NEW YORK — More than anything, “Faking It: Originals, Copies and Counterfeits,” the latest exhibition at the Museum at FIT, proves knockoff artists are nothing new.
Spanning more than 150 years, the show highlights just how difficult it is to identify an inauthentic item. Further blurring the lines is the much-debated issue of what constitutes a phony, since diffusion lines, licensing deals and couture copies have clouded the differences between the real deal and imitations. Museum visitors’ observational skills will be put to the test from the start. The show opens with two tweed suits circa 1966 — one by Coco Chanel and the other a licensed copy — showcased with a video that reveals how their construction differs. Chanel saw the copies as publicity, having once said, “Fashion should slip out of your hands. The very idea of protecting the seasonal arts is childish. One should not bother to protect that which dies the minute it is born.”
From there, the 100-piece show is set up in chronological order, beginning with a purple velvet evening dress by Charles Frederick Worth with a photograph of the designer’s signed label, which authenticated his creations. Considered to be the first designer label, Worth’s work was an appealing target for forgers.
“Faking It” makes note of the fact that more than two million counterfeit couture labels were sewn into garments by 1914. To turn back that trend, couturiers tried to strike back. Madeleine Vionnet marked her label with her thumbprint to authenticate each creation.
There are also more than 10 examples of how by the Fifties, couturiers relied heavily on department stores to purchase couture garments in order to produce licensed copies. To further their respective markets, Christian Dior and Jacques Fath designed secondary collections to be sold in the U.S.
After a 1959 landmark lawsuit resulted in the first copyrighting of patterns, Emilio Pucci took it upon himself to incorporate his signature of his first name into his patterns. A kaleidoscopic print dress circa 1960 is used to illustrate that point.
When the Nineties brought on logo mania, the mass production of counterfeit goods ensued. “Faking It” also has a display case with authentic bags near their respective knockoffs, including ones from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and the CFDA x eBay anticounterfeiting campaign “You Can’t Fake Fashion.” Museum goers can also learn how to spot a fake, thanks to video interviews with Susan Scafidi, founder of Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute, and Valerie Salembier, the Authentics Foundation’s chief executive officer.
Not that patrons need to be reminded of the prevalence of counterfeit goods, but one of the show’s more recent examples is Los Angeles-based designer Brian Lichtenberg’s take on the Hermès logo with his Homies collection.