On November 18, Banksy was fed up. He had just been alerted to yet another third party profiting from his name and decided that enough was enough, so he put out the call to steal from GUESS.
It was looking like 2022 would be the year that the anonymous artist simply avoided posting anything on social media, until a trio of posts were uploaded to Banksy's Instagram page in mid-November.
The first two were focused on a recent trip Banksy took to Ukraine, still combatting Russia's invasion. The third was a call for shoplifters to head to GUESS' flagship store on London's Regent Street.
GUESS took down the post it made about the collection on its Instagram account but that didn't silence the call-outs, which briefly spilled across its page.
Though commenters were quick to dogpile on GUESS — not unjustifiably — there's another name at the center of this mess.
We'll get to Brandalised, the company with dubious ethics and a bank account made fat by selling street art that it may or may not have artists' permission to merchandise (usually not).
But, first, the clothing collection at hand.
GUESS collaborated with Brandalised — which GUESS describes as "an urban graffiti license whose mission is to offer Banksy fans affordable graffiti collectibles" — on a rather plain clothing collection with the primary selling point of "graffiti by Banksy," according to a November 2022 GUESS press release.
“The graffiti of Bansky has had a phenomenal influence that resonates throughout popular culture,” said GUESS co-founder Paul Marciano in the statement (Marciano was previously ousted from Guess over harassment allegations). “This new capsule collection with Brandalised is a way for fashion to show its gratitude.”
Gratitude indeed: Banksy will see none of the profits generated by the fast-fashion clothes printed with his work (and the GUESS branding seemingly done in the style of his work).
Over on its personal Instagram account, Brandalised doubled down by twisting the context of Banksy quotes.
It seems to have gotten one over on GUESS, if nothing else: GUESS' press releases imply that the collaboration is officially co-signed by Banksy, though it merely uses the imagery he created. It's not an official Banksy product in any way.
In fact, Banksy's Pest Control parent company makes it clear that "Banksy doesn't do merchandise. So weirdly, if something looks like a ‘Banksy product’ it almost certainly isn’t."
Highsnobiety has reached out to GUESS for comment.
One of Brandalised's subsidiaries fought Banksy in court over copyright claims several years ago.
But, because the artist wished to remain anonymous, Brandalised is legally free to use his work as it sees fit.
Sticky ethics haven't slowed Brandalised's roll: it's produced bootleg Banksy sneakers, home goods, and even toys with otherwise reputable Japanese company Medicom.
So, it's hard to imagine one public call-out from Banksy stopping the bootleggers in their tracks but Banksy's call-to-arms for shoplifters may make retailers a little more hesitant to collaborate with Brandalised down the road.