Who owns an idea? Well, it depends on who you ask. As a visually-led industry that trickles down from the top, discussion about intellectual property theft and copying in fashion can tread us through some uncomfortable waters. On the other hand, a creative process that’s limited to insert-trend-copy-and-paste is a nail in the coffin for original design.
In the past 12 months alone, serial offender Gucci has been accused of stealing alien designs, snake logos, tiger motifs, and a jacket design from Dapper Dan. Is it fair that Gucci has also been one of the most hyped brands of the year with an equally huge boost in revenue and profits?
While theft in fashion is not a new concept, access to decades of online archives has allowed some eagle-eyed fashionheads to call out this copycat culture and hold idea-thieves accountable. Diet Prada began in 2014 as an anonymous Instagram account publicizing these instances and engendering a much-needed debate from their followers about where we draw the line. With originals on the left, and the accused plagiarist on the right, Diet Prada is the online authority on who’s ripping off who. The freefall discourse that lives in internet comment sections has people making cases for both sides, and it’s seen Rihanna’s core fanbase turn ugly when Diet Prada noticed a very sus similarity in some art direction for Fenty Beauty.
We caught up with them to find out how the interminable spread of copycat culture is killing the industry right now and how to remedy it.
So… who are you?
“We like to think of ourselves as the love child of Tim Blanks and Cathy Horyn. Fashion critique runs in our blood. Together, we’ve worked within the fashion industry in several different capacities, so our scope of view is pretty wide.”
What provoked you to start this account?
“We were working together at one point and in our research, kept seeing copies over and over again. We would do these live roasts of collections and thought it was lol enough to put online.”
How do you decide when something is theft and when it is “inspiration”? Who are the worst offenders in your opinion?
“When it’s from a place of love (and credited) its inspiration. If you’re trying to keep the reference quiet and cash in off of someone else’s proven success, then you’re into theft territory. Case in point: the J.W. Anderson Pierce bag detail that he ripped from Hermes.”
Why do you think we see less original design than we did 20 years ago, is the internet inhibiting our creativity?
“A combination of just far too much information available combined with the volatile tides of retail. Nobody is taking a chance on unproven ideas. It can be hard to sit down and force yourself to design from scratch or a concept without pulling references from other brands but it can totally be done! Margiela said things with his designs, Virgil “says things”. There’s also a homogenization in design right now because everyone is looking at the same designers.”
You called Virgil Abloh a luxury knock-off business, do you think there is some self-awareness of this on his part? Is it just the zeitgeist now to sample something that came before you?
“We call it luxury knock-offs because he presented a pretty dramatic shift in aesthetics this past season. He’s created an undeniably powerful image, but there’s often a big disconnect when you see the general public wearing it. Every designer has to grow up at some point. Some dig deep to find something unique and some just turn to something that’s been done before. In referencing some of the masters like Margiela and Lang (an influence can’t be denied right now), Virgil’s designs fall a bit flat as he doesn’t have the same intellect. It’s all coming from a totally different place. Margiela said things with his designs, Virgil “says things”. There’s also a homogenization in design right now because everyone is looking at the same designers.”
As nearly all good design drips down to a knock off in a high street store, do you think copying in fashion in inevitable?
“Copying is definitely inevitable but it doesn’t mean consumers have to give into it. 90% of the people shopping at Zara probably don’t even know they’re buying a knockoff. When good designs are rendered in cruddy materials they cease to be a good design anyway. We choose not to focus on fast fashion chains like Zara and H&M, because knockoffs are their business model… there’s nothing surprising or interesting when you find their copies. It’s when other luxury or high-end brands pretend to have an identity or point of view, but are really just piggybacking on someone else’s aesthetics.
The copycat culprits also change with seasonal or macro trends. Often when a new wave ushers in, the “me too” brands grapple to find a strand in their DNA that aligns with the current movement and then basically become them. You saw this when Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri debuted the new Valentino, Phoebe Philo at Celine, and you’ve been seeing it for a while now with Vetements and Gucci.”
What do you make of Gucci’s recent use of Dapper Dan in their campaign, following accusations of stealing his designs?
“The campaign was cool, but their support in reopening his atelier was the most impressive. We’re really excited to see what comes out of that.”
You’ve incurred the wrath of certain fandoms (like Rihanna’s) on more than one occasion, what has running this anonymous account taught you about internet outrage?
“Honestly, the more outrage the merrier. We try not to take it personally—we find people taking both sides on nearly every post these days. It’s simply our point of view and we’re glad to have created a platform where fashion obsessives like us can engage and speak their mind as well.”
Who is exciting you with fresh and original design right now?
“If we hadn’t just seen so many archival YSL copies from him, I would have said Jacquemus. The world he’s creating feels fresh. Area from New York is also pretty cool and obviously Prada (always!).”
Finally, what do you think designers should do when they see their work being ripped off?
“It really depends on the situation, but they can always reach out to us! If it’s valid we’ll post it. Recently we found out that Valentino did the right thing and recalled a set of rings that were copied from JESSIE V E after a mini grassroots campaign on Instagram. Copyrighting in fashion design is notoriously difficult, so we’re hoping in some small way that we can call greater attention to the issue through social media.”
In other news, when Virgil Abloh isn’t “saying things”, he’s now giving a “lecture” at Harvard School Of Design.