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When Does Drawing Inspiration Go Too Far?

CFDA1

Author: Tracy Matthews

The other day, my friend, Melissa, and I were having a conversation. Not only is she a famous jewelry designer, but a long time friend and now one of my yoga students (triple bonus). She is stoked about what we are doing over here at F&TA to help jewelry designers develop their own brand and vision. Our convo turned to the topic of integrity and how inspiration and individuality have seemed to morph at times into a business of knock-offs and copycats.

When I was first starting out and finding my own creative style, I was definitely influenced by many designers.

I still am. In fact, I can credit Erika Courtney as one of designers who had the biggest impact on my desire to be a jewelry designer. We sold her work at the little boutique I worked at and I just loved her imperfect style. She was a visionary and her work was at the forefront of the expansive fashion jewelry industry that we know today. Her jewelry has evolved over the years as many designers do.

“Le Grand Canal” by Manet

All designers and artists draw inspiration from something. I think back to my art history studies in college. I studied mostly 19th Century European Art and I think back to the inspiration of the Impressionist Masters and how similar their techniques were. Impressionism was born out of a reaction against the traditional forms and subject matters that were deemed acceptable to paint at the time.  Following the lead of their contemporaries, they forged a new movement that changed the landscape of the art community in Paris. Painters like Monet, Degas and Renoir were highly influenced by their mentors, Pissaro, Manet and Boudin.

And if you take a look at their work side by side, you can certainly see the strong influences of their inspiration.

Monet painting

“Bridge at Vetheuil” by Monet

Using sources of inspiration as a platform for art & design is a common practice amongst artists of all types. But when does it go too far?

The fashion pioneers of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, or CFDA, are working towards a law that talks about exactly this. They want to protect our ideas and designs from getting ripped off. A lot of what the CFDA is fighting is the direct copying of awesome, high-selling product. Knock-offs. This hurts the creative atmosphere in the fashion world because it takes the rightly earned revenue away from those designers who had the awesome ideas.

Robin and I have been addressing this question in F&TA Volume 1 with our designers. We believe in the right for designers to have inspiration, however if you want to be considered a serious designer, you need to evolve and develop your own signature style and look. Copycats aren’t cool.

What’s important to figure out is the difference between drawing inspiration like the great masters and completely ripping someone off. Originality, creativity and innovation are highly rewarded in our society and within the design community. Those designers who are making a mark and reach celebrity status are unique and original.

For instance, your work may look totally different from that of your admired designers, but it may have a similar feel. This is something people pick up on. Shoppers at Chanel will also shop at Hermès, not because they make the same items, but because they have a similar feel to their lines.

Qualities, feels, aspects, attributes, things that make a designer’s work special and unique. These things aren’t intellectual property. It’s what a designer does with these things that makes the product their own. That’s why what CFDA is doing is so cool. They’re trying to protect the special things we do, once we figure out how to develop a feel or style.

They have a campaign going on right now with eBay called the “You Can’t Fake Fashion” campaign. They’re selling really great totes while promoting a really great thing.

As a designer who has spent years developing a personal style, I feel really strongly about protecting that. Not because I don’t want competition (I don’t believe in competition anyway), but because I understand how important it is to realize what’s inspiring within yourself. Staying true to that is what maintains your design integrity and keeps you from copying!

Get in on the conversation! Who are your influences? What are you doing to “stand out” from the crowd with your jewelry collection?

Tell us in the comments below or tweet at us @flourish_thrive + @tracymatthewsny + @redbootgal

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