An issue that had been festering since the German Fetish Ball finally erupted earlier this month when London designer Amy Day (aka Amy Statik) posted an eye-catching set of pictures on her Am Statik Latex page on Facebook.
The composite image (above right) showed, on the left, two pictures of the designer (also known as performer Luna Eve) modelling her iconic unicorn outfit on the catwalk of the 2012 GFB.
On the right were two images of a man at this year’s GFB event in Berlin wearing a similar suit, which the picture caption indicated had been made not by Am Statik but by Fantastic Rubber, the famous German catsuit and corset specialist.
Along with the Facebook images, Amy issued a simple invitation to those viewing them: “Can you spot the difference? Shares, thoughts and support would be much appreciated”.
The reaction on Facebook was fast and furious. Within hours of Amy’s original post on July 13, more than 60 comments had been posted, the vast majority expressing varying degrees of surprise and/or disgust at what they evidently saw as a blatant copy of a unique Am Statik design by another company.
Many of those commenting felt that Fantastic Rubber really should have known better than to accept this commission from one of its regular customers, asserting that it should have refused the job and referred him straight to the original designer instead.
Many also indicted what they saw as the inferior manufacturing quality and colour choices of the ‘copy’. In the minds of these folk, not only was the FR version a copy — it was also a bad copy.
Given the scorn he suddenly found being heaped on his company in this Facebook thread, Fantastic Rubber boss Peter Pick was understandably quick to offer some comments of his own.
He said he knew Am Statik had “made this design” and that when the customer came to him requesting a similar outfit he had indeed told the man to “buy it from Am Statik”.
But apparently the German customer was uncertain about spending money with a foreign label that was, to him, of unknown trustworthiness. He was allegedly suspicious because the website did not carry the business-owner’s details (called the impressum) that are a legal requirement in Germany.
But there is no legal requirement to publish these details on a British website. And it is very common, especially on websites run by female sole traders, for such information to be omitted for reasons of personal security. So these suspicions were completely unfounded.
However, the client also wanted a neck-entry catsuit (a Fantastic Rubber style not available from Am Statik) and was already a satisfied FR customer. So he was more confident that a suit made by FR would fit him.
For these reasons, we are told, the customer decided to opt for the manufacturer he knew and trusted to execute what he has described in an e-mail to me as “a remake, but not 100% copy”.
If you examine the comparison photographs (above right) carefully, you can see that a considerable amount of care was taken to incorporate enough differences to avoid the possibility of the Fantastic Rubber suit being described as an exact copy.
Ironically, however, those differences do not — contrary to a common view expressed by Am Statik supporters on Facebook — begin with the use in the basic catsuit and corset of gaudier latex colours than the delicate pastel green and pink shades of the original.
In fact, both designs use the exact same jade green and bubblegum pink latex, but many people were fooled into thinking the colours were different by the different lighting conditions applying in the 2012 and 2014 images.
Where the real differences are most obvious is in the numerous appliqués on the FR version, which though similar in general style and placement, are mostly different in individual details and colours.
The hood, a separate piece with its ears and unicorn horn, mimics the basic style and colours of the Am Statik original, but exhibits detailed differences such as the addition of a mask. Peter Pick says FR did not make this, but has not revealed who the maker was.
The FR suit also lacks the pony hooves of the Am Statik original.
So, you might think — and this is certainly what supporters of Fantastic Rubber on Facebook and Fetlife asked — what’s the problem?
After all, the FR suit is not an exact copy of the original — even Amy Statik concedes this. And in any case, isn’t it true that anything can be copied in fashion anyway, as long as you don’t actually stick a fake label on it?
Some of the barrack-room lawyers who commented in these threads certainly thought so.
Some also believed (wrongly) that Amy had herself copied her outfit from Hasbro’s My Little Pony toys,
which she readily admits did inspire her. To these folk, that made the FR version merely a copy of a copy.
Importantly, there was no basis for denigrating the actual manufacturing quality of the FR version. Fantastic Rubber manufacturing quality is high, and deriding it was among well-meant but misinformed put-downs by her supporters that the British designer quickly distanced herself from.
So what justification was there, actually, for subjecting the respected Germany manufacturer to a massive storm of public disapproval?
Well here’s my take on it. Let’s start by acknowledging that most latex labels in the west consider there to be a substantial problem with copying of their original designs by unscrupulous companies in China.
Most, however, feel it ought to be possible to trust other ‘legitimate’ designers — industry colleagues with whom they might well find themselves sharing a catwalk, as Am Statik and Fantastic Rubber did in Berlin in 2012 and 2014 — to observe basic ethics and not plagiarise their work.
As reported above, Peter Pick claims he initially turned down the request to produce a similar outfit to the one-off unicorn that had been an Am Statik signature piece since 2012.
But he must also, at some point, have changed his mind and agreed to recreate significant aspects — if not a full replica — of this well-known one-off, resulting in an outfit widely assumed when it was seen in Berlin to have been made by Am Statik.
Let’s accept that there was no intention on Pick’s part to mislead anyone into believing the male outfit was made by Am Statik. But by his producing an outfit with so many overall similarities to her well-known creation, there was surely a reasonable likelihood that many people would be misled, albeit unintentionally.
Shouldn’t Pick have realised this? Shouldn’t he have realised that agreeing to make this particular piece might bring unwelcome consequences — especially if the matter were raised in the court of public opinion?
That single Am Statik post on Facebook — which made no accusations against FR but simply invited people to react to the visual evidence placed before them — was seen by more than 20,000 people.
Amy’s more detailed statement on Fetlife attracted less individual comments but a lot more words of comment, Fetlife discussions tending to be more in-depth than those on Facebook (it’s a shame it’s been deleted).
That adds up to a helluva lot of people who mostly support Am Statik forming a view of Fantastic Rubber likely, at the very least, to be less favourable than it previously was. Even if all those threats never to buy from the Berlin label were just hot air, it’s not exactly great PR for FR is it?
And as for the customer’s belief (expressed in his e-mail) that it was “a great honor for Am Statik that somebody created a remake, but not 100% copy”, I should imagine he knows by now that this is a view not widely shared.
The legitimate latex industry is small and designers work hard to establish their place within it. The typical latex designer has a love of the fabric and a strong desire to put their own creative stamp on the latex clothing scene.
Most of the designers I know strive hard for visible originality in their work, since it’s a key way to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Any designer should expect to trust fellow designers not to copy their work, and should be expected to make a fuss if they discover it has happened.
If another label produces a lookalike similar enough to be taken for the work of the original designer, when the original designer is producing work as distinctive and recognisable as Am Statik’s, that label surely only has itself to blame for the extent of any ensuing public row.
Any designer should expect to trust fellow designers not to copy their work, and should be expected to make a fuss if they discover it’s happened.
Sunday, 20 July 2014