When did you last spot someone on the street wearing the same dress; the very dress which you thought was so unique when you saw it on the hanger?

The trouble with mass production is that a ‘look’ is made to be universal – the chances are that everyone in the universe has one – and that some poor soul in a not too far away place was paid almost nothing to make it are pretty high. We talk a lot about ‘sustainability’ but what does it mean, and why does it matter? 

Our choices and how we spend our money have a ripple effect. Nowadays, trusting a brand to leave a kind ‘footprint’ on our planet is a big factor in our decision to buy. We want to know who made it and were they treated fairly? We want to be sure that the materials used and the way it is made means that it is a true bargain, both for the customer and for the community who produced it. But despite all this, no one wants to look boring! And no one wants to feel guilty every time they go shopping!

So how do you balance all this and still manage to find that perfect outfit? Maybe the answer is to think small! Small brands are more likely to have close working relationships with their suppliers were there’s greater transparency both in sourcing materials and manufacturing. At AlphaOmega, we not only think about the materials we use, and the impact they have on the environment but our original designs, colours and emphasis on creativity let you make a splash in your world. Creating products with you!- as the customer in mind. Giving our customers both peace of mind and creations that are unique in self expression.

So next time you get that fast fashion fever, shop small, as making a big statement doesn’t have to harm our environment.



(from ‘sustain’ and ‘ability’) is the process of change, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations’.

Sustainability is fast becoming the biggest single issue facing business and commerce around the globe. Whether one is sceptical of the science behind climate change or not, the impact of human industry on the environment is becoming more difficult to ignore. The depletion of fossil fuels and natural resources, the erosion of wild habitats and the depopulation of species cannot surely be a seen as in anyway beneficial to ourselves or our planet


Fashion may not be the first industry that springs to mind as a major contributor to environmental destruction but it has hardly been immune from the negative side-effects of intensive production methods and mass consumption culture. Its exponential growth in the last few hundred years, has left fashion with a very large carbon footprint indeed. A visit to the V&A’s ‘Fashioned from Nature’ exhibition provided a sobering insight into this often ecologically unsound history.

What began as a voyage of discovery, a fascination and desire to document, showcase and harness the visual aesthetics and the innate practical qualities of the natural world, is now a billion dollar industry that has turned rare, exotic specimens into high-fashion products. With that follows the consumption of vast amounts of water to produce even the most natural of fibres, not to mention the use of harmful chemical processes, which have all  been created in the pursuit of cheaper, synthetic alternatives.

The promotion of mass consumption through the availability of cheaper and cheaper items has also given rise to an abundance of waste clothing and materials as well as sanctioning the unethical treatment of a number of its global workforce. In short, fashion is no small player when it comes to the imbalance between material gain vs. environmental cost.

From this assessment it would seem that the modern fashion industry is long overdue a rethink of its sourcing, production and manufacturing processes as well as the way in which it promotes buying culture. In some quarters, from independent labels to big name designers such as Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Raeburn, are making the utilisation of the latest technological advances, cutting waste, upcycling, recycling and supporting not-for-profit organisations and global charities the new-norm.

These practices are gradually becoming more common but in order to make them commonplace it will be up to the high-street companies and fast-fashion retailers to adopt a similar ethos up and down their supply chains.


Any root and branch overhaul of industry processes along with the standardisation of ecologically sound methods, while having a significant effect in cleaning up the industry, will no doubt require considerable investment. Despite the bulk of these costs being absorbed by the consumer, profit margins will inevitably be hit. In this regard full sustainability is an unattractive proposition for many large commercial fashion enterprises. As such  token gestures, heavily promoted and disguised as corporate responsibility will run the danger of becoming insubstantial. Though the end-user is perhaps the most powerful proponent for industry change, they are currently finding themselves faced with a barrage of terms such as ‘conscious’, ‘ethically sourced’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘recycled’, with little information as to what they actually mean. Leading to fears that ‘sustainability fatigue’ will set in even amongst the most ethically aware and educated consumer.

What is the ratio of recycled material in each product? Has the ethically grown cotton t-shirt been stitched by an under-paid worker in order to bring the costs down? The complexity and multifaceted nature of the fashion production process and a lack of transparency at every level means that consumers can be left feeling that shopping truly ethically is an almost impossible task and therefore not worth the bother. Perhaps this is what the industry is relying on to stall the progress of sustainability, the reality of consumers voting with their wallets would offer little option but to follow a more sustainable business model and swing the pendulum vastly in sustainability’s favour.

In future, fashion may find itself with no choice other than to adopt wholesale sustainability. Government legislation, or in the worst case scenario, difficulty in obtaining and maintaining current resource requirements, may force the hand of it and other industries altogether.

For one that prides itself on its ability to be a forerunner of innovation and invention this would be a poor demonstration of its powers and as some designers are already proving, sustainability is achievable. The pre-emption and future-proofing of the industry for such events is not just financially prudent in the longer term but could ultimately prevent fashion finding itself on the endangered species list.




‘Without a gender (nongendered, genderless, agender; neutrois); moving between genders or with a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid); third gender or other-gendered; includes those who do not place a name to their gender.’


In a generation more at home with the concept of gender fluidity than ever before, businesses and public services are realising the importance of catering to a gender-neutral audience so it is no surprise that fashion, with its reputation as a progressive creative medium, is wholeheartedly embracing this new age of Agender.


For an industry that has both influenced and reacted to the zeitgeist as well as remaining a principle agent for self-expression, this new chapter in the equality movement is an ideal time to position fashion as an empowering force. However, like many other industries, fashion in particular has multifaceted motives for joining the gender-neutral equality crusade.


His n’ Hers – the evolution of Unisex fashion

Before ‘genderless’ there was ‘unisex’, a term most commonly employed to describe clothing ‘suitable for both sexes that allowed men and women to dress in a similar way’. For women in particular, the adoption of a unisex aesthetic was initially controversial, yet a combination of practicality and social acceptance led it to become omnipresent in women’s fashion. The current rebranding of ‘unisex’ as ‘genderless’ is arguably the natural progression but it also offers fashion an opportunity to showcase itself as progressive while reigniting and in turn, increasing profit from a now ubiquitous sector.


Though the term ‘unisex’ was first coined in the 1960s, the Clothing Reform movement of the 1850s was instrumental in relieving women of the burdens placed upon them by their fashions. For centuries, the old notions of men and women being distinctly different in terms of physicality, psychology and intellect made for very rigidly prescribed gender roles, which in turn, were reflected in the forms of dress to which both sexes were expected to comply.

The Clothing Reform set out to introduce infinitely more practical, less restrictive and therefore more male associated dress codes into women’s attire, aiding their progression in society through more active participation. Closely intertwined with the women’s suffrage movement, these reforms not only broke down the physical barriers to women’s advancement but a visual blurring of gender lines also served to assimilate women into a man’s world.


While unisex dressing retained its feminist roots, women entering work also found it necessary to adopt a more masculine approach to dress in order to garner the respect and authority required to compete on a level playing field. Advice tomes such as John T Molloy’s ‘Dress for Success’ outlined the importance of clothing in business and in assimilating the style of current employees in order to achieve. Molloy candidly acknowledged that in the male dominated workplaces of the late 1970s, female applicants would automatically be at a disadvantage. The popularity of ‘power dressing’ amongst career women in the 1970s and 80s clearly illustrated the need for women to disassociate themselves from the subconscious gender associations attached to fashion that could hinder their careers. The sharp suiting and bulky shoulder pads that defined a decade closely resembled the attire of their male counterparts with any feminine aspects reduced to armour-like elements, amounting to what is essentially a disguise to help women ‘fit in’.

In that case it would appear that unisex fashion is an oxymoron, a practical solution to a problem no doubt, but one that does not really address or challenge the gender stereotypes laid down by society. Despite its equality movement origins unisex fashion has not been without its critics. An equally apt definition would be that it is ‘the adaption of clothing entirely male in origin’ and therefore it could be argued that unisex clothing is responsible for not only upholding these stereotypes, but also unwittingly continuing to perpetrate a negative view of anything overtly feminine.

As long as unisex fashion continues to draw on all things male as a basis, it can never be truly ‘equal’ so in many respects the genderless clothing rebrand is the opportune moment to address these disparities by introducing adaptations of more female orientated items into mainstream fashion. As a creator and an innovator, the industry is perfectly placed to do so but the recent crop of genderless initiatives do not necessarily bear this out.

‘Non binary’ fashion – a profitable promise for the future?


A browse through the gender-neutral rails on the high street reveals that many of these collections, from the likes of Zara or H&M, are simply a repackaging of unisex basics, consisting of little more than a range of oversized t-shirts worn by a suitably androgynous model.

