Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chinese copycats invent the hybrid super-brand

Chinese counterfeiters are possibly the most creative in the world. They take counterfeiting to new heights. Let's not forget that these are the guys who brought us the fake egg - the egg' s shell is made from calcium carbonate while the fake yolk is made from a mixture of gelatine, starch and other chemicals.
Now they have found a great solution to the problem of copying the ever-increasing number of western brands that have taken their country by storm. When only LV and Gucci bags were in demand, they had it easy, but their customers have become more and more demanding, every month a new brand hits the shelves of Chinese stores and keeping up with them has proved difficult. Moreover, these brands churn out new designs every season. Our resourceful copycats never despair and...voila'...they have just come up with the perfect solution. Let's stitch that old Gucci logo onto the leftover LV fabric, add the Prada logo to the Coach design, assemble Burberry's and Fendi's prints, and you reach the fans of two brands with just one product. Lévi-Strauss defined the operation of a mind moving from primitive to modern, scientific thought as 'bricolage': the 'bricoleur' performs his tasks with materials and tools that are at hand, from 'odds and ends.' He draws from the already existent while the modern scientist, according to Levi-Strauss, seeks to exceed the existing boundaries.
The bricoleur deals in signs, whereas the scientist deals in concepts. Concepts open possibilities while signs recycle previously available meanings.

Fashion brands are not "inventing" anything, they just slap their logos on mass-produced goods of dubious quality and through marketing and advertising create the impression of uniqueness and luxury. In fact these branded products are manufactured cheaply in factories where low-paid workers endure sweatshop conditions and then are sold at extravagant prices in swanky boutiques.

By mixing logos Chinese counterfeiters create a hybrid product that reveals the absurdity of people's appetite for brands rather than quality. If there is nothing behind the brand, the logo becomes an unhinged signifier, a free-floating signifier that means nothing beside itself and therefore can be manipulated at will.
I have also good reasons to suspect that the bits and pieces that the counterfeiters assemble, are coming out of the same factories that manufacture them for the big brand in the usual 'Chinese box' system of contractors and sub-contractors.

As Ackbar Abbas argued, the fake has a unique diagnostic value, largely because the question of the fake never involves just the fake alone; it forces us to re-assess all the objects and processes around it, including the global market and media technology. By definition a suspect object, the fake makes us take a suspicious or critical attitude to objects. Through a kind of maniacal imitation, the fake catches the global icon off-guard and reveals something about it that might otherwise be indiscernible.

The hybrid super-brand created by Chinese counterfeiters reveals the misery of the brand...it possesses no intrinsic value. A rag is a rag is a rag.

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