FAUX DESIGNER KILLED THE FASHION LOGO
Words by Lily Mercer
Fashion relies on a snowball effect. You see something, you like it, you adopt it, you spread it. You probably infect around 10 people with the bug, who in turn probably infect 10 people. And before you know it, you’re all sick of whichever trend it was you helped transmit. Think of five fads you’ve picked up on. That’s probably a tiny percentage of the short-lived fashion items you’ve incorporated into your wardrobe throughout life.
There’s one trend that’s rapidly approaching death, at least we hope so, a trend that Viper has coined “Rebore Couture.” It started out as a tongue in cheek dig at high-end designer brands by broke fashion students, keen to wear Chanel but not buy Chanel, and so the interlocking C’s were vandalised in various ways. The trend can be traced as far back as 2004, however the Tumblr age sped up the lifespan as images of paper bags plastered with Chanel stickers were constantly reblogged. Soon skater brands jumped on the bandwagon, happy to help mock any symbols of wealth and luxury they could. Pretty soon other logos fell victim to these wannabe anarchists, including Gucci whose gold G’s were flipped in honour of Shepherd Fairey’s Obey.
The concept of recognisable brands entering street culture is nothing new. For decades faux designer items have been sold across markets in major cities. Most people that have visited London’s Camden Market will recall spotting ‘Adihash’ or ‘Cocaine’ tees modelled on Adidas and Coca-Cola logos. But today high-fashion has become the desirable look. Sweatshops churning out cheap high street clothing have caused people to expect fashionable, on trend clothing, regardless of their low-incomes. And so people want unique, flashy clothes for less.
Soon the race was on to find new logos to flip. No one was safe, as cult Japanese/French design house, Commes de Garçon was unfortunately adapted into the far less classy “Commes des F*ckdown.” You can visualise the Eureka moment when some uncredited Einstein cracked that code. On a more genuine note, this sarcastic writer would like to express shock and sadness that not a single lame T-shirt brand managed to figure out that Fendi can be flipped into Fiend with just one letter shifted. Luckily this was left untouched, allowing Viper to make a statement with our own tee, a comment on the state of rebore couture. It didn’t take long for sweatshops to catch onto the trend and any vaguely cool aspect of Rebore Couture died. And now the synthetic wholesalers that reside at the grim end of London’s Oxford Street and New York’s Broadway are inundated with faux branded garments, cheapening a trend that had already become passé. Adding to the already desperately short life of the trend, the brands keen to enter into the trend without facing legal action are small, transient companies, ones able to quickly shut down and disappear. Were a high street brand to rework another brand’s logo, they would risk a lawsuit but wholesalers, independent T-shirt brands and online retailers are managing to get away with their usage by being less visible as a brand.
This is not the case for all of the Rebore Couture additions however. Brian Lichtenberg has based his career on designing clothing that mocks the logos of well-known designer brands. Calling himself a fashion designer, Lichtenberg is more skilled in forgery than design, as he replicates the logos with a similar but less significant phrase. Examples include Celine into “Feline,” Balmain into “Ballin’” plus Gucci into “Bucci”; his best known however flips Hermes into “Homies.” Having undeniably made several thousands from sales of his Rebore Couture, Lichtenberg could be identified as the man responsible for killing the trend as his reworking of so many brands has cheapened the labels. His desire to link it with rap culture, as seen with the use of phrases like “homies” and “ballin’” suggests a need to be accepted by the streetwear scene. Unlikely to ever become a fashion mainstay, we’ll undoubtedly look back on Lichtenberg’s clothing one day the way we look at Von Dutch.
Rebore Couture relies on the recognisability of a brand logo, the Hermes brand has become iconic enough to be recognised, even when it reads “Homies” instead. Yves Saint Laurent rebranded their label, not necessarily as a result of the popularity of this trend. However it was potentially inspired by the popularity of faux fashion labels. The iconic French label nearly fell victim to the pitfalls of having such a great logo, but one that is so easily manipulated. Sadly the change of name to Saint Laurent Paris, and subsequent ‘SLP’ logo didn’t save them, with the arrival of a tee stating, “Ain’t Laurent without Yves,” a statement which dragged them back into the Rebore Couture debacle. However, the classic French label had already inspired one reworking that was more tongue in cheek than the other logo destructions. LA women’s streetwear brand, Dimepiece, adapted the YSL lettering into an ode to psychedelics, with their LSD re-working from their 2011 collection.
Supreme attempted to sue Married To The Mob’s designer, Leah McSweeney, due to her use of their iconic box logo. Having flipped it into Supreme Bitch back in 2004, Supreme’s owner James Jebbia had stocked the line in his boutique, but later took legal action against McSweeney when she filed a trademark application. She released a statement on the case: “As some of you may have heard, Supreme is suing me for $10 million over my “Supreme Bitch” design. I’ve been using this design since the first MOB collection in summer 2004. I even sold it as a tee at Union, a store owned and managed by Supreme’s founder James Jebbia, who gave the design his blessing. Now, he’s claiming that the design infringes his trademark rights. Unlike some companies that blatantly rip-off other brand logos, Married To The Mob has always had its own identity and aesthetic by being an extension of my life experiences. I started this company when I was 22 and have come a long way without a piggyback ride from anyone. Supreme Bitch is one design of many; one slogan of many. And the use of the design has always been to make fun of the misogynistic vibe of Supreme and the boys who wear it.” McSweeney stated she would fight the lawsuit that she felt was an attempt to squash her free speech.
The Rebore Couture trend demonstrates the prevalence of high and low culture intermingling, fashion’s “Trickle Down” theory can help explain the way high fashion enters into street culture. The term is used to describe something economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen discussed in his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899. Writing at a time when fashion and class were mutually exclusive, his theories don’t have the same significance today. But they do show that fashion is still influenced by the Trickle Down/Trickle Up theory. German sociologist and philosopher, Georg Simmel’s exploration into the dualism of fashion and the representation of sameness/difference could be applied to Rebore Couture. Out of the individuals that have adopted this trend, it could be suggested that they are displaying either a similarity to the ideas the designer logo represents, or a blatant disregard of it.
Equally, high-fashion has continued to be influenced by street culture, from Alexander Wang to Chanel. In fact, you could easily argue that high-fashion has jacked more of its style from the street than the other way round. With that in mind, maybe Rebore Couture has been influenced more by street art and satirical statements by artists like Ron English. While the original faux designer goods were sold in markets during our youth, Rebore Couture is somewhere in the middle as guerrilla designers attempt to water down the power of respectable brands. But while designer knock-offs are nothing new, the ability to emulate a logo taps into something that money can’t buy. It’s also an anarchist’s way of cheapening the representation of the logo. It’s a way of attacking a symbol because you know what it means, and to you, that meaning is empty.
But as acts like these tend to, people soon lose sight of the establishment they are mocking, and seek to become a part of it. Many designers within that group have attempted to enter the elite, having gained attention by mocking them. But Brian Lichtenberg will never reside besides Pierre Balmain in the fashion archives. The lack of inspiration behind the designs prevent Rebore Couture from having a great deal of longevity.
Originally published in Viper Magazine’s Spring 2014 issue