Critics have opined that the industry’s approach is another example of a style over substance approach to a potentially significant social revolution, reducing the equality movement and the debate surrounding gender to a mere marketing ploy that is reliant on presentation and promotion rather than challenging a design-led product. Likewise the combining of male and female runway collections appears to be as much about taming spiralling industry costs as it is about the cross-pollination of the genders and uniting them on a single platform and though the SS18 Men’s Fashion Week events generated headlines for the preponderance of female inspired fashion worn by male models and despite the likes of Katherine Hamnett, Rick Owens or Rad Hourani producing collections that harmonise and hybridise traditionally male and female garments for some time, commercial clothing still seems to be immune from this particular catwalk trickle-down effect.

The most noticeable misstep made by the industry was US Vogue’s August 2017 cover, featuring Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik. Described in the piece as ‘breaking gender codes’ the couple were pictured wearing masculine tailored suits and discussing borrowing each other’s clothes.

Not only did the magazine spark anger for it’s rather flippant attitude toward those who genuinely identify as gender-fluid, the implication that it also requires women to adopt male attire rather than take the more challenging but certainly more equitable approach of putting Malik in a skirt is a prime example of the genderless fashion’s perceived inequality, the same critic levelled at its unisex predecessor.


On the positive side, the Selfridges Agender concept, a single space free of gender assigned products that brought sexes together, floated the idea of consumers choosing fashion items based on personal preference rather than gender specifics. They stocked collections from a range of designers known for their gender-neutrality and started the conversation not just on the clothes themselves but the way in which men and women thought about and shopped for fashion.

The fact that the space was only temporary is unfortunate. The opportunity to provide safe spaces for those identifying as gender-neutral or gender binary on a permanent basis would have made a bigger impact on the current retail model with its pop-up status potentially giving the impression that the fashion industry sees gender-neutral as just another flash-in-the-pan trend rather than a real movement deserving of being taken seriously.


Conversely John Lewis’s recent gender-neutral overhaul of their children swear department illustrates a certain amount of readiness among retailers to make a change and although responses were mixed, it has perhaps encouraged other outlets to consider how they would provide a more equitable service and product range.

Overall, despite sparking healthy debate into society’s views on gender, the current ‘agender-lite’ attitude does a disservice to both the industry’s potential for creative visionary and the important role that unisex fashion has played in the lives of women and the role it could potentially play in the lives of every gender identity. In the same way that the mini skirt came to signify sexual liberation for some but a despised symbol of patriarchal society for others, continuing failure to address thesecriticisms could be the downfall of the unisex rebrand. If the fashion industry cannot be bold and show a genuine commitment to positive change could we see gender-neutral fashion become the next pariah of the equality movement?


WHO: Beauford Delaney

Above: Photo of Beauford Delaney


Boston->New York->Paris-> Eternity. The journey of Beaufort Delaney and his work came a long way in his lifetime, and earned him a place amongst the great impressionist’s where his creative genius lives on. Born in Knoxville Tennessee, Delany’s work evolved where his physical joinery and internal turmoils took him. Unlike our previous artist Introduction alumni Jean Michel Basquiat (read piece here), Delaney underwent formal art training and education after exhibiting an interest since early childhood to hone his skill. In his 20’s when he became the apprentice of Knoxville’s most famous artist the white impressionist painter Lloyd Branson. He then went on to New York, where his work made him a key player of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’.


Above: Beauford Delaney paintings, left ‘Greenwich Village’ 1940, right ‘Untitled Jazz Club’ c.1949

His paintings from this time are a melting pot of his experiences so far, a reflection of everyday life that illustrated both his formal training and instinctive abilities. His work combined the raw everyday realities of the New York streets with a dreamlike impressionist style, dancing on the border of abstract, with his use of energetic colour and harsh lines. In the beginning he seemed to find a place in the world, observing many different social groups & races, becoming friends with contemporary, like minded individuals like Georgia O’Keeffe, who would later paint his portrait.

Above: A Portrait of Delaney by Georgia O’keefe 1940, a friend and an admirer of his work 

However his life in New York was never short of places to draw inspiration from, and perhaps explained his growing isolation. Having arrived in the city in the fall out of the ‘Great Depression’ and in the midst of the ‘Great Migration’ of black people from the rural south to the industrial norther, Beauford had seen his fair share of things to make a man ponder the harsh realities of the world, seen in pieces such as can fire in the park (1946). Moreover his work started to reflect his internal world, one that was constantly conflicted and unable to accept himself as a ‘homosexual negro’, his isolation suggested such an existence, free of the harsh eyes of others.


Above: Delaney painting, left: ‘Can fire in the park’ 1946 right: Jazz Concert in Old Synagogue, New York 1946

By the 1950’s Delaney had made the move to Paris, signalling the start of the next chapter in his artistic memoirs as well as his personal life. His work became celebrated as part of the ‘Abstract Impressionist’s movement which was about to take the art world by storm, but was a group he never felt he affiliated with.

Above: Delaney painting, ‘Street Scene’ 1953

He would spend the last 26 years of his life in the french capital, but deteriorating mental and physical health would lead him to die while in a hospital for the insane in 1979.


Above: Left, photo of Delaney by Rue Guilleminot in 1973, Right, Delaney in his Paris studio in 1967

Despite a flurry of famous friends over the decades, the early years after his death proving unfruitful in their appreciation for his talent, and even being buried in an unmarked grave stone. However through the decades,friends, fans and art critics alike have come to realise and share what was always there to be seen, his pure of heart attitude and honest expression in all aspects of life, made his work worthy of acclamation.


Above: Left Beauford and James Baldwin 1976. Centre, Beauford portrait of Ella Fitzgerald 1968. Right, Beauford and Darthea Speyer, stand before Beauford’s portrait of Speyer 1973

Daring, courageous, and a quality so often undervalued, Beauford inspires AlphaOmega through demonstrating divergence in his style at a time when he had built momentum, going against the grain and disassociating himself from the art world. Which became an incredibly bold and pioneering move from any artist let alone an African American artist of his time. He was incredibly loyal and believed in his artistry and never felt the need for acceptance, a lesson we could all greatly benefit from learning.


Protest article quote 1       Protest image 1

A protest or demonstration by an individual or group are most often held in order to make a political statement, a means of expressing an opinion by those who lack the political power to challenge the system via traditional methods. Encompassing every societal facet from the rule of law, economics and defence to education, culture, media and the environment, the application of political policy directly impacts on the lives and futures of any given population.

When applied inequitably to, or at the expense of a particular community, a physical protest or demonstration may be the only way for vulnerable or disadvantaged sections of society to bring their plight to the public consciousness.

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Though fashion may seem a small and somewhat trivial aspect of a protest movement, the above quote from designer Katharine Hamnett illustrates fashion’s ability to aid the conveyance of a political or social message. Fashion has long been a medium that provides an accessible way of establishing a perceptible identity among supporters of a common cause, acting as a kind of non-conformist uniform, easily adopted in order to signal solidarity, affiliation and their appetite to question authority both on and away from the picket lines. Some of the most significant and era defining protest movements are epitomised by the fashions worn by their proponents, creating some of the most iconic imagery in both political, culture and fashion history.

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Earlier iconic movements depicted more by their statement badges, placards and posters were the suffragettes back in 1910.

sophia dulep singh      sophia-duleep-singh suffragette

Protest caption 2       white suffragettes


‘A cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.’

Subcultures and subculture style can be regarded in much the same way as more literal forms of protest movements. By it’s very definition, subcultural lifestyles are a form of protest, though not always overtly politically affiliated, subcultures or countercultures are ultimately born out of a desire to protest against broader mainstream culture. In times of political upheaval, economic unrest or global conflict, the subsequent protest movements seeking to defend the rights of those affected have gone hand-in-hand with the development of subcultures. The hippie scene of the 1960s and early 70s with its

peace-loving rhetoric and liberal values, naturally allied itself with the anti-war campaigners and the portrayal of hippie gathering’s in the media meant that hippie style quickly came to embody the crusade for peace.

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During the Western post-war era, a new and profoundly influential social group wholeheartedly embraced this subcultural spirit. The advent of the teenager in the 1950s spawned waves of like-minded and therefore similarly attired youth tribes who would not only challenge the rules of society but also
inspire the endeavours of an entire industry.

This young generation, eager to differentiate themselves from their more conservative and conventional elders, looked to fashion, music, literature and art as mediums to outwardly articulate their individuality, alternate ideologies and unwillingness to conform to old social constructs and previously held di
ctates imposed upon their antecedents.

