03/11/2016 7:38 AM AEDT

Copycats In The Luxury Sector: Good Or Bad?

Well, that depends on how you look at it.

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Should the average Joe be 'allowed' to look like the elite? With mimicry it's easier than ever.

We don't know about you, but we're finding it harder to tell our Zara from our Miu Miu and H&M from Prada lately.

Gone are the days when there was a great divide between high street (a U.K. term for affordable chain stores) labels and the luxury fashion houses lining the fancy part of town.

Now, you've got a Gucci-esque buckle not only on Gucci loafers but on Seed, Country Road and Witchery footwear, too. It's the very trend of mimicry that sparked a research paper to find out if look-a-likes impact the real deal.

Paul Hanna / Reuters
Find Balenciaga, YSL and Chanel-esque looks all in one place. Zara.

Curtin University researchers have examined how 'mimic' luxury goods impact on the genuine luxury brand's perception, and interesting (but not surprisingly) it found that copycats lessened the perception of the real thing as luxurious, exclusive and desirable.

That's not to say luxury sales were down, as there's a difference between perception and actual transactions. So, is this a good or bad thing? Well, that all depends on who you ask.

"They call them 'inspired' versions, and that's how they get away with it.

Given that the luxury sector -- which includes fashion, jewellery, cars, clothes and tableware -- was worth more than A$220 billion in 2015, it seems folks are still forking out for the real deal.

It's important to note here that we're talking about brands which are legitimate in their own right using design elements of more high-end items or products. We're not talking counterfeits, which is a whole different debate.

"They call them 'inspired' versions, and that's how they get away with it. They may not necessarily be direct design copies, whereas counterfeit products are and they are illegal. Mimicry is legal and much accepted in the market. I'm not sure if you can entirely patent an exact design and so there are certain things and elements that can be copied legally," paper co-author Dr Min Teah, from Curtin's School of Marketing told The Huffington Post Australia.

"In terms of cars, European cars tend to be more commonly mimicked. For example your BMW and Mercedes. We also notice that they cross-mimic as well -- you've probably noticed in the market that sooner or later everything seems to look quite alike. A lot of the Korean, and to certain degrees Japanese cars tend to mimic European cars, too, in terms of the design."

Aly Song / Reuters
De-badge a car and it would be difficult to tell the make these days.

While luxury crosses many markets, mimicry is arguably most evident in fashion.

"There are also other product categories. Zara is a good example. They mimic almost everything from the runway. For example whatever is popular from Prada to Gucci, to all the high fashion, really," Dr Teah said.

While you might assume mimicry is bad for the fancy brands, that's not always the case.

"One of the things we found in the study is that mimicry can actually help a brand trend. 'Value for money' mimicry tends to help to break a trend into the market. It makes a trend more accessible to a larger market and that can actually have a positive effect on the luxury brand itself," Dr Teah said.

Let's go back to the Gucci loafer as a good example. Sure, all of the 'lesser' brands jumping on the same aesthetic serviced their objectives, but it almost certainly would have equated to more genuine Gucci sales, too.

Would-be shoppers spotting the look on aspirational fashion identities and subliminally clocking the look 'everywhere' may spur them to ask for the real-deal big-ticket item for a birthday, or make an investment purchase themselves, whereas if the trend remained solely within the fashion house it's likely these shoppers would have never visited these stores.

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Real Gucci loafers, or a mimic? Hard to tell.

"Most of the time when we're talking about the expensive products, they still have their market. It's more of your younger consumers, say between 18-30, who won't necessarily spend $2000 on an item but might spend $70 on something that looks similar, such as a Zara Prada-lookalike."

Dr Teah said the research showed genuine brands needed to continue to evolve their brand in order to survive.

"For genuine brands to thrive, they would have to continue to innovate and be better at their game but in saying this, copycats also must evolve. Otherwise, both will fade over time," Dr Teah said.

So, mimicry is a thing and it's both good and bad, depending on your credit card limit. It's so commonly accepted that it occurs between mid-level and high-end brands, too.

"For example, Guess has mimicked Gucci's designs. So this being accepted as positive comes down to the different tiers of the brands and their customers. There are also different countries which are more receptive to mimicked products," Dr Teah said.

As for whether the luxury shoppers really care, they're mostly onto the next trend far before we normals learn about it, anyway.

#fashioncopycat #mansurgavriel #mango #bag #designer #fastfashion

A photo posted by Marie Roure (@rollingmarie) on

The paper, titled The Influence of Brand Mimicry on Luxury Brands, was recently published in Luxury Research Journal.

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