Artist Abigail Glaum-Lathbury reinvents luxury clothing

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On a Friday in March, Abigail Glaum-Lathbury was making her way into the Gucci store on Fifth Avenue, perusing items from a collaboration with Balenciaga called Hacker Project. The collection was conceptual, a way to explore the ideas of originality and authenticity in the fashion industry. There were bags whose interlocking Gs had been replaced by back-to-back Bs and jackets on which “Gucci” had been printed in Balenciaga’s house font – codes which, in their countless reinterpretations, have remained among the markers the clearest and most coveted luxury.

Ms. Glaum-Lathbury chose a purple Balenciaga stretch top adorned with Gucci’s green and red stripes. Its price of $2,700 suggested quality and know-how: refined fabrics, perfect stitching, hand-embroidered details. But the shirt was polyester; the stripes, Ms. Glaum-Lathbury noted, had been digitally printed on the bias of the fabric. It looked a bit like a counterfeit, and that was the whole point: the designers were trying to get consumers thinking about value.

A salesperson approached her and asked, “Do you make clothes?” The designers, he said, are the only people who look so closely at the clothes in the store. “Nobody inspects the seams,” he said.

Ms Glaum-Lathbury, 38, is a clothing designer, although her own small, short-lived label folded almost a decade ago. Today, she’s an associate professor of fashion design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, spending her free time with personal and conceptual projects examining the qualities that make a garment desirable.

“One of the many things I love about clothes is that they’re inherently social,” she said. An earlier project she worked on, a utility jumpsuit available in over 200 sizes, was created to inspire discussions about the quality of disposable, ill-fitting fast fashion; another, which laid out plans for a “community-supported underwear” collective, aimed to spark conversations about ethical and sustainable production.

None of these have caught the eye of major fashion brands, but she hopes her newest one will. Called the Genuine Unauthorized Clothing Clone Institute, it revolves around what Ms Glaum-Lathbury has called “clothing clones”: clothes whose designs are made from mirror selfies she has taken in shopping booths. luxury fitting. Back in her studio, she edits each image to blur any trademarks or copyrighted patterns – the Gs signature, for example – and crops them to isolate the outline of the garment. Then she prints the image onto fabric, creating a design for a new garment.

Although the project’s initials may spell “GUCCI”, Ms Glaum-Lathbury took selfies wearing several designer brands, including Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. (A legal document drafted during the development of her project also nods to a fashion house in its title, the Policy Regarding the Evaluation of Design Accents, Adornments and Attributes, or PRADAAA.)

The items are not for sale, but the patterns can be downloaded for free from the project’s website, as are video instructions for building each garment. And although Ms Glaum-Lathbury wears the coins in the world, she is less interested in their functionality and more in how they represent “the overlap of process, history and legality”.

Around six years ago, when Ms Glaum-Lathbury began photographing herself in fitting rooms, Gucci had recently taken legal action against Forever 21; a bomber jacket sold by the fast fashion company featured a striped stripe at the collar and hems that looked like the kind of trademark Gucci had in 1988. It was the quintessential luxury lawsuit, targeting a company that had deprecated one of the company’s most valuable assets: its intellectual property. (Gucci won.)

The case inspired Ms Glaum-Lathbury to insert legal commentary into all aspects of the Genuine Unauthorized project, including the design of the clothes and the website they are displayed on, which is also intended to parody Gucci’s website. . She consulted extensively with a team of law students led by Amanda Levendowski, founding director of Georgetown University’s Intellectual Property and Information Policy Clinic, to ensure that the Genuine Unauthorized project would not violate the limits of trademark and copyright law.

Immersing herself in fashion law has influenced the way she talks to her students about the industry they may soon be entering. She plans to use Genuine Unauthorized as the basis for a book and a lecture series. But for now, she is focusing on the artistic side.

Ms. Glaum-Lathbury pins selfies in various outfits to the whiteboard in her Chicago art studio: a Louis Vuitton coat, a Dolce & Gabbana dress, a Balenciaga sweater, a Louis Vuitton T-shirt and a Balenciaga shirt dress. Each becomes something unrecognizable through its process: a dress within a dress, suited perhaps for a cartoon villain, or digitally fused separates into a balloon-like jumpsuit.

According to Alexandra Roberts, a professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce School of Law, the actual silhouettes of designer clothes are not legally protected from counterfeiting, but prints, logos and designs incorporating logos are.

“It’s kind of the trademark law punchline,” Ms. Roberts said. “Too often what people are paying for is just the name.”

In focusing on trademarks, Ms. Glaum-Lathbury follows a long line of designers whose work has challenged prevailing ideas about originality, brand value and desire.

In the 1980s, a tailor named Daniel Day screen-printed fashion house logos onto streetwear silhouettes at his Harlem boutique; although the practice resulted in the closure of his business a decade later after lawyers representing the brand came knocking on the door, Dapper Dan, as he is known, has since been adopted by Gucci.

Virgil Abloh, another streetwear champion, often said that an existing garment only needed to be altered by 3% to be considered new. While agitating against luxury exclusivity, he also achieved great heights at LVMH before his death in December.

Even the fashion houses themselves have looked into these questions, negotiating collaborations with brands outside the realm of luxury.

“I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to questioning or intervening in the many issues plaguing the fashion industry or that this work is only done in one way,” Ms Glaum-Lathbury explained.

His work, in some ways, resembles that of MSCHF, a creative collective in Brooklyn, whose trollish product releases seem designed to aggravate coveted brands like Nike and Hermès. But if his creations aren’t available for purchase, theirs are.

Gucci occupies an outsized position within the Genuine Unauthorized project for the same reason that Nike stands out from MSCHF. It is “one of the most visible luxury brands”, as Ms. Glaum-Lathbury explained. According to brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance, Gucci is currently the third most valued clothing brand in the world, just behind Nike and Louis Vuitton. (Gucci did not respond to a request for comment.)

Eric Spangenberg, professor of marketing and psychological sciences at the University of California, Irvine, said that in the luxury market, “people pay for the experience of acquisition” – the exclusivity of the boutique, the service customer and, ultimately, the “status” associated with a brand. In an age of extensive collaborations and realistic replicas, this status can be found in many places.

After examining the inventory of the Gucci store, Ms Glaum-Lathbury went to Canal Street to browse the counterfeits being sold to tourists – people who longed for the status conferred by a Gucci handbag, or at least a facsimile convincing.

She picked up a copy of Gucci’s classic beige Ophidia tote and immediately noticed the difference in quality. It was not made of genuine leather and the stitching was much poorer. But the logos were indistinguishable from the original.

Beige wasn’t her style, but a duplicate of a blue Prada City Calf tote called it. “I’m in,” she said, then bought the bag.

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