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One of the most seminal subcultural influencers was the punk movement that evolved during the mid 70s. Its sneering attitude and aggressive anti-authoritarian stance, sent shockwaves through the decade’s establishment of the time and caused consternation in the media and amongst the general public. Born from an amalgamation of earlier subcultures, Punk’s confrontational and provocative DIY aesthetic, along with its deconstructed, fetishist clothing and body art turned commonly accepted dress codes and gender identity on their head.

“The basic bond of any society, culture, subculture, or organization is a public image.” – Kenneth Boulding

The emergence of the teenager and subculture styles such as Punk began the dismantling of not only society’s rulebook but also that of the fashion industry. Fashion had long been governed by what anthropologist Ted Polhemus identifies in his book ‘Streetstyle’ as ‘trickle down’. An effect whereby high fashion trends dictated by the industry permeated downward from the upper echelons of haute couture eventually arriving at the mainstream market. The rise of subcultural style promoted popularity to a younger, cooler market causing a ‘bubble up’ effect as Polhemus describes, which saw high fashion inspired by street fashion in a clearly tangible way.

viviene westwood image    viviene westwood image 2   Protest article quote 4

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This demand forced the hand of the old school houses to realise this ‘bubble up’ effect in their collections but perhaps more importantly, motivated a new wave of designers who would be instrumental in the reshaping of a formally rather staid and elitist industry.

Vivienne Westwood came to prominence as one of the architects of the Punk fashion scene, selling radical and outrageous designs at ‘SEX’, Malcolm McLaren’s boutique in the King’s Road. Her subversion of traditional tailoring interspersed with bondage and biker references, profoundly shocked her own establishment and helped conceive the prototypical image of Punk.

Though Punk was all but over by the late 1970s it had spawned not only a new anarchistic ethos amongst the young generation, but also an array of subculture variants and continues to imbue fashion with its rebellious essence long after the original movement’s decline. Throughout her career Westwood has consistently stayed true to her punk roots and more recently she has embarked on a series of campaigns that have infused the fashion show spectacle with serious political protest to highlight environmental and social causes.

Protest article quote 5      Katherine Hamnett tshirt image

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Katharine Hamnett, who has regularly drawn on streetstyle influences for her collections, is perhaps most recognised for her protest slogan t-shirts. Hamnett’s designs emblazoned with statements decrying the use of pesticides or opposing nuclear warfare. Like Westwood, her designs are her cultural statements, transforming their wearers into living, breathing banners while her runway shows have often been a platform for the protestation and promotion of political causes.

Latterly, designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela have used key subcultural elements to subvert the fashion system they themselves are part of.

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Kawakubo’s early austere deconstructed aesthetic was resolutely anti-fashion while Margiela’s fusion of exaggerated proportions and bricolage of everyday objects with haute couture craftsmanship remonstrated with the industry’s fixation on luxury fashion.

In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, Walter Van Beirendonck put the language of protest at the heart of his AW15 collection. His demand to ‘Stop Terrorising Our World’ and positive messages that celebrated life’s beauty and resilience referenced the placards of protest in their bold appliquéd designs.

Prior to Van Beirendonck’s poetic yet political commentary, another mode of protest fashion bought a different kind of disquiet on the catwalks.

Protest article quote 6    Protest article quote 7

Karl Lagerfeld’s SS15 Chanel show garnered both praise and censure for sending placard-waving models down the runway delivering feminist chants through designer branded megaphones. The feminist message could be seen as somewhat ironic given the industry’s – and indeed Lagerfeld’s – well publicised views on female beauty and body image and the event was criticised for undermining the important work of protest in order to sell some clothes.

Others felt that Lagerfeld’s high profile had been used for good, championing a movement that fashion has often chosen to dismiss and putting the medium of protest back in the public domain, at a time when political antipathy has overtaken political will. The continued use of protest metaphors in fashion collections illustrates the continuance of the trickle down – bubble up’ effect and also begs the question as to whether protest fashion is really more about consumerism than campaigning.

“We are so conformist; nobody is thinking. We are all sucking up stuff; we have been trained to be consumers, and we are all consuming far too much.” – Vivienne Westwood

The subversive and anti-establishment fashions championed by both subcultures and protestors alike has created an outlet for both group member and outside consumer to visually celebrate their individuality or express a social ideology or belief system contrary to predominant mainstream principles.

viktor &rolf slow fashion    Protest image 5    Protest article quote 9

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The creative nature of fashion makes it an ideal platform for all forms of protest backed by an industry that can make these styles accessible to all. However, popularity in the mass market has been both positive and negative for subculture consumer and mainstream consumer alike.

The increasing amount of protest-influenced fashions infiltrating the runways and high-streets has allowed these movements to engage with a whole new audience while making it easier for individuals to express their affiliations and political opinions.

Though in many respects subculture style is the antithesis of the modern fashion industry with its antipathy towards prevailing trends, its integration into the mass-market continually reenergizes the industry’s creativity, subsequently giving a global platform to designers to make a political statement or subculture affiliation to celebrate who may have otherwise remained niche.

However, for this inspiration-hungry and highly competitive arena, subcultural styles with their back-stories and belief systems are also a commodity that can be used to bring added value and authenticity to mass-market merchandise. This pillaging of subculture style not only flies in the face of the underlying ethos of individualism, but also arguably makes this individuality harder to attain.

A powerful visual identity can see a subcultural ethos make an indelible mark on society but equally it can see subculture styles become so popular that their absorption into the mainstream is massively accelerated. Hastening their dilution and ultimate demise, lessening their ability to make the same meaningful cultural impact as their predecessors.

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With this in mind it could appear that truly authentic counterculture is becoming a thing of the past. Arguably the more the mass market adopts subculture fashion, the more it diminishes the underlying values on which they are based, rendering their protest statements as mere statements of style.

However it has always been the natural fate of subcultures to be diluted and absorbed into mainstream culture. Era-defining ideologies can also be era-confining and as government rise or fall, societies shift and once opposed establishments change direction, the role of an associated subculture can become obsolete. The metamorphosis of their membership, the adaptations and amalgamations made to subculture style over time also creates smaller collectives whose ethos and image can be harder for a mainstream audience to pin down to a defining visual characteristic.

Protest article quote 11This could spell bad news for an industry reliant upon subcultural symbols to lend relevancy and credibility to a mass-produced products. Indeed, an increasing number of rather questionable monikers and fictitious subcultures being promoted by the industry suggest that fashion is running out of genuine and easily discernible subcultures to borrow from.

With this in mind it could appear that truly authentic counterculture is becoming a thing of the past.

Arguably the more the mass market adopts subculture fashion, the more it diminishes the underlying values on which they are based, rendering their protest statements as mere statements of style.

However it has always been the natural fate of subcultures to be diluted and absorbed into mainstream culture. Era-defining ideologies can also be era-confining and as government rise or fall, societies shift and once opposed establishments change direction, the role of an associated subculture can become obsolete.

The metamorphosis of their membership, the adaptations and amalgamations made to subculture style over time also creates smaller collectives whose ethos and image can be harder for a mainstream audience to pin down to a defining visual characteristic.

This could spell bad news for an industry reliant upon subcultural symbols to lend relevancy and credibility to a mass-produced products. Indeed, an increasing number of rather questionable monikers and fictitious subcultures being promoted by the industry suggest that fashion is running out of genuine and easily discernible subcultures to borrow from.


Protest article quote 12  fashion-bogus-subcultures

Normcore, Grungewave, Seapunk, Health goth and New Lad are just a few of the labels peddled by various corners of the fashion industry over the past several seasons to add breadth and depth to monetary trends.

While these more recent subcultural phenomena may be creating a less impactful presence in the public consciousness than some of their more explicit forerunners it also protects them from a certain amount of mainstream appropriation. Perhaps instead of the placards and provocative statements, the underground going underground will be the protest that changes the fashion system.










WHO: Patrick Kelly

patrick-kelly 10a

Above: Photo of Patrick Kelly

WHY WE ARE INSPIRED: When you hear the word Mississippi, there are probably a few things that come to mind before ‘ haute couture’. However this great southern delta state managed to produce arguably one of the greatest designers that fashion has seen, whose larger than life outlook and boundary pushing instincts rocked the industry.

Playful, fun and glamorous, it’s easy to understand why Patrick Kelly’s designs became such a hit of the day. But as with anything that garners widespread appeal, they were also sprinkled with the glitter of controversy and sly undertones.

Patrick Kelly 3       patrick-kelly-theredlist 4

Above: SS89 Collection. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani.Images courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Kelly’s clever use of iconoclastic racist imagery amplified his political standing on the subject matter at the time. The logo on his boutique bags, which divided opinions, cleverly featured a playful yet powerful image of a smiling golliwog, an effort by Kelly to reclaim the racist stereotype that once depicted black people in America.

