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Can You Plagiarize Fashion?

Jeremy Scott is getting blasted for stealing on the runway, raising questions of design ethics

Shoptiques Can You Plagiarize Fashion?


Following his fashion week Fall ’13 show, Jeremy Scott has been making news, and not in the best way: the designer has been accused of plagiarizing imagery from the well known skateboard company Santa Cruz. And side-by-side, it is uncanny: the illustrations are near identical.

In an interview with Skateboard Magazine, Santa Cruz owner Jimbo Phillips denounced Scott and hinted that he was taking legal action.

But here’s what this entire issue has left me wondering: Can you even have plagiarism in fashion?

This isn’t the first time that Jeremy Scott in particular has been accused of “stealing ideas." When the issue first came up, I thought it was a bit silly and exaggerated — a girl claimed that Jeremy Scott ripped off her Tumblr dashboard because she featured “girls with Kool Aid hair, bindis, and chain nose rings” similar to the ones in his Fall ’12 show.

But playing devil’s advocate, wasn’t she drawing from something else when she posted that? Are we really going to say that pre-teens today on Tumblr invented pink hair or colored lipstick? REALLY?

The fact of the matter is that any conversation about plagiarism becomes a slippery slope. If Yves Saint Laurent released his “Mondrian” dress today, would we deride him for “copying” the artist’s style?

Clothing is entirely dependent on repurposing old concepts and drawing inspiration from past decades. In 2013, it’s sort of impossible for any complete originality — no matter what, a designer is sure to start an explanation about their collection with the phrase, “I was inspired by…”

Perhaps you might say “inspiration” can be taken too far. In the same interview with Skateboard Magazine, Phillips said that it was different for Scott to draw from his illustrations than for skateboard artists to rip off logos in the ‘90s. “Big corporate logos are one thing, this is my art style and way more personal. This is how I make my living.”

Yes, Jeremy Scott should have contacted Phillips if he was going to reproduce the imagery directly. It’s very unlikely this was coincidental. But I would caution anyone from screaming out the word “PLAGARISM!” when it comes to clothing. It doesn’t apply in the same cut-and-dry way that it can in literature. Our boutiques may be out of the high fashion sphere, but that doesn’t mean the two worlds are divided: you’ll often hear of high-end designers browsing flea markets and smaller scale stores to get inspired, and boutiques inevitably feel the trickle down of trends from the runways in buying and design. None of us live in a vacuum.

But Scott’s straight-up replication does fly in the face of all that is good and holy in the boutique world: it wasn’t original, and he didn’t bother acknowledging the obvious influence. Browsing through our site, you might think to yourself, “That looks so Andy Warhol-esque” or “Peplum seems really rampant right now” — but you’ll never think, “I saw that EXACT piece on the runway!” There’s always something, whether its fabric, pattern, or stitching, that keeps it unique and different.

So keep looking to music, film and past decades for inspiration: just remember to put your stamp on it. 

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