Fashion Knock-offs: Flattery or Insult?

Fashion and style are words that are strongly associated with authenticity and quality. We all want our clothes to be good, at least as good as it gets; nobody is intentionally searching for bad clothes when they’re going shopping (unless you think that being “uncool” is “cool”, but that’s another discussion).


For this one, the creators inter-changed the s’s and a’s


However, in a world so dominated by the search for true style, there is an enormous market that is based on offering exactly the opposite. Knock-offs or rip-offs are brands or pieces created by a brand; that feature a renowned brand’s logo and name, but with a bigger or smaller change. They use the same fonts, colors and similar designs to imitate a famous brand, but to still maintain a slight difference so that they don’t get sued for stealing copyrighted designs or names. This is how Prada turns to Proda, Gucci turns to Guggi and Louis Vuitton can turn to Louk Vuikkon.



Why wear knock-offs?

US TV series 30 Rock had a wonderful scene in which, after Jenna Maroney, interpreted by Jane Krakowski, discovered that the brand that represents her best is a website named appears in a commercial for their site. What is great about the narrative construction of this scene is that it really expresses the philosophy of knock-offs.



Who knew Dolce and Banana really existed?

It is said that imitation is the biggest form of flattery, but is it really?

What lies behind the wish some people have to wear knock-offs?

The cultural explanation for this is that some brands have become synonymous with luxury, style and wealth and are globally recognizable. You don’t need to wear Dolce and Gabbana or Gucci and you don’t even need to know their latest collection to know their names, fonts and logos and that people who wear pieces created by these brands are powerful, rich and elegant. Therefore, if you associate yourself with any of these brands, you express the fact that you adhere to those values and you might even make some people believe that you really are rich, elegant and sophisticated.

The problem is that most people who buy knockoffs don’t know that you can have great style even without owning high-end clothes. Moreover, wearing designer clothes does not mean that you are automatically beautiful. Unfortunately, we’ve seen cases where people dressed up in designer clothes looked very cheap. This is where the 30 Rock clip is genius: “…and Jessica Simpson”. The lesson we can all learn from this simple line is that not everything that is “designer” is of high quality.

Knockoffs represent a big disconnect between form and substance. This is where the 30 Rock clip is genius again: If Dolce and Gabbana and Prada are associated with a close-to-perfect lifestyle, Dolce and Banana and Prader are associated with “running from your parole officer” and “breaking into your mom’s house to steal her cable box”.

A Calvin Klein knock-off

Moreover, knockoffs are the expression of a disconnect between real elegance and pretend elegance. We’re not saying that people who wear authentic Dolce and Gabbana clothes can’t break in their parent’s house to steal, but that’s not what the brand’s philosophy is associated with.

This is a sad phenomenon, people believing that if they own something with a fancy label or something with a label that is similar to a fancy label, they themselves are going to be more sophisticated.

Sophistication comes from the mind and this is why on AC, we always promote “creating your own style” rather than “here’s what to wear” articles. Even though we love to review the latest collections, we also like to make recommendations of smaller brands, artisan’s shops and even Etsy shops that offer great products. Quality can come from anywhere; it is narrow of someone to think that you can’t find quality in a brand that is not present on the Champs-Élysées. Having style comes from within; your attitude is just as important as the clothes you wear.



Reactions to knock-offs

Ball Star Converse

When talking to people about knockoffs, one of the most frequent questions people ask is why don’t the big brands do something to stop these knockoff pieces? If the world is full of fakes, is a Chanel bag still worth it? The truth is that some designers do care: For example, Michael Kors offers clothes that are similar to his high-end clothes to be sold at accessible prices. Of course, the fabric is not same, and the overall quality is not the same as that of a runway piece, but it’s the best you can get for the price and still make sure that it comes from an original source. In the end, designs in themselves are not copyrighted, but the trademarks are. As for replica Chanel bags sold throughout the world…? Most fashion houses don’t worry about those because they know that the people who buy authentic pieces are not going to buy a replica bag and think it’s authentic and vice-versa: people who buy fake “designer” clothes are probably not going to shop at a high-end store.



Knock-offs vs. replicas

Of course, in theory, the existence of knockoffs and especially of replicas (fake products sold at almost the same price as authentic pieces) can cause high-end brands economic losses and this is why some brands do try to stop this phenomenon from happening. Several years ago, the Fondation de la Haute Horologie (FHH short), which is a consortium of Swiss brands, created a campaign called “Fake Watches Are For Fake People”. Using a slogan that was supposed to make people feel bad about purchasing replica watches, they were trying to convince people to buy real pieces instead of knockoffs. The FHH made theatrical demonstrations where they publicly had a steamroller go over a lot of unauthentic watches.


