Fashion Reverie looks back on the controversial fashion brand, Imitation of Christ. Like several popular fashion brands launched in the early 2000s—Heatherette, Cloak, Juicy Couture, Winter Kate, House of Harlow, and Baby Phat— Imitation of Christ was initially heavily associated with celebrities. Founded by art students Tara Subkoff and Matthew Damhave, Imitation of Christ evolved from an art collective in 2000 to a full-fledged fashion brand by 2001. Initially the brand was composed of recycled clothed, restructured and resewn by Subkoff and others, but transitioned into a brand that consisted of easy staple items with a bit of edge.
Former art students Matthew Damhave and Tar Subkoff launched Imitation of Christ in 2000 as a an art collective, borrowing the name from a song by the Pyschedelic Furs and the 15th century devotional text. Subkoff and Damhave transitoned their art installations to a fashion line because critics and viewers mistook the art collective as a fashion collection. While the fashion collection was highly constroversional with unorthodox themes—fashion shows were sometimes held in odd places, like a funeral parlor with models demanding money from the audience or models being topless vacuuming carpets—the brand was praised by critics for its creatively beautiful garments.
Imitation of Christ, early on garnered a cult following by those who saw the clothes as wearable art. As explained by Subkoff, “we were talking about waste, throwing things away, and taking something that’s old and making it new again, putting the human hand back into a world that wreaks of manufacturing. It felt very appropriate to do that in 2000. When we started it was such a different time. You could talk about issues like globalization; you could talk about free trade. Then, September 11th happened and the entire world changed. Everything became irrelevant. Everything we were saying and doing became so overshadowed by fear and false patriotism.”
Many celebrities were involved with the fashion brand, now operating under Opening Ceremony, with Chloe Sevigny coming on as creative director and also modeling in the shows and Scartlett Johansson also modeling the collections. With the departure of Matthew Damhave, in 2007 Subkoff sold Imitation of Christ to Josh Sparks, former CEO of Sass and Bide for a reported $2 million dollars. “The name got so big, and it appeared to be such a giant success, but like most things that are artistic and creative and amazing, it was never this financial powerhouse. It was an art project. It was rewarding to spearhead, and it was a great collaboration with Matt Damhave and so many other amazing people, but I had to work about four or five other jobs—a shoe collaboration with Easy Spirit and consulting for Sara Lee Apparel (which owned Wonderbra, Hanes, and Playtex)—just to keep the company afloat,” explained Subkoff in a popsugar.com article.
However, after the brand went under financially, Subkoff relaunched the company in 2011 under the name Imitation. In relaunching the brand, Subkoff detailed, “I’m inspired by Coco Chanel and her use of jersey. I’d like to do that with Imitation. I want something as effortless as a T-shirt, but in dress, trench, and jacket shapes.”