What is the meaning of intellectual property in the fashion industry? Esther Meijer's 'Smiley Knee' leggings were copied by H&M and several other commercial companies. Her powerlessness to prove her case and fight this form of plagiarism inspired her to make the documentary The Right to Copy. An evening with fashion designer Esther Meijer, shoe designer Jan Jansen and Marie-Aude Baronian, senior lecturer at the University of Amsterdam.
The historical context was provided by a short pre-programme with film clips from the collection of the EYE Film Museum. After all, is copying simply a contemporary phenomenon? In the post-war new towns Dutch housewives appropriated the latest fashions from the Paris salons. Patterns published in Libelle enabled them to imitate Dior’s New Look (1947) or perhaps even better: ‘recreate it in a polder variant’. Then, as now, the distinction between inspiration and imitation was not always clear.
Moderator Marie Baronian then posed a few questions prior to the screening of the evening’s main film The Right to Copy. If ‘everyone’ has adopted a particular look, is it still ‘fashion’? Can fashion exist without copying? And what is the significance of film in today’s fashion world?
In the documentary The Right to Copy we follower Meijer in her quest for the meaning of copying in a variety of cultures. She looks at the influence of the internet, social media and the replica industry on designers’ creative process. To her own astonishment, she arrives at a nuanced appreciation of the phenomenon.
Following the screening, there was a discussion between designers Esther Meijer and Jan Jansen. What struck them after seeing the various films was that in the immediate post-war years it was ‘Paris fashions’ that were imitated, but today it is mainly the big brands that copy the work of independent designers. This happened to both designers. Meijer was copied by H&M and Jansen by Armani. How did they respond? Their initial anger was quickly followed by curiosity: ‘who is that wearing “my” shoes and where did they buy them?’ They soon put the copying into perspective when they realised that this plagiarism gives poor workers a livelihood. And when big brands copy it implies something about the quality of the original design. They both managed to generate good publicity by engaging intelligently with the media around the copying scandal.
The discussion then turned to the idea that originality is viewed completely differently in various cultures. In the West we have an image of the lonely creator; in the East there is a more collective notion of creativity. But this does not take away from the fact that, according to the speakers, there are sometimes clear cases of copying an idea and that it is not right if the copy makes more money than the original.
The evening finished with a reflection on the visual dominance in our culture. That Meijer used film to tell her story suggests that this visual medium is also winning ground within the fashion world. The realisation that our culture is largely visual raises new questions about copying: if we are surrounded by images, how can we speak of pure originality?
This evening was organised in partnership with the EYE Film Museum.
Esther Meijer’s label Nieuw Jurk (New Dress) is inspired by hip hop, rave, goth and grunge aesthetics. Her designs play with the prevailing ideas about form and volume. The results are over-the-top but wearable. Parallel to The Right to Copy Meijer made an ‘eminently copyable’ collection, which she had imitated in China. She explores the contemporary value of creative intellectual property by making her work public in radical ways.
Shoe designer Jan Jansen has made eccentric, baroque and experimental shoes for the past fifty years. His international breakthrough came in 1973 with his now-world-famous bamboo shoe: an icon admired by both the fashion and art worlds. In 2005 Prada produced a copy, which Jansen knowingly called ‘an affectionate adoption’. Jansen established his own shoemaking studio in Amsterdam in 1963 under the name 'Jeannot'. To support his handcrafted shoes he also worked anonymously as a designer for other labels including Dior and Charles Jourdan. He stopped making handmade shoes in 1968 and opened his first shop, selling his factory-made designs. Since 1984 his label and shop have been called 'Jan Jansen’.
Marie-Aude Baronian is a senior lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. Her research focuses on the role of costumes, fashion and design in film and philosophy. Recent articles include ‘Fashion and Philosophy’ for the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics published by Oxford University Press.
EYE, the film museum in Amsterdam, hosts film screenings and exhibitions and preserves an extensive film archive. EYE’s collection covers the whole of cinema history: from silent movies to the latest digital productions. The collection of Dutch film provides an overview of cinema in the Netherlands since 1898.
This Thursday Night is part of the Temporary Fashion Museum project.