They’re all over the place these days, those brimmed hats covered in gold pins: 28th Street, Canal Street, Flushing. Made in China with cheap plastic, you can buy them for a few bucks — and for the men behind the design, their ubiquity is both a compliment and a curse.
“A friend told me he’s seeing them around London now,” said Maximo Garcia, the marketing force behind B.Gold NYC, whose Sigil collection sparked a flurry of imitations once 50 Cent and other high-profile clients began wearing the distinctive hats.
Garcia spoke with a combination of pride and exasperation familiar to many in the fashion industry whose designs are consistently ripped off by savvy trend-watchers with capital to spare.
The exposure helped create buzz for their new line, and for Garcia and his partner, designer and Brooklyn native Winston B. Holder, it was proof that they were onto something.
“If you’re getting ripped off, you’re doing something right,” Garcia said.
But the proliferation of bootlegs also diluted their brand and forced them to go commercial, selling Sigil online and out of their store in SoHo.
And with no legal recourse available to them as long as the bootlegs don’t attempt to pass themselves off as the real thing — “You can’t copyright putting a gold pin on a hat,” Garcia said — their only option is to try and stay one step ahead of the game.
On a recent day in May, Holder and Garcia stopped by their midtown showroom, companionably abuzz with activity as a small group of 20-somethings worked on hand-sewing the gold pieces to the hats. In keeping with B.Gold’s roots, every piece was hand-cast in Brooklyn.
But while they keep pace with demand for established collections, Holder and Garcia are always looking forward.
“The basic idea now is to make things that are hard to imitate,” Holder said, rifling through a clothing rack and pulling a few of their newer designs, a blend of urban and high-end fashion. Some pieces featured featured diagonal zippers and elaborate cowl necks; others, unusual combinations of fabrics, like denim jackets with leather sleeves.
The arms-race approach may be the only real option available to B.Gold and their fellow designers for the foreseeable future, as the Innovative Design Protection Act, introduced in 2012 by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer in an effort to protect one of the city’s hallmark industries, stalled out in Congress at the beginning of this year.
If passed, the legislation known as the “Fashion Bill” would have provided a measure of protection to original designs that could be shown to be thoroughly unique and distinguishable. But the clock ran out on the 112th Congress, and the bill died with it.
Schumer has long been a proponent of amending Chapter 13 of the Copyright Act to include fashion design as a protected art form, and he isn't done yet. The 2012 version of the bill marked the sixth time he has introduced this kind of legislation, and he plans to put it back on the table.
In the meantime, B.Gold and the gang will just have to keep outsmarting the copycats. Perhaps their most imitation-proof design was in the hands of model and designer Sebastian Lund, who sat on the floor in the corner tinkering with a hat he had rigged up with a complicated web of wiring.
“Got it,” he said finally. To the delight of everyone in the room, red lasers flashed from the hat’s brim. Lund’s fellow model Shauna Bennet put down her own work to take a drag from a cigarette and blow smoke across the beams of light.
The hat, Holder explained, was specially designed for 50 Cent to wear on stage, and was still a work in progress.
“At first the lasers were supposed to point down,” he said with a laugh. “But we don’t want him to blind the audience.”
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