Fashion Pirates: 1913-1914

Poiret lampshade dress Lepape 1913

One of M. Poiret’s sensational creations. Fashion plate by Georges Lepape, 1913 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1039443/laquelle-handcoloured-illustration-georges-lepape/

Tricks of Fashion Thieves

DESIGN PIRATES AND THE WAY THEY WORK

“”Any person caught sketching or securing photographs of fashion models will be taken Into custody and the pictures confiscated.”

Such is the stringent order issued by M. Lepine, the Prefect of Police in Paris, in response to the bitter complaints of prominent French dressmakers, who find their latest designs being surreptitiously copied. Indeed, this piracy of fashions has of late become such a scandal that dressmakers in England and Paris are combining in their efforts to check the practices of those dressmakers who trade in stolen brains.

To quote the words of one dressmaker: “Some of the imitators are so clever that they are able without notes to reproduce the model to the final sleeve-button. This is so well known that some of the leading firms in London and Paris never exhibit their more exclusive models in the window or the showrooms. Nevertheless, by various subterfuges new designs are sometimes stolen and placed on the market before they are even shown in the windows of the firm which created them. In such cases we can only come to the conclusion that by bribery or other means someone has managed to obtain a drawing of the design from an employe.”

Spies from Foreign Countries.

Talking of tricks of fashion pirates, my informant went on to describe how frequently young men and women are sent over from France and Germany, presumably to learn their business, whereas they really act as spies and regularly forward to their employers on the Continent any new designs they may be able to secure.

One of the cutest dodges was that of a woman who one day drove up to a certain modiste famous for her original creations and ordered a dress. This was duly delivered and paid for; after which the lady called again and made another purchase, at the same intimating that she wished to see some entirely new designs for evening dresses, as she was about to go abroad. Impressed with her manner and appearance, a number of unique designs were sent to her hotel. After looking at these, she promised to call next day when she had finally decided on the dress she liked. She did not put in an appearance, and this particular firm of dressmakers were chagrined to find shortly afterward that their unique designs were being copied in detail by certain Parisian dressmakers. It afterward transpired that the lady in question was a fashion thief, who had hit upon this cute dodge to obtain designs.

Busy in May and June.

So jealously do dressmakers guard their new models that only those people with the highest credentials are allowed in the showrooms and at the private views. “We are particularly non our guard,” said my informant, “against experts from America and Germany. Many of them have a habit of coming over here, or visiting a house in Paris, about May or June, and whatever costumes for the following Winter can be secured in advance they promptly acquire, forward them to their headquarters, have them copied more or less badly, and sell them as the latest London and Paris creations. A new designed acquired in this way was at once reproduced by an American house, with the result that when a lady went to a well-known dressmaker in Paris and was shown the fashion for the Winter she exclaimed: “’Oh, no; these are not new. I have seen these styles in New York much cheaper.’”

The same complaints are made by the best milliners, who have to be constantly on the qui vive against the unwelcome attentions of people who are always on the lookout for unique and novel designs. “Of course,” said one milliner to the writer. “one must show hats in order to sell them; and it is easy enough for a smartly dressed lady artiste to mix with other women around the shop windows or int eh showrooms, make a mental picture of the hat and a rough sketch in the neighboring tea shop and come back afterward to compare the sketch with the original. And it is thus, to our chagrin, that a hat we are often selling for three and four guineas is copied and sold at shops in the suburbs at something like half the price.”

Pirating Lace Designs.

Even more serious is the manner in which lace designs are pirated, for not only do shopkeepers suffer, but the manufacturers find themselves losing thousands of dollars every year through unscrupulous tricks. The president of the Lace Finishers’ Association at Nottingham, England, recently mentioned that English designs are systematically betrayed to foreign competitors. Inquiries showed that while many draughtsmen were above suspicion and could be relied on to keep designs secret, others cared not how much damage they did to English manufacturers. Foreign manufacturers were sparing neither effort nor expense to obtain possession of the Nottingham patterns as soon as they were produced. One draughtsman boasted that he had sold four copies of original designs entrusted to him to four different countries. So great has the scandal become that the question of an international agreement on the subject is being seriously considered.

The Buffalo [NY] Enquirer 1 May 1913: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On the eve of “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” Mrs Daffodil thought that a look at the scurvy tactics of fashion pirates might be of interest. The practice, of course, continues to-day in ever more bold, swashbuckling guises, leading to pirated films, the theft of embargoed novels, and clever, affordable copies of couture hand-bags. Mrs Daffodil does not condone the practice; merely notes that it is ubiquitous and that modern fashion pirates are more apt to be found by a Fashion Week cat-walk, than walking the plank.

M. Poiret was eager to see fashion pirates clapped in irons. With his usual flair for personal publicity, he railed against the plunderers of classic French fashion, while teasing of new and novel designs to come.

Paul Poiret, the fashionable dressmaker here, is on the warpath against fashionable pirates, declaring that unless something is done to stop the theft of styles there will be no great couturiers left In Paris.

“I have about succeeded,” he told the correspondent,” on forming a committee of the best known dressmakers in the city to study law how best to protect their interests. The committee is small purposely, only about seven houses being represented.

“Every new fashion a leading dressmaker evolves is seized upon so quickly that the originator is left wondering how it is done. The fashion is not only pirated, but the copies are often so badly executed that the public is disgusted. We shall oppose newspapers bringing out fashion supplements, and photographers from selling photographs taken at the races and at other places where styles are first seen. The fashion supplements aid the pirates materially since by their aid our latest exclusive creations are scattered throughout the world.

“There is now going on a campaign against the fashion as it is today. This is the result, not of our models, but of the quantities of bad imitations which I confess are really ridiculous. As I created the trouser-skirt it was lovely; as copied hideous. One designs a style today; in a fortnight it is copied everywhere and all left for me to do now is to create a new style.”

Santa Ana [CA] Register 23 July 1914: p. 4

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

2 thoughts on “Fashion Pirates: 1913-1914

  1. Carolyn Goodrich

    Seems similar to fashions today “made in China”. When a dress is brought to a seamstress for a better fit, it is found that the Chinese roll out a bolt of cloth, hem it, and then place pattern pieces every which way to use the least amount of yardage, ignoring proper cutting, pattern matching, fit, bias, etc.

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      It is shocking quality. And the working conditions for the garment workers are horrifying. All in the name of “fast fashion.” There is an equally reprehensible tactic of taking photo-gravures from genuine fashion sites and listing the garment for a laughably low figure. Of course the garment is either never delivered or looks like it was made by a Surrealist with a hot-glue gun. Although ostensibly shipped from the United States (or wherever the customer lives), when the customer reads the fine print, it will cost them more than the item to return it to China for a phantom refund.

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