there ain’t much originality anymore…

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04/11/2010 by Sarah Ritchie

Back in the 80s my mother worked as a patternmaker for one of New Zealand’s top fashion designers. I would watch how the wealthy women would fawn over this man – eagerly anticipating the original, one-of-a-kind marvel that they would end up parading at some A-list event. I think those clients would have been interested in what was going on – in the hallowed design den – when they were not looking!

In the interest of speed and expediency this designer would use an existing dress pattern (as a “block”)  – such as Butterick or Vogue – tweak it a tiny bit, select $300 per metre fabric, add a few expensive trims (which he was renowned for) and – voila – behold, an haute couture original! Shock! Horror! I probably thought so too, once, but not now.

A very similar practise goes on in the graphic design world. Web and HTML email template sites abound for “re-skinning” and the work of a million designers is just a Google search away. It is far quicker to take the “flavour” of an existing design and mould it to suit your client’s needs.

The reality is that very few clients are able – or willing – to pay for the time it takes to create a truly orginal design. It seems the average designer is rarely able to demonstrate uniqueness, and is forced to walk the fine line between originality and plagiarism to pay the bills.

Fine artists – I would presume – would fall into exactly the same trap. It would be so easy to replicate the style, subject mater or technique of artists you admire.

It is rather sad when “originality” (in any creative field) turns out to be your USP (the “unique selling point” that sets you apart from the masses)…but, if you CAN show originality, what a huge advantage you have!

The next time you commission your one-of-a-kind evening dress or $50,000 annual report, remember that even the wisest of the wise – King Solomon – wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (3,000 years ago), “there is nothing new under the sun“!


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