Patrick-kelly-theredlist 3Patrick-Kelly-Runway-of-Love-061Patrick Kelly 2

Above: Left, Patrick Kelly brooch. Centre, Patrick Kelly shopping bags. Right, Patrick Kelly 1989 magazine feature

With his mother’s helping hand he even produced racist pickaninny doll pins, which he handed out at the end of his shows as souvenirs as well as famously designing a watermelon hat to subtly subvert and undermine racist imagery which were prevalent symbols that he grew up with in the south.


Above: The famous watermelon hat worn by catwalk model

Even when he hit the big time Kelly always remained true to his roots. Though he was inspired by the world of success and beautiful people around him, it was the women in his life at the start that spurred on his passion for fashion.

unnamedPatrick Kelly with grandma

Above: Left, photo taken with Patrick Kelly, Iman, Grace jones Naomi Campbell. Right, Patrick Kelly and his grandmother


Above: Patrick Kelly and Janet Chandler 

He never forgot the unrepresented black women who filled the church pews in his home town every Sunday and used them as an impetus to begin his ascent into the world of fashion.

Kelly’s universal imprint became more diverse as he designed for all types of women across America and beyond who had seen glimpses of the glamorous world of fashion. His message was simple, women of all diverse backgrounds should be celebrated, ladies that attend the ‘Baptist church on a Sunday, are just as fierce as the ladies at Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture shows.’

Kelly’s playfulness so admired then and now is underpinned by something more intense today. As much as the designer was appreciated then (illustrated by his induction in Paris’ Chambre Syndicale) with the bittersweet lense of hindsight, the world can see what a rarity he truly was. His fashion house had five years of exuberance, fanning the flames of change before the designer died suddenly. Although Kelly had a signature look with the use heart shapes he sewed onto black tube dresses, using bright coloured buttons he had so much more to offer in the style stakes.

Patrick Kelly 4   Bette Davis wearing Patrick Kelly

Above: Left, Patrick Kelly AW88. Right Photo of Bette Davis wearing Patrick Kelly

His designs provided a glimpse of what the future would have held for the brand and indeed what is possible for the world of fashion and design as a whole. We at AO London will always remember a true creative who was bold enough to cleverly depict political/social issues through the use of sartorial brilliance.


WHO: Jean Michel Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat 4

WHY WE ARE INSPIRED: A contemporary and close friend of Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat was a true maverick of his time, refusing to be pigeon-holed and confined to just one art form, he was a poet, a musician and a graffiti artist. All of which fed into his influences that created explosive works so raw with character, style and expression.

Basquiat’s nascent career coincided with the advent of a major shift in the artworld from Pop to Neo-expressionism, a new bohemia with a wild nexus of music, fashion and art, ushered in Punk and New Wave movements which created a whole new state of mind.

What radically changed the art world by the time Basquiat entered the scene was money. In the early 1980s, Wall Street’s bull market engendered an interesting offspring: Soho’s bull market. The new money of the eighties was increasingly invested into art. By 1983, the art market in New York alone, was estimated at $2 billion. Gallery dealers became power players, barely distinguishable in lingo and lifestyle from their Wall Street clientele. Banks began accepting art as collateral for loans. Corporations began stockpiling important contemporary-art collections. Every weekend, Soho was clogged with a parade of art lovers slumming at openings. At auction houses, packed rooms applauded as records were set for everything from van Gogh’s “Irises”$53.9 million to $17 million for “False Start” by Jasper Johns.


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Above: Photos taken of Jean Michel Basquiat

Being an artist of Afro-Caribbean decent, with Hispanic roots through his mother, Basquiat’s black identity is manifest throughout his art. Although not overtly political, his sense of what it means to be a black man in contemporary America couldn’t be more clearly conveyed, whether it’s in the grinning heads in “Hollywood Africans,” or the poignant tribute to his idol Charlie Parker, “Charles the First” or the ironic “Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta.”

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Above: Left, Basquiat’s Philistines 1982 painting. Right, Untitled 1982 

Many of his stylistic trademarks such as the heavy colour collages, intertwined with black lines and scribbles with heavy limbed figures caught in a moment of absolute emotion are themselves a recognisable part of the of the well-established African-American aesthetic tradition. Not to mention the iterated drumbeat brought here by men sold into slavery, to the call and response of gospel, the repeated blues refrain, jazz’s improvisational rifting, and the sampling technique of rap.

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Above: Left, Untitled by Jean Michel-Basquiat. Right, Skull 1981 by Jean Michel-Basquiat

Moreover in the paintings themselves, boys never become men, they become skeletons and skulls. Presence is expressed as absence whether in the spectral bodies and disembodied skulls or the words he crosses out. Basquiat is obsessed with deconstructing the images and language of his fragmented world.

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Above: Force 129, mixed media by Jean Michel-Basquiat

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Above: Untitled (Diptych) 1982 by Jean Michel-Basquiat

It is no wonder his work became so popular amongst cultural icons. In the last year alone pieces have been sold from the collections of David Bowie and Johnny Depp fetching millions at auctions.

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Above: Untitled 1982 by Jean Michel-Basquiat

Earlier this month Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, Founder Zozotown helped set the record for the highest sold piece by an American artist with Basquiat’s work ‘untitled’ bought by Maezawa, for $110.5 million. Art is, of course subjective, but you don’t reach the big time, selling pieces at such prices without some serious ‘steal appeal’. For the masses who enjoy his work both during his time and after however, it is difficult to put a price tag on the kind of things he felt, thought and promoted.

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Above: Photo of Jean Michel-Basquiat 1981

Inspirational characteristics – Though he died very young (27 years old) almost far too soon from unveiling his full talent, Basquiat goes onto inspire a whole new generation of creatives with his effervescent brilliance, fearlessness and his radical approach to disseminated the traditional structures of an elite art world. For that you will always be present in our work.

WHERE TO SEE THEIR WORK: He is often featured in his own shows in his hometown of New York so make sure to look him up if your ever in the big apple. In the UK his works feature in a showcase at the Barbican later this year: Basquiat Boom for real


“I would like to think that a good design speaks for itself. When we use our senses, whether it’s taste, sight or hearing, for example, we don’t first think, hmm, was this chef a woman? Or, was this music performed by a man? Hopefully, we have evolved enough not to judge these things first through a sexist or ageist prism, but through the strength and merit of design.”

For many industries today, closing the gender gap is one of the biggest and often most heavily publicised challenges faced. Debate rages in the media as to the why’s and wherefores of the apparent over or under representation of a particular gender group within various non-creative sectors. The fashion industry in particular, known for its economic dominance across all creative sectors bares no exception. Kate Hart trend forecaster and wave-maker, assesses the ‘spill over’ effects of gender inequality in fashion and makes a strong case for an industry wide reassessment to adopt egalitarian approaches which embrace gender diversity from the-bottom-up.


Fashion’s ‘Glass Ceiling’

One would imagine that creative industries and perhaps the women’s fashion industry in particular, with it’s reputation as an enterprising and avant-garde platform would be swifter and more effective in embracing inclusivity and equality, affording comparable if not increased opportunities to create, build and grow a successful business or brand on a relatively gender-neutral playing field.

Across the board – at least for the most part – this would seem to be the case. The fields of photography, styling, beauty and the fashion media, though often not without a more dominant gender, appear to properly represent both men and women who can expect to achieve an equitable level of success.


Nevertheless it is in the major fashion houses, the places that arguably earn its chief incumbents more column inches, more status and more financial rewards that have come under the most scrutiny.

Critics argue that an apparent ‘glass ceiling’ is causing a dearth of female designers in prominent positions, whose goals of ‘breaking into thebig time’ have increasingly been met with low levels of visibility and acknowledgement. Although the above quote from Linda Fargo (senior vice president and fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman) sets out a standard, whereby design merit holds sway over the designer’s identity. We ask ourselves is this really achievable in an industry that often places as much emphasis on the names and faces of the creators as the creations themselves? With an apparent lack of equality within the upper echelons of the industry, will women begin to feel that they no longer have a place and encouraged to remain consumer rather than designer?


The male designer – from obscurity to prominence

Though women have held positions of prominence throughout fashion’s history, they have rarely been the dominant force. The pre-war era was a golden age for female couturiers when ‘dressmaking’, even at the highest levels, was viewed as very much a female preserve and male couturiers were something of a novelty. Despite the emancipation of women during World War II, the post war era saw female fashion designers become the exception, not the rule. Male designers such as Christian Dior rose to prominence with the translation of traditional menswear roles such as tailoring, drapery and pattern cutting into womenswear, dominating both the creative and technical sides of the industry.

