hen Kylie Jenner celebrated her 21st birthday in August, the beauty mogul toasted herself in a pair of pink looks: a satin mini dress by Peter Dundas and a sequined strapless romper by LaBourjoisie. The second ensemble, the one that looked as if a tube top and biker shorts took a bath in bubblegum sparkles, was custom, naturally. But if it had hit retail racks, it would have cost $8,000, according to the Kuwait-based eveningwear label.
Encrusted with 70,000 Swarovski crystals, the bodysuit took 10 days to create—and just hours to knock off.
Less than a day after Kylie posted pictures to her Instagram account fast-fashion retailer Fashion Nova shared a $34.99 dupe on its feed, pairing it with the reality star’s birthday pic. The model even mimicked Jenner’s downward gaze and right-foot-forward pose. “Coming Soon!” the caption read.
Kylie’s birthday looks epitomize the brazen, blatant new frontier of fashion fakes. Fashion Nova recreated both of her outfits, as well as the fluorescent pink Yeezy cutout mini-dress Jenner’s sister Kim Kardashian wore that evening, and posted pictures of all three less than 24 hours after the party. “The devil works hard but fashion nova (sic) works harder,” read one viral tweet with screengrabs of the listings. It was punctuated with laugh-cry emoji—and liked by nearly 96,000 people.
So did Fashion Nova have some sort of head’s up, a sartorial equivalent of insider trading? Or was there a design team on standby, yards of glittery polyester waiting to be cut? And is any of this legal?
Fashion Nova has been around for more than a decade but grew in popularity in recent years, flooding the fast-fashion zone with several hundred new styles each week. The clothing is revealing—tight, barely-there streetwear and club attire—but the company is not. Founder Richard Saghian largely avoids the spotlight. A spokeswoman declined or did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Fashion Nova boasts more than 13 million followers on its Instagram feed and an army of 3,000 influencers, known as #NovaBabes, promoting its clothes. That group drove $54.1 million in earned media value, or the value of the publicity it receives via posts and engagement on social channels, from the second half of last year through the first half of this year, according to Tribe Dynamics, a San Francisco-based marketing technology firm. “They run one of the most sophisticated influencer programs that we track,” says Conor Begley, Tribe’s co-founder.
KYLIE’S BIRTHDAY LOOKS EPITOMIZE THE BRAZEN, BLATANT NEW FRONTIER OF FASHION FAKES.
Among those influencers are big-name, well-paid celebrities. Cardi B is rumored to make $20,000 a month with Fashion Nova and has a capsule collection coming this fall. Kylie also has a relationship with the retailer, and Saghian once told The Cut that a post from her can result in $50,000 in sales.
Like many fast-fashion retailers, Fashion Nova offers a healthy share of “inspired by” pieces. Knockoffs are nothing new, although the way Fashion Nova presents them is. Most brands merchandise their recreations discreetly, leaving shoppers and fashion fans to draw their own conclusions. U.K.-based competitor PrettyLittleThing is still selling its recreation of Kendall Jenner’s 21st birthday outfit from 2016, a barely-there silver sequin mini also by LaBourjoisie. But its listing makes no mention of the model.
Fashion Nova, however, connects the dots. Its e-commerce listings for some knockoffs have the Fashion Nova version posted with a picture of the celebrity in her designer outfit. A high-necked white dress on sale for $49.99, for example, is paired with a picture of Cardi B on Saturday Night Live in a strikingly similar Christian Siriano gown. In an e-mail, Siriano told me the knockoffs are “not ideal” due to the potential to dampen his sales—but “flattering at the same time.”
What’s particularly confusing is that original Fashion Nova designs worn by celebrities are merchandised in a similar way. With a knockoff, the celebrity is on the right in the side-by-side pic; with an original FN design, the star is on the left. Shoppers who aren’t paying attention may not notice the difference.
Further complicating things is that not all Fashion Nova recreations are presented with pics of the celeb. The brand knocked off the purple La Perla dress Kourtney Kardashian wore to Kylie’s party with no mention of her. The same is true for the recreation of the black PVC mini Kendall Jenner wore and Khloé Kardashian’s sparkly three-piece ensemble.
Seems so. Clothing is considered a “useful thing,” meaning it serves a purpose (in this case, it literally covers your body). Useful elements of creative things are largely exempt from copyright laws, says Julie Zerbo, an attorney and editor-in-chief of The Fashion Law. Only design elements that could exist on their own, like a print, are actionable, says Zerbo.
What would be grounds for legal proceedings is using the stars’ pictures alongside the knockoffs without permission. Celebrities get to decide how their image is used for selling stuff. “They alone have the right to control how their image is used in a commercial way,”
says Zerbo, pointing to the 2014 case when Katherine Heigl sued Duane Reade after the pharmacy used her picture in a tweet. (Heigl later withdrew her suit after the parties came to an agreement.)
WITH A KNOCKOFF, THE CELEBRITY IS ON THE RIGHT IN THE SIDE-BY-SIDE PIC; WITH AN ORIGINAL FN DESIGN, THE STAR IS ON THE LEFT. SHOPPERS WHO AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION MAY NOT NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE.
