In the Fashion and Textile History Gallery on the ground floor is "Faking It: Originals, Copies and Counterfeits" a topic that turns out to have been as relevant a century ago as it is today.
By the 1940s the idea of licensing became quite popular and fine stores such as Bergdorf Goodman would purchase the rights to create copies of couture clothing for their American clientele. These licensed copies adhered to strict standards of quality and workmanship and were often indistinguishable from the original designs except in price. While this practice opened a whole new market for couture clothing and helped to revitalize the post-war garment workers industry in the U.S., it also opened up new opportunities for counterfeiters.
Take, for example, the tweed suits by Coco Chanel seen at left. Both appeared in 1966 and seem to be identical until one takes a really close look at the construction and the materials. The one on the left is an original, made in Paris in the Chanel atelier under strict supervision. The one on the right was made in China using inferior fabrics and notions and missing many of the finer details like a full lining, matching plaid and working buttonholes on the sleeves. This was obviously a clear violation of any licensing arrangement the couture house might have had with a foreign producer. It is also further evidence of the continuing problem of unauthorized copies leading to a proliferation of poor quality clothing bearing fake high end labels.
The issue got even more complicated when designers tried to appeal to broader market with second-tier collections like Donna Karen's DKNY label or Lauren by Ralph Lauren. These are deliberately designed to imitate the brands' higher end goods but with lesser quality fabrics and more efficient construction methods so the consumer can get a similar look without paying a premium price. While these are authorized copies by the designer, they are often copied themselves making for a true buyer beware situation for consumers.
The real Missoni dress is on the left,
Missoni for Target is on the right
The problem of counterfeit goods in the luxury markets is a global concern and intellectual property lawyers are actively searching for ways to prevent these flagrant rip offs. Legislation has been proposed that would copyright fashion design in much the same way that music, art and writing is protected but some feel that this measure would stifle creativity. One thing is certain, the counterfeit market is alive and well and not going to go away without dramatic action.
No designers are more representative of this era than Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. Though they came from different backgrounds (YSL was born in Algeria and began his career with Christian Dior in Paris; Halston came from Des Moines and worked with milliner Lily Daché in New York), their careers followed remarkably similar paths. By the early 1970s both were designing women's wear with a decidedly masculine twist and both were pioneers in the incorporation of the pants suit into every wardrobe.
Today, Yves Saint Laurent is lauded primarily for his extravagant use of color and fantasy while Halston is considered the master of minimalism and modern design and one's legacy is seldom confused with the other's. However, this step back in time to 70s "Mod" is proof positive that, at least in the beginning, they were, in fact, very much the same.