Knock Off: The Culture of Counterfeit

fakesCounterfeits are all around you: cigarettes and pharmaceuticals, cameras and calling cards. The financial value of the global trade in counterfeits is upwards of $600 billion. At the top of the list of the “most wanted knock-offs” are luxury goods, which account for one fifth of all counterfeiting: the Louis Vuitton purse you can’t afford but simply must have; the designer perfume in the etched glass bottle; the Nike tennis shoes that haven’t been released yet. Designers decry the loss of revenue, international licensing groups investigate cartels, and law enforcement raid back-alley vendors. But the stuff keeps coming. Building upon my past and present research on the development of the American fashion industry, my multimedia project, Knock Off: The Culture of Counterfeit asks and answers “why?” and “how?”

Knock Off is global. The counterfeit luxury goods industry is by its very nature an international story, one that travels from French fashion houses to Chinese sweat shops to warehouses in the Weehawken. Knock Off is innovative. This projects steps beyond the boundaries of traditional scholarship and into the multimedia presentation of research. The Knock Off website serves as a resource to scholars and other researchers, but also to the tens of millions of culture-savvy information seekers. This is not your grandfather’s dog-eared history book. It is a digital project for the digital age. Knock Off is interdisciplinary. This project blends ethnographic methodology (on-the-ground investigation) and historical inquiry (archival research) with sociological theory (think Thorstein Veblen on Canal Street). Most significantly, this work is object-based. The physical “knock offs” are front and center—documented, dissected, discussed: the study of material culture at its most revealing.