flat view.  Perhaps mirrors could be employed.

At The Museum at FIT in New York, through April 25, 2015

19 Comments

Filed under Museums

19 responses to “Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, at the Museum at FIT

  1. This is such an interesting display! It’s honestly something I never would have thought of! But it is highly educational on the history and structure of fashion!

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  2. poppysvintageclothing

    Thanks, Lizzie for sharing this one with us…Most interesting!

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  3. It’s interesting that the couture Mondrian dress survived dry-cleaning without puckering, unlike the copies. Quality. Great post! Thank you!

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  4. Christina

    Another excellent review Lizzie. Well, that is an interesting Lilly Dache hat. I am interested in seeing this hat since YSL and Pierre Cardin were designing helmet shaped hats in the mid-1960’s. I am also curious about the similarity of the Mondrian inspired design compared to this Sally Victor hat c1962.

    http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/156023

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    • Well, I goofed. This hat is Sally Victor as well, which I knew, but my fingertips obviously did not. There is actually another shape as well, so Victor must have done a whole line of Mondrian hats.

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      • Christina

        She created an “Artist’s Series” inspired by Gaugin, Mondrian, Picasso, Braque, Van Gogh, Matisse and other artists. Googling brings up the Matisse hat. I would love to see the others.

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  5. Love this review and your photos, Lizzie! Thanks!

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  6. What a fascinating exhibit! Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    I especially love the highlighting of the differences between the actual Chanel and the copy.

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  7. Fantastic, Lizzie! I wish I had gotten a chance to see it. But your review gives so much wonderful information.

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  8. Mary S

    your comments make me happy that we are going to NYC in May!
    won’t see the FIT exhibit–but so many other things to see!
    fun to watch: re your post re Katherine Hepburn and also copying in
    fashion: “A New Kind of Love” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
    total fluff but great imagination about the copying! very funny opening scene–fun for a remake with ???famous movie stars–

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  9. Liz

    I was able to see this exhibit in January, and I want to thank you–I’d never heard of this museum before you mentioned it here. I didn’t get pictures, and I didn’t get to go back without hubby, so it’s wonderful to enjoy this second visit.

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  10. Wish I could’ve seen this in person! What an interesting exhibition. Great post!

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  11. I agree that showing the labels is a great idea. And seeing the real and the copy/fake side by side is so educational. Thank you for this wonderful review.

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