Viva Aviva: On the Risks and Rewards of Fashion Fame

Photos by Maggie Shannon

Aviva Falk’s South Williamsburg apartment, where she has lived for the better part of a decade, is as full of light, color, and fun as one would expect after seeing the clothes she designs. At once fanciful—think large, lavish ruffles darting down a bodice—and restrained—the lines are clean and the fabrics elegant—Falk’s line, Viva Aviva, holds the distinction of being both whimsical and eminently wearable. There are sleeveless chambray crop tops and full-length, beautifully bustled skirts, lipstick-red jumpsuits and off-the-shoulder ruffled shirts. They’re eye-catching without feeling costumey, and they’ve been embraced by fashionable stores like Intermix and ShopBop, as well as by fashion insiders like Leandra Medine (aka Man Repeller), who has been photographed wearing Viva Aviva many times.

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But, of course, with this level of acclaim comes other forms of attention, including the unwanted notice of labels whose businesses are built on ripping off small independent brands like Viva Aviva, and producing virtually identical, much cheaper versions of the independent business’s designs due to the use of lower quality materials and cheap labor. Recently, this happened with one of Falk’s best-selling tops, when she saw a knock-off on an e-commerce site, and she found herself in the frustrating and helpless position of realizing that even though a wrong could be recognized, it could not be addressed legally.

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“All I have are my ideas and my designs,” Falk wrote to us via email. “I know this happens all the time—larger companies take smaller companies’ ideas and appropriate them as their own and the consumer doesn’t know any better. And hey, their top is $80 cheaper than mine anyway! Yay for sweatshop labor, right?”

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For Falk, who, despite having achieved an enviable level of acclaim and success, still operates with a small profit margin and runs her business with the same kind of scrappy spirit she started out with six years ago, this is a discouraging side effect, not least because of how difficult it is to avoid. But Falk will not be dissuaded from her design ethos, which is based on making the kind of distinctive clothes that she herself has always loved to wear, and whose very nature makes them both incredibly covetable and, it seems, copiable.

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