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Gabriel “Coco” Chanel – Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

For instance Chanel, founded by arguably the most famous woman in fashion, Coco Chanel and one who was among the first to expound the concept of clothing created by women for women, has not had a female designer since her death in 1971. Others, such as Dior, Givenchy, Saint Laurent and Burberry have never had a woman designer at the helm.

After Giannini’s abrupt departure from Gucci, Maria Grazia Chiuri was the only female name on an otherwise all male shortlist of potential replacements, with the role finally awarded to Alessandro Michele. Simone Rocha was considered, albeit fleetingly, for the creative directorship at Carven but the label ultimately hired Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud.


Old habits die-hard

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The implication is that only a house that already has a long established history of employing female designers is inclined to continue to do so. Céline is one house that has employed an equitable mix of male and female designers since it’s creation by Céline Vipiana (who remained chief designer until 1997) and it was the appointment of designer Phoebe Philo in 2008 that not only revived the fortunes of a then ailing brand but also saw a woman make a serious impact in the fashion press.

Philo’s move to Céline followed a five-year tenure at Chloé, a label that has also maintained strong female representation throughout its history. Founded by Gaby Aghion in 1952, its role call to date includes Martine Sitbon, Stella McCartney, Hannah MacGibbon and current incumbent Claire Waight Keller.

Hermès is another house that has a history of women at the helm and this years’ appointment of Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski follows Lola Prusac (1925-1935) and Catherine de Karolyi (1967-1980 the designer behind the iconic ‘H buckle’) while the menswear line has been directed by Véronique Nichanian since 1988.

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Celine ready to wear SS 2014


Role reversal – women in menswear

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Conceivably any under representation in the womenswear sector would be less contentious if women were discernibly making strides into the menswear arena. The menswear sector is in a state of flux with more brands and retailers expanding into an area which, according to market researchers Euromonitor International, generated an estimated US$440 billion worth of sales in 2014, forecasted to contribute an estimated US$40 billion to the global apparel market by 2019 outperforming womenswear in terms of growth. In many respects it should follow that if men can be such a dominant presence in womenswear then the gender split of designers and creative directors would be similar when the roles are reversed. However the increase in new opportunities has not seen a corresponding increase in the number of women in leading menswear roles.  Although designers such as Rachel Comey and Jayne Min produced well-received collections for the menswear A/W 2015 calendar, out of 163 shows, 135 were designed by men.


Givenchy AW 2015


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Moschino SS 2015


Uneven tides – disproportional representation

While it could be argued that many of these figures do not necessarily present a case for gender bias because they simply reflect the current ratio of male to female designers working at the highest level, it does not answer the question as to why (despite the calibre of Miuccia Prada, Stella McCartney, Tory Burch and Donatella Versace et al), so few are prevailed upon to design for major labels. All are highly regarded as both designers and businesswomen and Prada is widely considered to be one of the most influential designers of her generation.

The argument that there are significantly fewer women to choose from for these positions is being rendered as somewhat flimsy. In fact there are significantly more women entering the industry now than ever before. As far back as 2005 Timothy Gunn, Department Chairman at the Parsons New School for Design in New York stated that a steady decline in the numbers of male applicants saw them make up less than 7% of the student body. That same year, Eric Wilson in his New York Times column highlighted the ‘glass ceiling effect’ stating that “even though women are entering the industry at the bottom, they are not rising proportionally to the top.” A decade on and the current figures provided by the Fashion Institute of Technology reveal women make up 85% of the student body, seemingly reinforcing the fact that although women now outnumber men in running their own labels and are well represented at grassroots level, advancing their careers, though by no means impossible, is still considerably a trickier prospect for them than it is for their male counterparts.


Prejudicial perceptions of female leaders

It seems that ‘high fashion’ has not been immune to the preconceived ideas or pervading perceptions of women in both business and creative leadership roles. Women are seen as less ‘pushy’ according to Jeff Banks while Sarah Burton is often described as ‘self effacing’.  Although female designers are no less capable, ambitious or commanding than their male counterparts, management style that differs from the masculine norm is often misconstrued as an absence of authority. Even though giant conglomerates that own many of the leading fashion houses are operated by men, historically women were the first to set this benchmark. Jeanne Paquin, one of the first female couturiers, who followed the 1891 opening of her Parisian fashion house Maison Paquin with stores around the globe and Jeanne Lanvin who diversified her house’s output with furs, lingerie, menswear and interior décor products laying the foundations for the modern fashion empires we know of today. Although these achievements seem to have been forgotten it forms the basis by which woman are perceived to be a lesser attractive proposition for major fashion houses.

Jean Paquin and Jean Lanvin

Photo of Jean Paquin (left) and Jean Lanvin (right)


Press and publicity – the unbalanced coverage

The lack of visibility afforded to female designers also puts them at a disadvantage when vying for these prominent roles and this is in part, due to the lower levels of publicity and acknowledgement bestowed upon them by the industry in comparison to their male colleagues.

The fashion media is an extremely powerful force when it comes to promotion, with their glossy pages responsible for the launches of abundant stellar careers. However back in 2005 Anna Wintour was criticised by ‘Imitation of Christ’s’ Tara Subkoff for appearing to favour ‘young gay male designers’ and featuring them more heavily in Vogue.

Imitation of Christ and Tara

Imitation of Christ AW 2007 (left) Tara Subkoff (right)

Subkoff’s comments were met with both support and condemnation. Many designers leapt to the defence of Wintour, accusing Subkoff of ‘whining’ and citing the number of covers that had featured women designers that year (two by Vera Wang and one by Carolina Herrera). When in actuality, a look at 2014’s selection revealed that just five out of the 15 looks featured on the cover were by women designers.


Industry Awards – The real winners

CFDA Award winners

CFDA Award winners

The industry has a long history in supporting both established and emerging talent with numerous funding initiatives, mentoring programmes and glitzy award ceremonies that honour those deemed to have made the most important contributions to fashion.

However a look at the winner’s statistics at these various ceremonies indicate that women’s contributions may not be considered equitably. Since the CDFA (Council of Fashion designers in America) began awarding a ‘Womenswear Designer of the Year’ prize in 1999:

  • Only 8 of the 27 recipients have been female including female partnerships.
  • 9 out of 21 ‘Emerging Womenswear/Ready-to-wear Talent’ awards went to women (whether singularly or as part of a mixed gender partnership).
  • 4 out of 20 awards have been garnered in the International Designer category.
  • Out the 9 former winners of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund (which provides financial support and business mentoring to the next generation of American designers), only two were women and Donna Karan is the only female designer to have won in the Menswear category as far back as 1992.

The British Fashion Awards fair marginally better with 10 female designers taking home the womenswear prize compared to the 18 awarded to men, with only one woman, Mary Katrantzou, winner of the British Fashion Council (BFC)/Vogue Fashion Fund since its inception.


Misconceptions of who makes a better designer

One explanation offered for this lack of recognition is the way in which women and men approach fashion design. Broadly speaking a male aesthetic of extravagant shows and fantastical editorial worthy creations, akin to art is a more appealing prospect to the fashion press.

Designers have waded into this debate with Michael Vollbracht of Bill Blass asserting that ‘male designers have the fantasy level that women do not’, while Tom Ford believes that ‘sometimes women are trapped by their own views of themselves, but some have built careers around that, Donna Karan was obsessed with her hips and used her own idiosyncrasies to define her brand’.

Quote 6 Gender equality articleWhile it may be the case that female designers have lived the lives of their customers and able to fulfil everyday fashion needs, this generalised view that women focus on practicality and men on fantasy serves to pigeonhole both sexes and neglects the work of those who do not follow this pre-prescribed formula. The surrealist designs of Elsa Schiaparelli, the deconstructed chic of Rei Kawakuba or Yves Saint Laurent’s empowering take on the trouser suit being a fraction of the exemplars that negate much of that argument. Ford’s further and somewhat unsubstantiated claim that ‘men are often better designers for women than other women’ is the antithesis of the approach taken by the consumer-driven retail sector. Nonetheless the perception of a more empathetic outlook as a means to engage with their target audience has seen a much larger percentage of women appointed to key roles. Diane von Furstenberg stated ‘Women do not need muses….they are their own muses’ and the idea that a woman is better placed to identify not just what to sell to other women but how to sell is eagerly embraced at high street level.


