A few years back, the fashion pack wouldn’t be caught dead in a fake. For everyone else, sporting a carbon copy was something to hide at all costs; some sort of dirty secret. Wearing bootleg was something shunned upon – but finally, the days of shunning are no more. Bootlegging has become a viable form of political expression – spearheaded by a slew of young creatives disrupting the fashion industry through and through with their nifty interpretations of popular brand logos and synonymous monograms. The Real Thing at the Fashion Space Gallery, held inside London College of Fashion, is an exhibition that unites such creatives under one roof. Curated by Anastasiia Fedorova, it brings together conversations surrounding immigration, identity, queer culture, and sustainability.

Before actually entering the space itself, the doorway to LCF is guarded by three anonymous figures, dressed head-to-toe in Dr NOKI-NHS. Dubbed the “Mashup king”, Noki’s fashion comes bold and brash, like a technicoloured spew of references to rave culture and noughties sportswear staples, all whilst giving the firm middle finger to fast fashion and Tory policy. Sustainability is a key theme throughout. Fashion fans will instantly be drawn to Ancuta Sarca’s charity shop trainer/ stiletto hybrids, which have been showcased under Fashion East for two seasons now. They’ll also be enticed by the work of Sports Banger, a certified bootlegger famed for his NHS Nike t-shirts, who’s adopted everything from Ralph Lauren logos to heat-sensitive pictures of Pat Butcher to form a satirical back catalog that sparks questions around class and pop culture.

Ancuta Sarca by Simonas Berukstis

Although the exhibition very much focuses on how bootleg culture is shaping the now, The Real Thing gives credit where it’s due to those who paved the way. One of which is Dapper Dan, who’s Louis Vuitton and Gucci mockups were worn by hip-pop’s finest stars, everyone from LL Cool J to Salt-n-Pepa. With the help of Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Dan was able to re-open his Harlem studio back in 2017, where he has since been creating Gucci real-fakes for the likes of Lil’ Kim and 21 Savage.

American rapper Rakim wearing custom jacket by Dapper Dan, 1988 by Drew Carolan

Following in the New-York native’s footsteps, artists such as Hypepeace and Shukri Lawrence are using bootleg to express the importance of global unity and the need for Palestinian queer representation, respectively. In a similar vein, Citizens of Nowhere was born as a positive outlook to channel frustration against Brexit. With the name deriving from a 2016 speech on Brexit by Theresa May that claimed: “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere,” designer Emma Louise Rixhon has reclaimed the phrase as a celebration of migration, channeled through clever adoptions of juggernaut brand logos. Such creatives are pioneering a new design lexicon that gives luxury commodity meaning and purpose, disrupting today’s fashion industry from the outside in. And they’re doing it one Nike swoosh at a time.

‘The Real Thing’ is open at Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion, 20 John Prince’s St until May 2nd. Top image: ‘Logomania’ by Hassan Kurbanbaev, 2019.


Citizens of Nowhere

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