The photo (right) of Frederick Lee at work came to us via WhatsApp around 5pm, shortly after it appeared on the designer’s Facebook page. And it was not just once, but twice (from different senders)! It required no prompting for us to immediately think of Michael Cinco, circa 2014 (picture: left). Should we assume that it was ‘inspiration’ at work, as it tends to be these days?
We are in the era of the Trumps: Donald for “fake news” and Melania for “common words”. The latter’s speech at the Republican National Convention last year was called out for its similarities to Michele Obama’s in 2008. Well, better Michele Obama than Barbara Bush, no? While the media was quick to point out the resemblance, no one really called down the wrath of the plagiarism god. Her minders, conversely, passed her word choice off as ordinary and frequently used.
In design these days, work resembling the creation of others is easily and swiftly called inspiration or, just to be certain reverence is noted, homage. Alessandro Michele, he who has made Gucci over-the-top and feverishly loved, was recently charged for making a jacket for the cruise 2018 collection too alike a particular piece made by an obscure-in-these-parts designer Daniel Day, aka Dapper Dan. When Netizens pointed out the similarities and the original owner of the one-off jacket, Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon, took to Instagram to announce, “As Fashion Repeats We Must Give Credit To The Originators”, Gucci issued a statement to say that the said garment is “homage” to Mr Day “in celebration of the culture of that era in Harlem.”
Similarly, Frederick Lee adulates without a shadow of a doubt when he’s ‘inspired’, not, however, just by birds and flowers, but by the works of individuals in the same trade. It’s not surprising, therefore, that his creativity would be aroused by the work of others, such as fellow designers of the Asian Couture Federation (both Mr Cinco and Mr Lee are members). Keep it within the family since the work of Asian designers is less scrutinized?
Now, he’s gone from China to United Arab Emirates, from omelette to doily. The white, shapely dress in question is, of course, not an exact repro of what we believe to be Michael Cinco’s gown from his couture spring/summer 2015 collection. But you can’t say the colour isn’t similar, nor the placement pattern of the lace/embroidery (here, both had a whiff of the symmetrical patterns of 18th-century damask and brocade upholstery), nor the hip-enhancing silhouette. Sure, Mr Cinco worked his on fine tulle while Mr Lee’s output is realised on netting, but both aesthetics stem from the same sprout.
That there is resemblance may also be less the result of imitation and more the aesthetic similarity between the two designers. Both come from the school of fashion design where adherents love to closely trace the outline of the female body to better define the silhouette. Both have a penchant for dramatic effects and shapes, and both their designs attract women who have no use for the undramatic and the commonplace.
Both, too, have a weakness for dictums and truisms and, more often than not, inanities. Mr Cinco, a Filipino based in Dubai, says, sans irony, on his website, “A Michael Cinco woman is moneyed. She may not be born into royalty but she better be married into one.” Mr Lee loves to assert, as he does on Facebook, similarly stripped of irony, such as: “My brides are a class of their own. What makes you different makes you beautiful.” He is also prone to the lingo of Bryan “I’m so gay I sweat glitter” Boy: “You know you’re putting a good thing out into the universe when you put on glitter.”
Sisters, as the Eurythmics song goes, are doin’ it for themselves. Imitation be damned.
Photos: (left) Ian Gavan/Getty Image, (right) Frederic Lee/Facebook