The gender ratios in the retail sector

Topshop’s recent appointments of Jacqui Markham as Global Design Director and Creative Director Kate Phelan, along with Lisa Byrne who heads up the design direction at Warehouse and Kate Bostock who has held senior posts at Marks & Spencer, now Chief Executive at Coast, suggests that women are able to attain visible positions amongst their peers within the retail sector. The ratio of male to female designers invited to create collaborative collections also suggests that the ease with which the customer can relate to a designer and their profile level are equally important. H&M, River Island and Target’s Go International programme yields an approximately 50/50 gender split made up of emerging and established names. At every level of the fashion industry trends are inescapable and despite Ford’s assertions, women’s changing lifestyles in combination with current economic factors is shifting fashion’s focus away from couture towards ready-to-wear. If the prevailing male/female designer stereotypes are to be given any credence, then broadly speaking this shift would seem to favour the ‘female’ notion of fashion far more. In this respect the retail sector may have it’s finger much more firmly on the fashion pulse than the major fashion houses when it comes to reacting to the needs and wants of the female consumer and appointing it’s leaders accordingly.

A tendency to dismiss more ‘wearable’ forms of fashion as too practical or somehow not spectacular enough to warrant attention is arguably short-sighted. Failing to consider that over the course of fashion’s history it has been some of the simplest garments (for example the trouser suit, mini skirt or wrap dress) that have often had the most profound impact.

Needless to say, one ‘type’ of fashion cannot exist without the other for very long and for every wearable element there must be a hand beaded objet d’art or gravity defying dress in order to maintain the status of fashion as both inspirational and aspirational and to satisfy the creative/business aspects of the industry.


Fashion’s strides towards an equitable future

In terms of gender bias, the pendulum will always swing in favour of one or the other gender over time as designers react to fashion’s changing moods but the longer term goals must be to attain more equitable levels of visibility and opportunity throughout. Women are seemingly trapped by a ‘glass ceiling’ while considerably fewer men are now entering the industry, which serves to associate fashion with an outmoded perception that is increasingly out of step with the rest of society. This is also a cause for concern when the over or under representation of any particular group can mean that vital contributions are lost or that differing points of views go unheard.

Creative forums thrive on inclusivity and are enriched and enlivened by having as many different design propositions from as many diverse sources as possible. With an already diverse group of players, the fashion industry is in a prime position to set an example and take a leading role in the fight for equality, bringing us a step closer to the day, as Linda Fargo states, when every design is judged solely on its attributes rather than the gender attributes of its creator.



Why Is Fashion, Of All Places, Still a Man’s World?ège-vanhee-cybulski-hermès’-new-designer-interviewed-by-lisa-armstrong.html–womenswear-market-size-and-forecast-reports-268092151.html

Menswear Fashion Industry – The Market By Numbers

CFDA Fashion Awards

Look Back: Past Winners Of The Fashion Fund,28757,2110513,00.html


In a postmodernist era the boundaries of originality and authenticity are progressively blurred. The fashion world, known for its affection for pastiche and appropriation is an industry laced with accusations of piracy and plagiarism. Independent designers, often seen as the crusaders of creative ingenuity are fast becoming victims of the piracy wars. Kate Hart – trend forecaster and all-round vector of equality and fairness – argues that attitudes towards plagiarism within the industry need to change and calls for greater transparency among key players to create a best-practice model to ensure a future for sustainable forward fashion.

As a species we have both survived and thrived on our abilities to copy. Copying, cooperating and collaborating, the sharing of ideas and information has formed the basis of every aspect of our society. Taking a good idea, replicating it, expanding on it and developing it has allowed us to progress exponentially, so much so that without the inspiration and influence derived from others, much of this progression would not have been possible and the products and services that we now take for granted would not function at the levels they do today.

As copying has increased, so too have the laws against it. Trademarks, patents, intellectual property rights and copyright laws serve to protect the ideas and designs of the individual or co-operative to ensure credit and remuneration are distributed correctly. Utilising the ideas of others remains an intrinsic part of both functional and aesthetic design, either as a starting point for improvement or a reworking to solve a new set of problems. Wholesale reproduction, however, appears to offer very little to the design process and encroaches on our innate desire for progress.

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Artist: MC Escher “Drawing Hands”

In the context of fashion, the ubiquitous question of how one determines the difference between inspiration, influence and outright rip-off, and where the line is to be drawn, remains as emotive as ever.

The Paradox of Fashion Piracy

Leon Bendel Schmulen, of New York’s Henri Bendel department store, once stated that copying was “a natural consequence of fashion” and many of the major fashion houses have so far accepted a certain amount of copying as part and parcel of their ascendancy within the industry, Coco Chanel herself stated that “being copied is the ransom of success”, and in many ways imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery.

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A piece that is copied ad infinitum at lower levels can bring the originator the cachet of creating the season’s must-have look, potentially ensuring a designer’s place in fashion history. To some, high-street knock-offs are seen as hugely beneficial, bringing the designer’s name and DNA to a wider audience with the opportunity to inspire consumers to graduate from “knock-off” to“real-deal” purchases.

Despite the publicity surrounding cases such as New Balance v Lagerfeld – in which New Balance sued Karl Lagerfeld for copyright infringement – high-profile lawsuits often make it no further than the pages of the newspapers. The act of filing a lawsuit is sometimes merely a show of strength from the plaintiff to ward off other would-be infringers while gaining some acknowledgement for the original idea.



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Often, because all publicity is deemed good publicity, it appears that very little damage is done to the reputation of the defendant and in many cases, even if the offending item never makes it to the shop floor, the profile of both parties is not only raised but potentially improved simply by being associated with a cooler brand or established name.

As the price of designer clothing continues to rise year on year, it could be seen to support the view that copying is generally good for business. In the past the ignominy of not being copied invariably outweighed any concern that lower-quality reproductions would damage the status of a brand. However, with an increasing number of lawsuits being filed against various retailers, and the damage done to the reputation of some high-profile brands by illegal counterfeiting, designers are now taking greater steps to combat plagiarism.

Riding the wave of technological innovation to deter copyists

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Artist: Hokusai “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”

In order to outwit the copyists, designers must consistently come up with fresh ideas and inventive cuts, or utilise the latest innovations in garment technology to make designs more difficult or even impossible to replicate at a lower price point.

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Source: Collection by Noa Raviv The 3D portions of the designs were created using Stratasys’ Objet Connex 500 Multi-Material 3D printing technology

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 Awesome Without Borders project created by Anouk Wipprecht

The recent introduction of click-to-buy at a number of SS15 shows, allowing customers to purchase designer looks as they left the runway, was the next step in fashion’s synergy with technology but also an opportunity to get a jump on the high street. While it could be argued that copying is therefore not the enemy of creativity, it is presumed that only those with significant resources could afford to take this kind of action.

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To coincide with the Burberry Prorsum SS15 fashion show Twitter launched it’s Click-to-buy button with Burberry

The socio-economic impact on imitation and innovation

In 1933, the problem of copying was taken on by Maurice Rentner, manufacturer and founder of the Fashion Originators Guild set up in 1933 to protect its members from piracy, who took the view that “imitation would lead to the demise of the industry”. While this statement may seem drastic, the potential damage of copying to an industry supposedly at the cutting edge should not be ignored. The growth of the fast fashion market, where items are produced in quick response to the designs walking the runways, is one of the key factors in the rising levels of piracy. This sector is arguably the biggest beneficiary of copying, regurgitating almost identical products with minimal alterations, manufactured at a fraction of the cost within impressively fast turnaround times.

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This is a highly lucrative and commercially viable route to take, but as margins and price points hold sway over and above creativity and innovation, this is only the case in the short term.

With an artificially hastened trend cycle, mass-market retailers are not only supplying but also feeding consumer demand for affordable takes on high-end designs. An increasingly homogenised high street is emerging, with repetitive, identikit copies filling the shelves and an over reliance on proven products that do not rock the mass consumption boat. This in turn creates a dearth of products with the ability to engage and excite, leaving little cause for cheer among a talented workforce employed to imitate rather than innovate, but also leaving in doubt the notion of fashion as a truly creative outlet.

Design imitation – encouraging a more risk-averse industry

In broad terms, design should have a soul and the ability to provoke feeling. Good design can not only serve a useful or aesthetic purpose but can also engage minds and challenge thought processes. Experimentation and risk-taking on the part of the designer is how products and, more broadly, societies progress.

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Repeatedly reproducing the work of others with little or no development not only detracts from the design value of the original, it encourages an increasingly cautious and risk-averse industry, in turn creating a more cautious and risk-averse consumer.

In terms of trend lifecycle, as a forecaster I am acutely aware of how a certain amount of copying helps to cement a season’s key looks. Kal Raustiala, co-author of The Knock off Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, states that “fashion relies on trends, and trends rely on copying”. However, outright piracy is not necessary in tracing a trend, and an artificially accelerated cycle means there is little room for natural evolution or further directional development. It also makes it harder to get an accurate picture of where the industry is ultimately headed.