Kylie and Kim’s pictures being used to sell knockoff versions of their designer ensembles—in tweets, on Instagram, and on Fashion Nova’s site—as well as their prior sponsored posts on behalf of the brand—would suggest that there’s some sort of relationship. It’s possible their contracts allow such a thing, Zerbo says.
You have to wonder: Would Kris Jenner watch quietly if someone was using her daughters’ images to sell something, and they weren’t getting a cut?
Kylie’s reps declined to comment.
Adding up the evidence—Kylie’s picture on the Fashion Nova site with her duo of dupes, which were advertised less than 24 hours after the designer debut, plus the known business relationship she has with the line—it seems quite possible that Kylie or someone on her team was in cahoots with the retailer, giving it a peek at her sartorial plans before they hit her Instagram feed.
“Woaw,” wrote one reviewer on the product page, three days after it was first advertised. “How in the world did they make this so quickly. You’d think they called her asking what she was wearing for her birthday.”
Kylie or her team definitely tipped off at least one party before her, well, party: the cake baker. The five-tier cake was topped with a platinum-haired Barbie doll, face down into a tiny toilet, wearing a similar pink jumpsuit.
Yet Kylie’s stylist, Jill Jacobs, insists no such fashion arrangement took place. “While in the process of designing the bedazzled jumpsuit with LaBourjoisie, I jokingly said that Fashion Nova was going to have a copy in a week. I was wrong—they had one made within 24 hours,” Jacobs wrote in an e-mail. “There was no heads-up given to anyone; all of the fast-fashion brands were simply on their game.”
YOU HAVE TO WONDER: WOULD KRIS JENNER WATCH QUIETLY IF SOMEONE WAS USING HER DAUGHTERS’ IMAGES TO SELL SOMETHING, AND THEY WEREN’T GETTING A CUT?
Kylie’s reps declined to comment, but even if the team had leaked, Zerbo says there would be no legal issues with that kind of tip-off.
The only risk might be a designer souring on a star and perhaps refusing to dress her in the future. But really, if Kylie comes a callin’, who is going to say no to her and her 118 million Instagram followers? LaBourjoisie founder Antoine Salameh said in an e-mail that dressing Jenner results in a surge of inquiries and new followers.
“For us to be able to dress someone of her stature provides us an unparalleled amount of exposure,” he says. He graciously acknowledged the inevitable high demand for a lower-priced version with this caveat: “We do hope that we are still credited for the conception and creation of the original design.”
So if Fashion Nova truly did this on its own, how did it pull it off?
The most impressive thing it did was post a pic of its rapid-fire recreations so quickly. One-off samples for that purpose are easy to come by, a former high-ranking executive at a Fashion Nova competitor told me. You can make one of just about anything in a day, or even three different styles, as long as you have the staff on hand. Kylie’s birthday celebration was a pre-planned event, meaning Fashion Nova could have had the date it on its calendar (the way eveningwear makers often watch the Oscars red carpet). The brand also has a full-service in-house photo studio, making it painless to have a hair-and-makeup-ready model waiting for a quick shot.
Saleable quantities of a garment—the first 1,000 or even 10,000—is a trickier pursuit. Making a pattern would be easy enough, given that all three of Kylie’s birthday recreations are Fashion Nova style specialties. It practically mints cutout mini dresses and strapless bodysuits (Kylie herself has previously worn a plain black one in an Instagram ad). It’s not a stretch, design-wise, to think that they had those patterns drawn up and adapted them to match the sisters’ looks.
Access to the right, undyed fabric is helpful, too, says Felipe Caro, a professor in the operations management group at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Fashion Nova’s suppliers could have had loads of the nylon-spandex stretch fabric just waiting to become Kim’s pink mini dress.
The biggest time savings comes from producing goods close to shoppers, eliminating transportation time from Asia or even South America, Caro added.
IT’S NOT A STRETCH, DESIGN-WISE, TO THINK THAT THEY HAD THOSE PATTERNS DRAWN UP AND ADAPTED THEM TO MATCH THE SISTERS’ LOOKS.
Fashion Nova declined to comment on its manufacturing process, but Saghian told WWD earlier this year that its buying and design team works with more than 1,000 manufacturers. Many are based in Los Angeles. Indeed, all three of the earliest Kylie recreations are listed as “Made in USA.”
The most revealing tell of all of this may be the actual selling timetable. Fashion Nova first posted pictures on August 10, the day after the party, saying they were “Coming Soon!” But it took more than three weeks, until September 3, for it to advertise two of the three dupes for sale. “The Wait Is Over!” the Instagram caption read. The pink bodysuit was promoted five weeks after the original post.
So yes, Fashion Nova is fast—just maybe not as fast as everyone has been led to believe. But, when you’re spending thousands of dollars less than your fave to look like your fave, does it really matter? Maybe not. As one Fashion Nova reviewer wrote about her Kim lookalike dress, ”This dress is everything! I got so many compliments on it!! I want to wear it everyday for the rest of my life lol.”