It’s a practice distinct from duping or knocking off a luxury brand — one closer to “fan art,” mcLean says. Drawing from the long tradition of streetwear-turned-luxury designer Dapper Dan (“My biggest bootleg idol,” says this dan), whose unsanctioned flips of Gucci and Louis Vuitton prints launched him to fame, mcLean sees her remixed items as a tip of the hat to luxury brands.
“It’s not ripping off somebody’s design, but more like, I respect you and I see you and I see that you do these cool things and I wanna be like you but I don’t wanna be you,” explains mcLean. (Her website includes a lengthy disclaimer stating all her designs are “repurposed, re-worked, or pre-owned.”)
“I have friends that have hit me up from Louis Vuitton, [saying], ‘Hey, just so you know, our big boss came in last week and they want one of your necklaces.’” The big brands understand “I’m not their competition,” she says.
In the fashion industry, corporate behemoths can crank out trendy clothes fast and cheaply, in many cases due to questionable working conditions. Mass-produced apparel items may be blatant copies of designs by small independent shops like mcLean’s, or cribbed from organic street styles.
While mcLean creates one-of-a-kind homages using labels from high-fashion garments, she would never be OK with the big suits taking her ideas. It’s all about the balance of power. Which is why she’s more than happy to teach a friend, fan or fellow designer how to make their own versions of mcLean originals using secondhand materials.