When Luxury Brands Counterfeit The Counterfeiters

With designs that imitate fakes, luxury fashion brands try to attract a younger and more connected clientele.

J'adior bag by Dior
J'adior bag by Dior
Sophie Abriat

PARIS — The shoe has found its way to the other foot. In its 2018 cruise collection, Gucci paid homage to Dapper Dan, the famous Harlem couturier who was forced to close shop in the "90s over counterfeiting. In the Gucci show, a bomber jacket with canvas balloon sleeves bearing the Florentine fashion house's monogram, recalled a coat created in 1989 by Dapper Dan, who was famous at the time for designs covered with silk-screened logos of brands like Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Gucci, and in high demand with American rappers.

The Italian brand also designed a pink sweater with a teddy bear tagged "Guccy," an allusion to flagrant errors on fakes. Real Gucci pieces inspired by counterfeits? The playful nod bears the hallmarks of Alessandro Michele, the artistic director who loves to shake up the rules of luxury.

For French ready-to-wear and accessory companies, counterfeits represent 3.5 million euros, or about $4.2 million, in lost sales per year and 25,000 lost jobs (EUIPO, 2015). But now some brands are playing along and have started producing "fake fakes." In October 2016, Vetements unveiled in Seoul — an epicenter of fake fashion — a capsule collection called "Official Fake." The pieces had intentional defects: The patchwork jeans were turned backwards, the sweatshirts were red (the brand's signature hoodie is black) and the brand's best-selling "definition raincoat," ripped off by the fake brand "Vetememes," was reproduced without the definition of the word "raincoat" on the back, in a play on failed fakes.

Brands need to leave their ivory towers.

Others have tried ripping off their own logo: "J'adior" in gold-plated letters on Dior purses, or the Louis Vuitton monogram dwarfed by the Supreme logo in the two brands' collaboration line — after the leather goods company sued the American brand in 2000 for having printed its iconic label on its skateboards.

In another form of hijacking, this fall, Balenciaga launched a blue plastic bag modeled after the IKEA shopping bags — 1,700 euros, or about $2,030, for the luxury version versus $1 at the Swedish home goods giant.

An alliance with "street culture"

"Until now, only young online brands parodied these logos, like Brian Lichtenberg and his Homiés and Féline t-shirts, or Conflict of Interest with Chapel and Niu Niu. Today, the luxury brands themselves hijack their logos and pretend to counterfeit," explains Emmanuelle Hoffman, a lawyer who specializes in fashion rights. The objective is clear: to gain favor with the 15-25-year-old demographic, the Generation Z that luxury brands are trying to seduce at any cost.

"For a long time, luxury brands looked down with some disdain at "street culture," that bootlegged fashion. But today it's the most-consumed culture on social media. It's not insignificant that these brands are hiring artistic directors who grew up with these references. Without Kim Jones, the artistic director of its men's collection, Louis Vuitton would never have collaborated with Supreme," says Michael Dupouy, founder of the street-wear maker Club 75.

On Instagram, some accounts parody luxury brands by publishing photos of fake logos, fake products or fake ads. This is the case with Reilly (@hey_reilly), a Scottish graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, who creates improbable logo hybrids, such as Lanvin and Lidl, Calvin Klein and Burger King, Supreme and Subway. "Brands are obsessed with digital success and inspired by online artists known for their ripoffs," says Reilly, who has already collaborated with Gucci, Nike, Colette and LVMH.

Breaking with traditional rules, luxury fashion wants to show that it is in touch with reality. "This evolution is linked to the digital world, in which there can be no vertical discourse. Brands therefore need to leave their ivory towers. And those that poke fun at themselves are those that work best," explains Benjamin Simmenauer, an associate professor at the French Fashion Institute.

Evidence of this is Gucci's 4.4 billion euro turnover in 2016. Still, luxury brands have not stopped fighting counterfeiters. "The budget allocated for this fight hasn't diminished," says Hoffman, the fashion lawyer. However, she adds, "legally, self-parodying is dangerous for brands. These can be difficult cases to defend, knowing that today, counterfeits are getting so good that is increasingly difficult to distinguish the real from the fake."

And of course, the irony of a luxury brand copying its counterfeiters is that the phony item costs so much more than the original.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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