15 August 2019

The subtle art of plagiarism in the fashion industry

"As it is said, imitation is the greatest form of flattery."

Known in the fashion industry for her unique style, over the past couple of months Billie Eilish has been successfully collaborating with multiple brands. Only last month, she announced her oversized fashion line in collaboration with Freak City, a brand she has often worn on stage.

Last week she announced her latest endeavour, a Billie Eilish x Siberia Hills clothing collaboration, comprised of two hoodies and a t-shirt. Available to pre-order on her own website, the line was cancelled only a few days ago, after fans pointed out that the artwork used on the items of clothing was ripping off an anime fan artist’s work.

Siberia Hills then took it to Instagram to apologise for what happened: “To the talented artist Mr. M_Qurokawa, we apologize for taking your artwork for our merchandise collaboration with Billie Eilish. Billie and her team were not aware we used your art, they just believed in the product.

“We were the creative force behind this collaboration. To Billie, and her fans, we apologize for causing this issue. These items will not be released. To those who already purchased, you will be refunded.”

Unfortunately, this is certainly not the first time the fashion industry has had to deal with plagiarism and, to this day, few people are exposing the industry’s dirty laundry quite like the two fashion experts behind the Diet Prada Instagram account.

From Marques Almeida ripping off Nicolas Ghesquière’s iconic Balenciaga collection to Moschino copying a vintage John Galliano for Dior haute couture gown and Staud ‘paying tribute’ to Miu Miu with a scarily similar pair of kitten heels (they had that down to a T, if you ask us).

But what happens when small artists, workers and illustrators pay the price? In 2018, Diet Prada accused Giorgio Armani of copying Frédéric Forest’s work. They wrote: “Haute couture continues to underwhelm this season. A tip to @giorgioarmani: reproducing that unauthorized @fredericforest drawing with embroidery does not make it your own and tbh kinda takes away the magic of couture. Many other fashion houses have collaborated with him…why can’t you?”

The same year, Edda Gimmes, a Norwegian designer, accused Jeremy Scott (and the Moschino brand) of taking a bit too much inspiration from her Spring 2016 and Spring 2017 collections. “Today I woke up extremely disappointed and to a full inbox of people who know my work and saw yesterday’s Moschino collection,” she wrote on Instagram. “I understand we are in an industry that carries inspiration from each other and as it is said, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But it is disheartening to see, after having a meeting with someone from Moschino in New York in November last year, showing this person absolutely ALL My work and My original sketchbooks and ideas.”

This is, of course, not the first time Jeremy Scott has been accused of copying someone else’s work without credit. In 2013, graphic artist Jimbo Phillips sued the fashion designer over some prints that had been used in his AW13 collection and, in 2016, graffiti artist Joseph Tierney sued the Italian fashion house over its AW16 collection featuring some of his work. That lawsuit was then settled, but only after the brand argued that “it would make no sense to grant legal protection to work that is created entirely illegally.”

More recently, Diet Prada posted that Mexico was having a moment and it definitely wasn’t just due to the border wall. “Motifs from their local arts and crafts seem to be popping up everywhere. Papel picado at @craig__green, serape stripes at @carolinaherrera, and Otomi embroidery at both CH and on a @louisvuitton x @rawedgesdesignstudio chair.” The issue? None of these brands were, of course, crediting the artisans.

“All these brands could take a page out of @hermes’ book. In 2011, the French luxury brand partnered with the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City to work with local artisans to reproduce the Otomi embroidery motifs as prints for their silk scarves. With a world of inspiration at the click of a button, designers and corporations need to exercise due diligence as their efforts can have a greater global impact than simply spurring fashion’s next trend,” the account explained.

Surely, every industry faces plagiarism and copycats on a daily basis, but fashion seems to be the place where brands take the issue very lightly. In an industry where fast fashion companies are profiting from high end brands’ designs, and luxury houses are talking a bit too much inspiration from artists and archived pieces, isn’t it time to start using creativity again?

  • words Alice Ierace
  • cover image via @siduations

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