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Why Bootleg Gucci Is, to Some, More Authentic Than the Real Thing

From Dapper Dan to Alessandro Michele: a look at the rise and fall, and rise of fake Gucci logo tees and sweatshirts.
Yoyo Cao in a Gucci logo sweatshirt. Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Yoyo Cao in a Gucci logo sweatshirt. Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

When Alessandro Michele sent T-shirts and hoodies adorned with vintage-inspired Gucci logos down the runway during his cruise 2017 show at Westminster Abbey, I was immediately reminded of Cory Kennedy circa the early aughts. The Los Angeles native and OG internet "It" girl was photographed during her Cobra Snake days in a red sweatshirt with a design much like the one in the photo above. Back then, I immediately scoured eBay for a similar version, and after seeing Gucci's cruise collection, I found myself on the hunt again, finally landing on a knockoff in navy.

Sure, I could've waited around for Michele's "real" designs, but considering the high-end price tags that come with them — a women's T-shirt costs $590 and a men's hoodie is $1,200 — that was out of the question. And although the folks at Gucci claim the logo pieces were inspired by prints from the 1980s, I'd like to agree with a descriptor from Dazed: a "legit item that looked like a bootleg."

Michele has already embraced bootleg culture with the help of graffiti artist Trouble Andrew, whose GucciGhost tags (which he'd been doing before he got Michele's approval) and designs were emblazoned on pieces from the luxury label's fall 2016 collection. A tongue-in-cheek example: a leather tote with the word "REAL" above the molded Gucci name; the other side features the brand's signature webbing as if it was spray painted on. But the Gucci logo tees and hoodies are different. While I applaud Michele's high-fashion take on knockoffs — a common theme as of late, seen in Vetements's parody designs and its "Official Fake" pop-up in Seoul, a nod to the city's own thriving bootleg market — these designs were already a commodity decades ago.

Gucci's logo pieces from its cruise 2017 collection. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images

Gucci's logo pieces from its cruise 2017 collection. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images

"I was laughing and admiring what Gucci is doing now. It's so interesting. It's like, who's copying who?" said Dapper Dan over the phone. The legendary tailor made a name for himself by creating custom designs with Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton logos out of his Harlem boutique. Throughout the '80s, his work was seen on such famous hip-hop artists as LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Run DMC and athletes Mike Tyson and, most recently, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Dapper Dan remembers the first wave of bootleg Gucci logo T-shirts clearly, back in the mid-'80s, when they were produced and sold by Korean and Chinese sellers all over downtown New York City. He said the swift design process involved plastisol transfers, which are printed sheets of paper that place graphics onto clothes with heat. (Think on-the-spot screen-printed hoodies, tees and sweats from shops on the boardwalk.) The ink wouldn't penetrate the fabric, making orders easy and quick. But since the graphic would basically sit on top of the clothing, it was prone to wear and tear.

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Dapper Dan recalls the transfers being stacked on a shop's shelf and, as needed, would be applied onto different shirt sizes. They were cheap and profitable: about $18 or $22 wholesale. "There was no take-back from Gucci at the time so they spread really fast," he said. "What made them successful was because no one had them. No one was doing them at the time." And where exactly were the bootleggers pulling Gucci's logo from? According to Dapper Dan, they were swiped from the label's old packaging design, seen on boxes, dust bags and the like.

New York City street style. Photo: Jamel Shabazz

New York City street style. Photo: Jamel Shabazz

When I found myself trying to cop my own bootleg Gucci in October, I noticed that inventory was slim and there was stiff competition for what was actually available. As I was comparing two sweatshirts on Etsy (shout-out 21stCenturyFresh!), one of them ended up getting sold just before my game-time decision. Vintage sellers are starting take notice and cash in on the hype these days, too. On eBay, two bootleg Gucci items are available at $125 and $149.99 with one or two user views every hour.

Sisqo Alejandro, an online vintage seller from Toronto, has also been marking his bootleg Gucci price tags up to $100. When asked if he prefers the pieces that he's selling or the current high-end version, Alejandro chooses the former since, to him, they feel much more authentic. After all, shoppers, myself included, love a good backstory. Taylor Compton of Oak Forest Vintage agrees: "The history of bootleg Gucci is the big reason why I sell bootleg Gucci. It's true to '80s hip-hop culture and '90s retro clothing."

Of course, Gucci's logo apparel will eventually hit its peak; with people wearing both $100 and $1,200 versions, it's sure to become ubiquitous. Shortly thereafter, Michele will likely have moved on to making the next Gucci "It" item. (Chalk it up to "induced obsolescence.") But in the meantime, I'll revel in this trend as much — and as long — as I please. Chances are, it'll make its way back into the spotlight yet again.

On Instagram, the cult favorite shop Procell in New York City's Lower East Side sums up bootleg Gucci's life cycle well: "In the late '80s everyone had them. In the early '90s people still wore them. In the late 90s they were abandoned. In the early 2000s some cool people rocked them. In the later 2000s they became valuable. Two to five years ago no one cool really cared. Now they're back like cooked CRACK. The immortal #bootleggucci."

Consider me hooked.

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