Today's New York Times chronicles Rick Owens transformation from a "shadowy figure" with a "creepy aura" to "fashion's most imitated designer" -- an overused designation, to be sure, but one that always invites a photo essay.
The imitator's dilemma is captured nicely at the beginning of the NYT article, which opens not with Owens himself but Maya Yogev, a former Owens apprentice who now offers similar leather jackets under the Grai label:
"I've been told it's kind of copycat," Ms. Yogev said of her work. "That can be kind of frustrating at times." But comparisons to Mr. Owens "can also be useful," she added. "Once you mention his name, everyone is automatically drawn."True design pirates, of course, are not intent on building artistic reputations and thus flaunt rather than cringe at cries of "copycat," a limitation for an industry that in the absence of law relies in part on social norms to control copying. For professional designers, however, the line between inspiration and imitation -- or being on trend and being a mere copycat -- has real effects, and not just when the source is recent. As Teri Agins notes in today's Wall Street Journal, "[D]esigners have a way of tweaking older styles so that they always look newer on the next go-round."
As for Rick Owens, his growing influence raises a different question: How does a self-styled outsider respond to becoming mainstream? Let's just hope it doesn't involve reality television.