Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creative Inspiration or Insolent Theft?

One question that most creative people ponder at one time or another is: From where do fashion designers source their ideas? The question we hear asked of designers most often is "what served as an inspiration for this collection?" To me, this question often sounds redundant for I believe that creative people take inspiration from everywhere and everything. Like sponges, they absorb the environment around them and translate it into their designs. At least, that's how I personally see it. 

Apparently, according to Tom Ford, I am not that far off. In his conversation with Guy Trebay, he explains that designer's tendency to draw inspiration from everywhere, including other designers, can result in similar if not identical designs. That is why we often see designs which seem "ripped off" or "plagiarized."  In fact, referencing other couturiers and fashions of eras past is more than acceptable. Moreover, replicating other designers' work is not all that rare in fashion and, what is interesting, it does not worry the famous American designer in the least. In Ready to Share: The Ecology of Creativity in Fashion talk Tom Ford comments on borrowing design elements from other eras and designers, "I don't think that the 70's look of the 90's will really look like the 70's which by the way was inspired by the 30's..." Currency is what's most important in fashion design. If you have a spare 40 minutes I highly suggest listening to this talk as it offers some thought-provoking points of view.

Another reason why such unrestricted copying proliferates in fashion is that fashion industry is restricted by the trade mark protection law but there is no copyright protection which could regulate the use of any given design detail (cuff, collar, etc). To put it simply, any one can copy any garment and sell it as their own, as long as they do not knock off the original logo. As a result, we see logos of the following kind:

Johanna Blakley's TED talk - Johanna Blakley: Lessons from fashion's free culture - explains that apparel is viewed as too utilitarian to qualify for copyright protection. It is considered to be a necessity rather than art. Johanna, however, argues the opposite. She sees the lack of copyright protection as a blessing for fashion design. Thanks to the lack of ownership, she argues, designers were able to elevate fashion design to the level of art. I couldn't agree more!

Incidentally, last time I was at the library I bumped into Austen Kleon's book whose title I just love! Kleon promotes the development of one's creativity along the same lines as the previously mentioned speakers. My favourite quotes from the book: 

"What is originality? Undetected plagiarism" - William Ralph Inge

"Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self." - Yohji Yamamoto

Contrary to common "be yourself" kind of advice on creativity - which sometines promotes channelling creativity from outer space - Kleon's somewhat controversial advice will be a relief to those of us who have been struggling to find a stream of originality within and, perhaps, may have given up altogether. Well friends, never fear! It's just that you have looking in all the wrong places. Next time you want to produce a masterpiece you might have to du-plicate, tri-plicate and multi-plicate a few hundred of other masters' chef d'oeuvres first. And that, I assure you, is a short cut!

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