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Can bootlegging ever be considered an art form?

We hosted a panel discussion with Photo London which invited three artists and designers to discuss bootlegging in relation to their own practices

Sampling has always been around in music, but recent years have seen a rise in art and fashion bootlegging, with Fendi bootlegging Fila, and Diesel creating a fake store to sell their own real/fake merch. This boom in the popularity of bootlegging has raised questions of identity, authenticity and appropriation – how far is too far?

Earlier this month, kicking off a partnership between Dazed and Photo London, Dazed’s head of fashion Emma Allwood hosted a panel called “Bootlegging as an Artform”, and invited designers and artists Alex Hackett aka Mini SwooshCharlotte-Maëva Perret, and Kingsley Ifill, to join the conversation. Tickets to the next talk are available here, and Dazed readers also receive a 30 per cent discount on tickets to Photo London in May (16 – 19 May). Below we recap what we learned.

“There was definitely a gap in the market for what I wanted to wear. I wanted to make a Nike outfit glamorous, I wanted to make a Nike ball gown, I wanted to make a thing I could wear to the club” – Alex Hackett

IT’S ABOUT MAKING SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF

Alex Hackett: There was definitely a gap in the market for what I wanted to wear. I wanted to make a Nike outfit glamorous, I wanted to make a Nike ball gown, I wanted to make a thing I could wear to the club. It was kind of filling a gap in my wardrobe that I wanted to have a swoosh on. It was like putting their logo on something else but doing it in a legitimate way by using their materials.

You have to take into consideration the legality of what you're doing and like there's a fine line between reconstruction and reappropriation, and just making a replica fake.

IT EXISTS ON THE EDGE OF BEING ILLEGAL

Charlotte-Maëva Perret: Bootlegging is about doing something slightly illegal or something you're not meant to do, or don't own. That's the same approach when it comes to practice. It really infiltrates spaces that we aren't familiar with, so I guess the idea of bootlegging for me is a methodology, kind of like a tool or a way by which I think. Not everything I do will be about copying something, but it's more in the process of developing a project, something subversive or something on the edge of being illegal.

When it comes to the stage where someone wants to buy a piece, I do have this moment where I think what does this mean, where do I stand, is this capitalising on something that isn't somehow completely mine, do I get into this or do I stick to what I do? The answer I found is what my work tries to do is point out those questions. To say okay, who owns what.

EVERYTHING IS BOOTLEGGED

Kingsley Ifill: Whatever is being done now has been done before – it’s the same. I can think of ten young artists that are just getting successful who paint what Picasso painted. They just change it up a little bit. It's almost like everything is bootlegged.

IT’S ABOUT POWER BALANCES

Charlotte-Maëva Perret: Bootlegging is a never-ending loop of dissemination of an idea that is recuperated by the person in power. There’s always a crowd that will try to take something over, or fight back or resist. They will try to find their own language to express themselves through fashion and try and fight that hegemony power.

Fashion has always looked at stuff that has happened on the street, or at street photography, or anything that is disregarded or doesn’t shout luxury, to find a sense of authenticity or a real sort of connection with something real.

IT SHOWS HOW LOGOS HAVE BECOME A PART OF OUR LANDSCAPE

Kingsley Ifill: Logos are a part of consumer culture that you can't hide from. Once upon a time, someone might paint a fruit bowl or a grass hill, but we're part of a society that has a lot of logos now. In 100 years time, in 20 years time, or whatever, we'll be walking through the National Gallery and see Nike (in a painting) – that’s what’s going on here and now.

IT’S ABOUT PERSONAL BRANDING

Alex Hackett: I love the personal brand. I've been creating a personal brand for myself for at least five years. I was fascinated by this idea that you could create a personal brand for yourself and truly embody. I always thought that there was this strong correlation between a company's brand ethos and your own ethos as an individual. That's literally what my Instagram account is, it's a persona. But it's not false. I think people can feel trapped in their online persona, but perhaps that's because they're not being true to themselves, or they've invested too much into up keeping something that isn't them. But you can't really deny that everyone has a personal brand, it's just a term to describe your personality. When you walk into a room at an event you are technically marketing yourself. They're scary terms to attach to you as a person but it's an interesting way of looking at social interactions and how you present yourself.

IT HIGHLIGHTS THAT FASHION COULD BE MORE SUSTAINABLE

Alex Hackett: When a lot of people make a purchase they don't think about it as a long term purchase. People aren't thinking about buying something they're going to have in 50 years time. For them, the life span of that garment is perhaps a year or six months. I think we all need to reflect on that lifespan and think about how we can reinvent it and how we can make it last long. Hopefully there's a shift in the market to people appreciating the quality of garments, the production techniques, and also working with sustainable methods and pre-existing products.

Because of the prices of working with reconstructed products, you have to completely deconstruct it to see what you're working with. You have to press it, apply it to patterns, you have to pattern cut exactly so that there’s minimal waste. There's no point making a reconstructed garment if in the process there’s 20-50 per cent waste. That doesn't really make sense to me.

Reworking reconstructed pieces is just the tip of the iceberg of the fashion industry in terms of sustainability. If you don't work in fashion, you don't consider the offcuts of pattern cutting. You’re cutting out a piece of fabric and there's so much spare fabric that literally goes into the bin.