A fashion cycle that moves at a hyper-real pace, with trends hitting their peak before being quickly discarded, leads to apathy among consumers, who will tire of struggling constantly to keep up and at the same time will be increasingly unable to find products that accentuate their individuality.

So who is at fault – the high-street retailers or the industry as a whole for its incessant reliance on commerciality over creativity? The ability for copies to generate significant revenue means this issue is not just confined to the mass market. A profitable business model, however short-term, unethical or potentially damaging, will itself be copied throughout the industry as companies seek to be competitive.

Peer-to-peer plagiarism

Although fast fashion retailers are often portrayed as the villains of the peace, more and more accusations of peer-to-peer plagiarism are surfacing at the designer level. In February, Roberto Cavalli accused American designer Michael Kors of copying his designs, and although he could give no specific examples of what was allegedly copied, he referred to Kors as “one of the biggest copy designers in the world”. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Ralph Lauren spoke about how he maintained his longevity and his ability to reinvent. “You copy,” he said. “Forty-five years of copying – that’s why I’m here.”

Collections attached to celebrity names have come under particularly close scrutiny, where accusations of borrowing from other labels have been levelled at The Row and DW Kanye West among others in recent years.

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Designers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, pictured right, behind designer brand the The Row.

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 DW by Kanye West SS 2012

While this could be seen as a case of sour grapes on the part of the fashion establishment, any collections based heavily on a celebrity’s personal wardrobe will inevitably contain pieces that bear a striking resemblance to another designer’s work.

The industry’s biggest names are also gaining a reputation for pirating the designs of other less well-known or independent labels. Some are known to be guilty of buying up the entire collections of independents in order to reproduce them under their own name. Diane von Fürstenberg, despite triumphing over Forever 21 in a case of copied dress designs and being a vocal advocate of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, was on the receiving end of a lawsuit filed by Canadian label Mercy. Von Fürstenberg was able to utilise the subsequent publicity surrounding the case, calling it an “isolated incident” and, as is often the case, came out relatively unscathed while maintaining, correctly if somewhat paradoxically, that “it is unfortunate that way too many others intentionally build businesses by stealing the work of other designers”. Notwithstanding his views on Michael Kors, Cavalli himself is now having to deny allegations of plagiarism and defend a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco based graffiti collective who claim Cavalli not only misappropriated their work but added his signature to the prints, thus implying he was the original artist.

Image 9 (Flair or faux)Source: Left: wall of graffiti art by San Francisco collective. Right: Roberto Cavalli print bag

Independent designers are most often the victims in the piracy war. Arguably they make up the most innovative sector of the industry, pushing boundaries and taking risks in terms of creativity and ingenuity. And they do not necessarily see the benefits of copying in terms of any publicity generated by complaints or legal action. Manhattan-based label Foley & Corinna have seen their designs plagiarised by a number of fashion chain stores, but any acknowledgement of this has been a double-edged sword. In an interview with the New York Times, Dana Foley described people’s reaction to the label as “Oh, they’re the ones who always get knocked off.” She added: “They are not saying: ‘They are the ones with the most amazing ideas. ’That’s not the sentence.”

There is also a downside for those keen to promote innovative designers and bring their work to a wider audience. Forecasting is not just about following the trend trail but discovering the people and products who are shaping fashion’s future. However, the more independents, fledgling labels and smaller manufacturers see their ideas plagiarised by major brands and retailers, the harder this becomes and the less likely they are to want to engage with such services. At trade fairs and press days it can sometimes be difficult to access information, photos or samples because labels have, to quote, “already had their fingers burnt”. For all concerned it is hugely frustrating that exciting talent and new design cannot make full use of a promotional platform and gain the wider acknowledgement it rightly deserves.

Can designers really protect their work against piracy? How would legislation be enforced and are there consequences in designers having greater power over their own designs?

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Trademark protection prevents the unauthorised use of a brand, making the act counterfeiting a logo illegal. Copyright laws can be applied if a cut or silhouette is deemed to“qualify as a creative sculpture” and there is some protection for the shapes and styles of, for example, iconic handbags, but because clothing, like furniture and cars, is classified as a “useful article” with an “intrinsic utilitarian function” it is almost impossible to protect individual designs.

In practice the law offers very little to designers wishing to safeguard their ideas. In America the Senate has been called on a number of times to strengthen legislation against plagiarism in fashion. Since 2007 a number of bills, all entitled the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, have been introduced to Congress in an attempt to offer a three-year term of protection for registered designs. Those proposing such bills have cited Europe’s design rights laws that protect both registered and unregistered designs as the model the US fashion industry should be following. However, although Europe has stronger laws in place, they are rarely used or enforced in piracy cases and Europe itself is also home to some of the biggest high-street fashion copyists. The Design Piracy Prohibition Act has yet to make any significant progress and legislative bodies have so far avoided the plagiarism issue. After a period of recession and with unemployment still high, perhaps it is understandable that there has been reluctance to alter the status quo and put pressure on the retailers to follow ethics rather than figures. However, the most important aspect that must be considered in terms of change to copyright law must be the protection of democracy within the industry.

Unlike other creative disciplines, such as art or literature, everyone, regardless of their level of involvement engages with fashion on a daily basis. Upholding strict copyright laws would impede ordinary people from buying into trends, preventing shoppers at all levels from understanding what they should be wearing in any given season.

Image 11 (Flair or faux)Source: The Daily Telegraph: The British fashion highstreet

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High fashion would remain as it has always been, but for everyday shoppers without access to the high-street versions, on-trend items would be obtainable only to the privileged few. Currently most of us are able to walk into a store and pick out a trend-led piece that resembles a designer item we could not otherwise accommodate within our budgets.

The enjoyment of fashion and the ability to engage with fashion trends should be available to all, and a rigorous enforcement of any copyright law that increases a designer’s powers of protection could alienate an entire section of the market but also provide a whole new set of legal challenges.

In terms of the creative industries, designers and artists alike are tuned to the changes in society, intuitively responding to an overriding theme or mood, often focusing their energies in similar ways or coming from very disparate points to arrive at similar conclusions. This can clearly be seen at Fashion Weeks around the globe, when a particular point of reference runs through several collections. Current events, for example, will naturally inspire more than one designer, and coincidences will occur without the need for direct copying. Any changes in the law would therefore have to be carefully drawn up with clear guidelines in order to avoid undeserved claims or counterclaims from individuals who simply had the same idea at the same time.

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Source: – Seascape prints on chiffon used by both Valentino and Rodarte SS15 fashion shows

Critics of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act have argued that such bills could work against those it is supposed to help, as independent designers would not necessarily have the resources to fight accusations of copying made by a bigger competitor and thus create a design monopoly encompassing only the largest and most powerful brands.

Where do we go from here?

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Copying is an intrinsic part of human nature. We thrive and grow and move forward because of it, but blatant plagiarism is the very antithesis of all our creative endeavours.

Fashion, therefore, should have nothing to fear from being more transparent. To credit the origins of a design and in effect “show your workings” should be viewed as an opportunity to engage with and educate the consumer while showcasing the hard work, research and creative flair of a designer who can look at a piece from the past, update it, improve it and make it relevant to the modern day, or utilise the latest technologies to create something visionary and totally new.



Transparency – a best practice model for the future

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How a designer’s mind works, taking disparate influences and transforming them into wearable works of art, should be celebrated. Referencing the work of others is not indicative of piracy but it should be the case that sources of inspiration are made public. At the very least, a code of conduct that required repeatedly stating your source would enable fashion houses and retailers to think about their own processes more clearly.

For the lawmakers, balancing the importance of democracy and the continuation of financial growth against the intellectual property rights of designers is a difficult task, but there is a need to discourage companies from adopting a settling-out-of-court business model. It should not be more cost-effective for a company continually to pay damages to designers they have plagiarised rather than legitimately procuring a licence to reproduce, for example, a textile print or graphic.

Even when designs protected by law are copied and very little in the way of punitive measures are applied, it further tarnishes the reputation of an industry that has often had its moral compass called into question. As long as blatant copying is seen as an accepted, even integral, part of the industry, it will serve only to dishearten and disenfranchise both designer and consumer. As the front of house of fashion, designers at the upper echelons have more room for manoeuvre in terms of effecting change. Those considered to be the leading lights at the pinnacle of their profession certainly have the public presence and financial clout to consign copying to the scrap heap and set an example to the rest of the industry.

