BOOTLEG BRANDS & THE BIRTH OF THE ORIGINAL REPLICA

How original is original? If every artist has a muse, and every idea has an inspiration, originality is definitely a subjective matter. And this is where bootleg brands make a grand entrance.

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A trend tracing back to Harlem, New York, bootlegging has been a series of prototyping and experimenting with pre-established luxury brand identities. Bootleg fashion surfaced early in the 80’s with bespoke counterfeits of high-end brands, and was notoriously termed ‘Faux Fake’, thriving largely through underground fashion.

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From being unofficial merchandise for subcultures to being an alternative to luxury it slowly developed a notorious following among youth in the society. Dapper Dan, Harlem’s iconic tailor is also credited with advancing and elevating this movement by creating custom designs with Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton logos for his illustrious clientele including LL Cool J, Run DMC, and even Mike Tyson.

By the early 2000s, with technological advancement and globalisation, bootlegs became the norm world over, stretching from Palika Bhawan in New Delhi to Canal Street in New York. They were characterised by modified logos or famous phrases seamlessly replaced by similar yet locally relevant expressions. The bootleg markets wide approach and sense of luxury for a cheaper price resulted in actually making high end brands, teams, and bands prolific in countries all over the world.

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The journey however, hasn’t been all that rosy. Bootleggers through the years have been getting cease and desist notices followed by legal battles with brands, considering they were pulling from existing ideas and entities. But that didn’t make their work inherently less interesting or less original than others. In a hilarious modern-day plot twist, instead of fighting legal battles, brands have turned to work with the artists for their ‘bootleg’ designs and use their ideas for a less than traditional approach. Gucci being Gucci came out with Dapper Dan’s puff shouldered monogram mink coat donning a bootleg design. In 2017, Louis Vuitton ended up collaborating with Supreme, who in its wee years got a cease and desist by LV for bootlegging their monogram design on skateboard decks. The same year, Gucci bootlegged itself with the ‘GUCCY’ collection. The idea of a knockoff was actually rather refreshing making the world rethink the everyday uniform as an item of luxury in itself. 

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Bootlegging has birthed many of today’s most famous brands such as Chinatown Market, FUCT, Honeymoon, and OKOKOK amongst others. The world of bootleg brands has morphed from being a ‘rip-off’ to gaining authenticity and street cred. While the debate around their legitimacy is yet to be settled, we tend to side with Dapper Dan when he says, “I didn’t do knock offs, I did knock-ups”. 

Big ups to these knock ups!

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