//This East West parrot jacket fetched £2,750 at a Christie’s auction last year//
The recent uncredited recycling of a key East West Musical Instruments Co design by both Balenciaga and Urban Outfitters is but the latest example of mainstream designers’ increasingly desperate attempts to plunder the potency of rock and pop fashion (by fair means or foul).
//From Balenciaga Resort 2010//
And the rip occurs at a particularly sticky time for the US trade body the Council Of Fashion Designers, which has launched a campaign for copyright inclusion under the Design Piracy Prohibition Act.Leading the fight is CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg.
Meanwhile, Balenciaga’s garment in its 2010 Resort Collection and Urban’s (for the Pins & Needles label) have both clearly reproduced signature details from East West’s famous “parrot jacket” - so-called because the lapels resemble parrot’s heads. In this particular regard the two new versions were different; the size of the collar was scaled down or reshaped.
//Urban Outfitters Pins & Needles jacket, spring 2009. Now sold out//
The story itself represents another assertion of the dominance of the fashion blogosphere over traditional media, broken as it was by Addicted To YSL and swiftly followed up with informed commentary from the likes of Jezebel.
//Kaisik Wong designs, photography Thierry Mugler from California Fashion Designers. Courtesy Ben Cooney//
These, and many others, have pointed out that Balenciaga’s chief Nicolas Ghesquière has form; back in 2002 he coughed up to plagiarising the intricate work of another San Franciscan favourite of THE LOOK’s, Kaisik Wong, after being exposed by The Daily Beast’s Sameer Reddy (at the time a Hintmag intern who spotted the connection in the wonderful 1974 book Native Funk & Flash).
//Betty Wright in Kaisik Wong, back and front cover, They Say I’m Different, Just Sunshine Records, 1974//
In fact the rip-off revelations had a positive effect: the artistry of the much-neglected Wong (who died from AIDS a relative unknown in 1990) was immediately broadcast to the wider fashion industry.
This spin can hardly be applied to East West. Now among the most famous rock & roll labels of yore and the most collectible in the world, the design spirit has been championed over the last decade by a growing band of fans and collectors, including Romulus von Stezelberger whose South Paradiso Leather continues to produce designs to the original patterns with the blessing of East West founder Norman Stubbs.
//Four of South Paradiso’s East West parrot jackets//
“Once again a great design has been dumbed down,” sighs von Stezelberger, whose company has produced 70 different parrot jackets in denim, velvet, satin, suede and leather. ”This is why I hate the fashion business; they destroy the best part of the design (in this case the parrot-head collar) to make it more palatable.”
Von Stezelberger leaves his customers in no doubt as to who created the design. “Let me tell you, anyone that wants that or any of our East West jackets must go through a long-winded bio on the originator and my affiliation with them,” he adds.
//Right: Original parrot jacket, National Boutique Show catalogue 1973. Courtesy Ben Cooney//
“Every parrot jacket we make is one-of-a-kind,” he stresses. ”No two are in the same colourway, and some have up to 13 different colours. Ours is based on the original East West pre-production model, with a real parrot-shaped beak, more colour applique on the head and more piping to the leaves down the sleeves than on the copies, which always seem to go for the boring earth-tones.
“No-one did it worse than Henry Duarte, with his solid all-black or brown parrot jackets of a few years back. This jacket is supposed to be fantastic and groovy, not something for Sex In The City, trend-following business-women.”