Perhaps though, it is the much-maligned high-street retailers who could have the biggest impact and reap the most benefits in leading the way. Through better utilisation of the talent already at their disposal, combined with their manufacturing capabilities and ability to reach the masses, producing their own innovative designs would certainly not be beyond their means. In many ways, the fast fashion retailers have the biggest opportunity to reinvent and shift their position in the market, from imitator to innovator, and in the process gain more respect for what is a large and vital part of the fashion industry. Placing prominence on “own initiative” would consolidate their standing as a forum for design-led, forward-looking fashion.

The huge popularity of collaborations between high street and high end, together with the promotion of capsule collections from new upcoming designers, proves how working together in a legitimate way can be successful for all parties in both financial and design terms. Developing an original product and making it available at mass-market level diminishes the need for copying while satisfying the need for democracy in fashion. If these initiatives were to become a working standard we could see a natural reduction in the levels of piracy.

In the long term, fashion cannot afford to forget its roots in the creative arts or have doubt cast on its position as a vibrant design showcase and a pioneer of the avant-garde. While many designers and companies are making great strides in experimentation and innovation, and already working in a transparent and ethical manner, the onus must be on the most powerful sectors of the industry to reject copying and embrace creating, making the fashion plagiarists the exception rather than the rule.


The Knockoff Economy: How Copying Hurts—and Helps—Fashion

Designer Knockoffs: Is Zara Copying Celine or Is Everyone Copying Everyone?

Eyes off the Runway: How to Prevent Piracy in Fashion


Title page cover Source: Danish artist collaborative Superflex


The drive to succeed – and to do it quickly – can leave emerging fashion designers feeling disheartened when their dreams of success fail to materialise. Nazinna Douglas, the young fashion designer behind the label AlphaOmega London, argues that efforts must be made to inspire young hopefuls to believe that failure is not an end-point, but a prerequisite to success…

Thomas Edison, inventor of the first commercially viable electric light bulb, was once asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” His response: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times, the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Whether Edison’s incandescent invention was a series of failures or steps, ultimately, it was his lack of the fear of failure that led him to success.

For aspiring young fashion designers, who, like Edison, have visions of disrupting the landscape of their industry, the desire to succeed and be recognised can become the measure by which they assess their achievement.

Getting it ‘wrong’ and learning from mistakes is a key process on the way to eventual success, yet in desperate pursuit of quick achievement, young designers are increasingly unwilling to follow this trial-by-fire process. And yet, embracing failure can – and should – precipitate success.

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In spite of this, our success-driven society has marginalised failure. We fear failure. Many view it as a deficiency. As children we are taught that mistakes are bad and practice makes perfect, which shapes our quest for perfection into a cause of diminished self-esteem, and generates a greater need to succeed and avoid failure at all costs.

Concerns over Failure Rates

Failure among emerging fashion design businesses in the UK has attracted the attention of the Department of Trade and Industry. A 2012 report commissioned by the British Fashion Council highlighted “high failure rates and the lack of business skills and entrepreneurial training” as some of the key challenges faced by fashion designers and the fashion industry as a whole.

However, the bigger picture suggests that there is less cause for concern. Fashion’s economic and social impact on the UK economy equates to more than £37bn in GVA (Gross Value Added), and the industry employs nearly 1.3 million workers.

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The dynamic and innovative fashion design sector upholds the UK’s position as a world leader in directional fashion. In the absence of robust data, little is known about the current size of the sector. However, figures provided by Mintel (2010) suggest an estimated total consumer spend of £2.5bn on UK designer fashion alone, implying an annual compound growth of over 19.1% since 2001. In short, fashion designers can be big business.

The Allure of the Fashion Designer

Speaking about the number of graduates at last year’s Central Saint Martins graduate fashion show, veteran fashion journalist and trustee of London’s graduate fashion week Hilary Alexander told Thomson Reuters, “Every year there seems to be more and more… Obviously they can’t all become fashion designers.”

The University of Kent’s report on the UK Fashion Industry (2013) showed that there were more than 4,000 textile and design graduates in the UK, competing for around 500 jobs every year. Why, if success in the field is so infrequent, is a fast-growing cohort of students aiming to become fashion designers?

Partly, the increased aspirations in fashion are down to a global rise in demand for luxury goods, driven by an increased interest in fashion on a wider scale. In today’s society, successful fashion designers are celebrated as social, cultural and artistic influencers, who over the years have acquired mass appeal.

In its 2010 career survey, Parsons the New School for Design asked its graduates why they thought others wanted to become fashion designers. One responded: “There are designers who want to be celebrities, there are those who want to be great designers, and there are others who just want to make money.”

Seeking the instant gratification of imminent and abundant success is of course where caution needs to be applied. To address the concerns over rates of failure in fashion design, we must first unlock the social influences that have shaped our restrictive views of success among young designers.

Chasing Elusive Dreams

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“Only a precious few of us become stars like Lagerfeld or Galliano,” asserts Pierre-Henri Mattout, a French fashion designer who set up his menswear label in 1998. “It is best not to even think about it.”

Daniel Jasiak, for whom personal recognition remains elusive, despite selling to high-end fashion department stores around the globe, also claimed to refrain from believing in Cinderella stories of success. “I make clothes to educate people, not just to make money,” said the designer.

By both accounts, it is evident that in the absence of a lucky break, young designers struggle to harness the power of ‘accumulative advantage’ (where initial success leads to further successes) typically associated with designers from wealthier backgrounds or celebrities who launch fashion careers. Young designers must avoid chasing this elusive fame, and focus more on capitalising the resources and networks readily available to them.

Pedagogical Influence

Role models in fashion education may be said to exert influence over students, causing them to develop narrow views of success. Academic programmes that tell students that the conceptual, avant-garde or high-end designer markets are the most prestigious professional goals are deemed problematic by some industry critics.

Awards such as the coveted LVMH Prize help to reinforce this conceptual bias, as its panel of industry luminaries bestows super-brand status upon young designers whose careers, following a LVMH win, are automatically validated by prominent figures within the industry. Do they always get it right?

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The influence of such prizes on graduates is clear. A study by Tara Gerber and Diana Saiki concluded that graduates were heavily influenced by extrinsic rewards, such as financial success and recognition from ‘opinion leaders’, as opposed to intrinsic rewards – career satisfaction, motivation, integrity, freedom of expression, etc.

Much can be said for the array of talent who aren’t shortlisted or picked as a finalist, and accolades such as fashion prizes arguably restrict a young designer’s understanding of their future options. Many emerging designers’ career goals are concentrated towards very small or niche markets that are highly competitive, yet such awards promote a form of blindness towards alternative professional pathways, assuming there is a lack of validity and creativity elsewhere within the industry.

Want to Succeed? Make your Acquaintance with Failure

In a culture of overnight success stories, it is no surprise that our attitudes towards failure are fraught. Those intent on becoming fashion entrepreneurs in an increasingly complex and volatile industry must maintain an attitude of fearlessness towards failure. It is the act of risk-taking, along with the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, that ultimately garners success.

For more details please visit


Colour has the ability to ignite, empower, alter realities, shift perspectives and add an extra layer of intensity wherever needed. Set against a backdrop of lime green, lemony yellow and sumptuous red, this pop art inspired photo shoot photographed by Karolina Amberville, boldly celebrates a sense of fearlessness, optimism and femininity through a kaleidoscope of intense colour and psychedelic prints.


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Overlapping contradictions and layered textures help to define the eclectic styling put together by Rubina Marchiori. Who promotes happiness as a trend with a smile worn as the perfect accessory, mixing high shine metallics, sporty neon bodysuits and tie-dye jumpsuits topped off by the omnipresence of AlphaOmega London shoes. Complemented with a dose of techno inspired hair and make up by Magdalena Skoczylas this photo shoot takes us into an unexplored world that dwells in delicious irony and morphs life into art.

Check out the complete editorial for Runway Magazine.

All the shoes featured in the behind the scenes footage below are AlphaOmega London.

It’s important to celebrate the inspirational paths of those that dare to follow their dreams. Now we take a closer look at the stories behind the key contributors to the Bubble Pop Electric photo shoot.

Name: Magdalena Skoczylas

Job title: Hair & Makeup artist

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Inspirational journey:

“Make up has always been a passion of mine, my journey began at a young age. I remembered being inspired by how my mum in particular experimented with amazing multicolour eyeshades and eyeliners. By the age of 14 I was putting makeup on friends and family, I remembered when one of my mum’s friends had asked me to do her makeup for a new years eve party, which was daunting at first but became a massive first achievement when she was so happy with how I made her look and feel. It was that defining moment that gave me a sense of belief that I was to become a makeup artist. I truly believe that it was always in me but had it not have been for the support and the inspiration that my mum had given me I would not have developed my strong sense of skill and passion for make up.”

Inspirational quote: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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Magdalena pictured above with her mum

For more details please visit Magdalena’s website