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Objects That Matter: The Knockoff-Inspired Designer Good

Awareness that a brand is widely counterfeited can make shoppers more willing to pay for the real thing, a 2012 study found.

Counterfeiters are used to receiving cease-and-desist notices from the labels they copy—but recently, they've also been getting love letters. In 2013, Versace's capsule collection Versus unveiled a line of bootleg-inspired casual wear; this year, Louis Vuitton collaborated with Supreme, a streetwear company to which LV had once sent a cease-and-desist. Of course, luxury brands' legal departments are still bringing cases against counterfeiters. But these days their designers are also creating and selling their own knockoffs of knockoffs for well-heeled shoppers who appreciate the irony.

Throughout history, fake luxury goods have dissolved class barriers, affording the bourgeoisie and lower classes the illusion of material wealth—the chance, sartorially, to "fake it 'til they made it." As early as the fourth century B.C.E., Romans paid sculptors to produce pastiches of famous masterworks, to the dismay of old-money elites. In the 19th century, counterfeits allegedly compelled Georges Vuitton to commission a complex pattern—an arrangement of flowers, quatrefoils, and the founder's interlocking initials—to discourage would-be counterfeiters. Today, it's the brand's signature monogram.

In the 1980s and '90s a culture of logomania, or brand obsession, fed the demand for ironic fashion fakes. Designers and street-wear brands like Dapper Dan, Stüssy, and Supreme styled counterfeits as tongue-in-cheek, inclusive, and cool, printing other companies' luxury logos on bomber jackets, car upholstery, and skateboards for a fan base of hip-hop artists, punks, and skaters.

It's not hard to understand why some luxury retailers are emulating these stylish streetwear fakes: When high-end designers copy knockoffs, they offer high-end shoppers a humorous way to flaunt wealth, style, and the company's emblem. For now, at least, they're making some money off of fakes, and not the other way around.

A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.