Artist Abigail Glaum-Lathbury Is Reimagining Luxury Clothing

On a Friday in March, Abigail Glaum-Lathbury made her way through the Gucci store on Fifth Avenue, browsing items from a Balenciaga collaboration, the 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 There were bags whose interlocking G’s had been replaced by back-to-back B’s and jackets printed “Gucci” in Balenciaga’s house font — codes that, in their myriad reinterpretations, are some of the clearest and most coveted markers of luxury. .

Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury picked up a Balenciaga purple stretch top with Gucci’s signature green-and-red stripes. The $2,700 price tag suggested quality and craftsmanship: fine fabrics, perfect seams, hand-embroidered details. But the shirt was made of polyester; the stripes, Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury noted, were digitally printed on the fabric’s bias. It kind of looked like a counterfeit, and that was the whole point: the designers were trying to get consumers to think about value.

A saleswoman approached her and asked: “Do you make clothes?” Designers, he said, are the only people who look so closely at the garments in the store. “Nobody inspects the stitching,” he said.

Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury, 38, is a clothing designer, although her own small and short-lived label folded nearly a decade ago. Now an associate professor of fashion design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she spends her spare time working on personal and conceptual projects that explore the qualities that make a garment desirable.

“One of the many, many things I love about clothing is that it’s naturally social,” she said. An earlier project she worked on, a utilitarian jumpsuit that comes in over 200 sizes, was created to spark discussions about the quality of disposable, ill-fitting fast fashion; another, drawing up plans for a collective of “community-supported underwear,” was intended to spark conversations about ethical and sustainable production.

Neither caught the attention of major fashion brands, but she hopes her latest will. Called the Genuine Unauthorized Clothing Clone Institute, it revolves around what Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury has called “clothing clones”: clothes whose patterns are made from mirror selfies she took in luxurious fitting rooms. Back in her studio, she edits each image to blur any trademarked or copyrighted patterns — the signature Gs, for example — and crops them to isolate the perimeter of the garment. She then prints the image on fabric, creating a pattern for a new garment.

While the project’s initials may spell “GUCCI,” Ms. Glaum-Lathbury has taken selfies with several designer brands, including Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce & Gabbana. (A legal document prepared during the development of her project also references a fashion house in its title, its policy regarding the rating of design accents, embellishments and attributes, or PRADAAA.)

The items are not for sale, but patterns are free to download from the project website, as well as video instructions for making each garment. And while Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury wears out the pieces in the world, she’s less interested in their functionality than in how they represent “the overlap of process, history, and legality.”

About six years ago, when Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury first began photographing herself in fitting rooms, Gucci had recently filed a trademark lawsuit against Forever 21; a bomber jacket sold by the fast fashion company had a striped band at the collar and hem that resembled the sort of Gucci trademark in 1988. It was the ultimate luxury lawsuit against a company that owned one of the most valuable assets of the house had discounted: its intellectual property. (Gucci won.)

The case inspired Ms. Glaum-Lathbury to provide legal commentary on every aspect of the Genuine Unauthorized project, including the design of the garments and the website on which they appear, which is also intended to parody the Gucci website. She consulted extensively with a team of law students led by Amanda Levendowski, the founder and director of Georgetown University’s Intellectual Property and Information Policy Clinic, to ensure that the Genuine Unauthorized project does not break the boundaries of trademark and copyright law. would violate.

By immersing herself in fashion law, she talks to her students about the industry they may soon enter. She plans to use Genuine Unauthorized as the basis for a book and lecture series. But for now she focuses on the artistic side.

Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury pins selfies in various outfits on the whiteboard in her art studio in Chicago: 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 her process: a dress within a dress, perhaps fit for a cartoon villain, or separately digitally fused into a balloon-like jumpsuit.

The actual silhouettes of designer clothes are not legally protected from counterfeiting, according to Alexandra Roberts, a professor at the Franklin Pierce School of Law at the University of New Hampshire, but the prints, logos and patterns with logos are.

“That’s kind of the point of trademark law,” said Ms. Roberts. “So often what people pay for is just the name.”

With her focus on trademarks, Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury follows a long line of designers whose work has challenged prevailing ideas of originality, brand equity and desire.

In the 1980s, a tailor named Daniel Day printed fashion house logos on streetwear silhouettes at his Harlem boutique; though the practice closed his business a decade later after attorneys for the brand knocked on the door, Dapper Dan, as he’s known, has been embraced by Gucci ever since.

Virgil Abloh, another streetwear champion, often said that an existing garment only needs a 3 percent adjustment to be considered new. While campaigning against exclusivity in the luxury world, he also climbed to great heights at LVMH before his death in December.

Even the fashion houses have addressed these questions by partnering with brands outside the luxury realm.

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

In a way, her work resembles that of MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based creative collective whose troll-like product releases seem to be meant to tease coveted brands like Nike and Hermès. But while her creations are not for sale, theirs are.

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

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

After reviewing the inventory at the Gucci store, Mrs. Glaum-Lathbury went to Canal Street to check out the counterfeit goods being smuggled to tourists — people longing for the status a Gucci handbag confers, or at least a convincing one. facsimile.

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

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


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