Even though such efforts are carried throughout the world, they don’t have the impact you would expect. It is true that losing money and seeing your brand ripped-off is frustrating, but in reality some brands have come to understand that the people who buy knock-offs are not the people who buy the real pieces.

The real issue lies when knock-offs turn into replicas, meaning a fake product sold as an authentic piece at the price of the real piece. This is what is really costing big brands their money. This is why we always recommend that if you want to buy a designer piece, whether it is a watch or a piece of clothing, always make sure that you purchase it from an authorized dealer and not from anywhere else.


It’s strange, isn’t it, the world of knockoffs? On the one hand, seeing your brand imitated means that you have made it: it is a sign that there are lots of people who associate you with high aspirations. On the other hand, it’s every creative’s nightmare to see his work stolen, plagiarized or transformed without it being a tribute or reference.


Fraquoh and Franchomme






P.S. What do you make of knockoffs? Do you ever find yourself wearing one? Share your thoughts, questions or feedback on the article in the comments below! For more style advice, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook or Twitter!

21 thoughts on “Fashion Knock-offs: Flattery or Insult?

  1. You know there’s a difference between a knock off and something that’s ‘inspired by’. I would definitely NOT buy knock offs. For example, I once bought a quilted sling bag (like the Chanel 2.0) however I made sure it did not have any branding or logo. It was just a pink quilted bag that was inspired by the Chanel bag.
    I once even remember a website like Romwe was selling a belt that has ‘Moschino’ on it. Now that was a complete knock off.
    But that Dolce & Banana is hilarious!

    • Hy Roxanne,

      You are right, there is a difference between being similar and being a knock-off. The difference is that knock-offs, as you also noticed, pretend to be associated with the source of inspiration or try to hint that they are in a way related.

  2. These examples are so blatant that it’s almost hard to take them (or the people who would buy this crap) seriously. What bothers me more is sites like ModCloth that will make a dress nearly identical a MBMJ style and pass it off as their own. Then unsuspecting 20-somethings buy it, completely unaware. I actually wrote about this and the MBMJ example back in 2011:

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thank you for the input on the article. The fashion world actually allows from a legal point of view to copy designs and make them your own. This is why many mainstream brands create clothes very similar to those you would find in a high-end store, but with a different quality. In order to prevent this, as we wrote in the article, designers like Michael Kors offer both the high-end version of the piece and the adapted version.

      Thank you for the link as well, it is most welcome!

  3. Hi Guys!

    Great post! I think another two huge issues with counterfeit goods and the luxury market are 1. The fact that most producers of knock offs are in some way involved with the illegal drug trade, human trafficking, or child labor. (You can read more about it here) 2. The harm that imitation and “inspired” designs hurt small companies much more than they hurt large ones.

    For instance, I worked for a small luxury scarf line for several years in NYC and one of our scarves was directly ripped off by target and sold for $15. Our original sold for $155, but the design was hand drawn, and the scarf was hand dyed ethically. It was extremely insulting and frustrating that a huge company like Target was stealing a design from a company that was largely made up of recent college grads who had major student loans to pay off.

    I’m all for people being able to dress fashionably for a reasonable price, but we definitely need to start thinking more and buying less. This is a really great piece and I’m glad to see that you guys are provoking others’ thoughts as well.

    Congrats on IFB!


    • Hello,

      Thank you very much for your input. We really appreciate your comment.

      You are definitely right that knockoffs and especially counterfeit goods represent more of an ethical issue than anything else. We always say that when you are buying something that is very cheap, besides considering the quality of the material and cut, you also need to wonder whether the price covers the money that needs to be paid to the designer, to the workers and to everyone else who is involved in the creation of a garment.

      Buying goods that come from devious sources only encourages the industry of fake goods.

      You are absolutely right: we should think more and buy less!

      • “You also need to wonder whether the price covers the money that needs to be paid to the designer, to the workers and to everyone else who is involved in the creation of a garment.”

        Couldn’t have summed it up better myself–you guys hit the nail right on the head!

  4. I know this is a serious topic but I just love Jane in that clip, ‘……and Jessica Simpson’, hahahah, I had to rewind! Designer knock-offs just baffle me, the fact that people actually buy into this trend- and literally too. Ethics aside, I’d be too embarassed to enter a store called Dolce & Banana. its sad that people seem to want a slither of what the original brands represent: exclusivity, luxury etc- but they are not not getting any of it! As you said they are much better of going to a no-name store that makes decent and original clothes without the gimmicks! Tsigh….

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