INSPIRATION VS. IMITATION
For the past few weeks, I've been taking a break from writing. Instead, I’ve been focusing on my architecture portfolio. I even postponed a trip to Puerto Rico just to finish real-world tasks (aka getting a job). Going through old projects, I noticed how much work I needed to fix. As a result, I turned to the world of Pinterest for inspiration (#inspo). During the same week that I was working on my portfolio, an Egyptian-brand started by former high school classmates, Okhtein, had a run-in with a look alike bag. They've dealt with Chinese replicas of their bags, but this time it was Louis Vuitton in question. And it got me thinking: Where is the line between inspiration and imitation? They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I don’t know who they are, but they’ve clearly never been on the receiving end. This happens on all fronts of the design world, whether it's writing, architecture, art, fashion, graphic design, photography etc... at what point does inspiration become straight up imitation?
Within the worlds of Pinterest and Instagram, “inspo” is one of the most commonplace phrases. Wherever we look there are people posting the most amazing things; whether it's a killer outfit, designing a gorgeous architecture diagram (can you tell what I studied?), coming up with catchy music, or capturing the best photographs. The internet is the perfect place to be inspired, and so I often look to Instagram or Pinterest a source. I even started doing the same by showing photos I take, places I visit, and what I wear. If you’re looking for anything, the internet has an answer and a pretty picture to boot. Being inspired by others is a beautiful thing and being inspirational is a truly virtuous quality.
But to what extent do we lose ourselves trying to copy someone else? With my portfolio, I'd find examples everywhere. I'd be drawn to a certain color scheme or diagram angle - that's inspiration. Tracing over the actual "inspiration" - that's imitation. Most of us have probably copied something at one point in our lives, whether it's a friend's homework or Sparknotes for a paper, or even another person’s outfit. The beauty of inspiration is finding a starting point to what you like, but adding your own personal style and twist to it. Something that makes it yours.
Where is the line?
Over the years I have read about imitation, specifically in the design world of fashion and architecture (maybe because those are my top interests). The point is, is there any room for individuality? Pick anything out and I guarantee you can trace different sources of inspiration. In school, I was taught to look back at Mies, Corbusier, and everyone in class was. The idea was to take their techniques and teachings as inspiration. So I'm pretty sure almost any new design can be traced back to Corbusier or Zaha Hadid. From there it can probably be traced back to even Ancient Roman architecture. More often than not, everyone's drawing from the same sources. What makes it unique, is being ourselves. We are all different people; the way I translate something isn't the same way my friend would. Ultimately we are individual people who share a common passion.
The problem with imitation in the fashion industry is that it relies on trends. You can bet that if Gucci is selling something one day, then Topshop has made a more affordable version the next, and within a week it will be available to the masses through Forever 21. Is that okay? I’m not sure. I've read countless articles of these fashion brands being sued by small artists on Society 6 whose works have been imitated and sold without any recognition or consent. For a brand like Okhtein, one that I've witnessed grow and grow over the years, I'm sure the last thing these girls want, after all their hard work, is someone telling them, "Hey your design looks just like Louis Vuitton's new bag." And the truth is maybe Louis Vuitton didn't draw inspiration from their bag, maybe both designers found inspiration from the same sources and the different final products are just similar. Does it still suck? Yeah it does. When a huge brand looks or sounds so similar to smaller designers (whether in fashion or graphic design, architecture, music) everyone will see the bigger brand over yours. If the work is that great though, I think you're able to stand on your own and make it in the long run. You can't fake or copy true talent.
Even on this website I've started, at the bottom of each post I try to link similar products. The varsity sweater I'm wearing is from 2014, I bought this sweater when I first moved to Miami (and then never wore it in that heat). When you type it in google, almost every single sweater looks the same. I found it at Rag & Bone and it's trickled down all the way to Forever 21. Do I care? No, not really - the more affordable the better. I prefer design and quality over brand, but I'm not the original designer (doubt Rag & Bone is too). I decided to pair it up with the gingham pants & black heel booties to dress it up for my lunch in Soho. Do I care if someone else copies the exact outfit? Again no, it's why I publicly post my outfits, but I still encourage adding your own touch to it. Either adding a scarf, different shoe choice, the way you style your hair, or anything to make it your own. If you’re doing something that makes other people think ‘Wow! I wish I’d thought of that!‘ then I can guarantee that whatever it is, you’re doing it right. Nobody can do you better than you can, and that means that if you’re trying to be someone else then essentially you are always going to be a second version. There is nothing wrong with fitting in just as there is nothing wrong with standing out. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else’s choices and channeling them into your own too. Most people would probably agree that rarely any of us reinvent the wheel. If I worked 4 months on a studio project design, and the following year someone else copies my exact design - then yeah I would mind. If it inspired them to channel it in their own interpretation, then no I wouldn't mind. Sometimes it's okay to take a moment to feel proud: you've inspired someone who's probably just learning the craft.
These might seem rather “philosophical” questions. How much of ourselves need to show for it to still count as inspiration? Where does the line between being inspired and imitated blurred? And is it always a big deal?