A guide dedicated to the control and prevention of graffiti issued by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, analyses a series of issues and problems linked with defacing public or private property via markings, etchings and paintings. The document tries to classify the various types of graffiti, mentioning the existence of "copycat" graffiti, that is markings mimicking gang graffiti. Yet, you could argue that there is a very different type of copycat action that has been going on for a while now and that it is linked with graffiti and mainly perpetrated by the fashion industry.
Indeed, as you may remember, last year Moschino Creative Director Jeremy Scott was sued by street artist Joseph Tierney - also known as "RIME" - since he printed the 2012 mural "Vandal Eyes" (signed with an asterisk-like symbol representing an artist's collective Tierney is part of called "The Seventh Letter") on a gown included in Moschino's A/W 2015 collection (singer Katy Perry wore the gown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala in 2015, while Scott donned a jacket with the same motif to accompany her). RIME's name was also added here and there on the A/W 2015 collection and in the campaign advertising it, reproduced in a style imitating his signature.
The artist filed his complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in August 2015; Scott denied personal involvement in the copying, and filed a declaration in a California federal court claiming the graphics were "selected and created by a graphic artist at Moschino", completely independently of him.
This wasn't the first time that the fashion industry took pictures of graffiti and had them printed on luxury products: a while back Roberto Cavalli was sued by graffiti artists Jason Williams, Victor Chapa, and Jeffrey Rubin, known by the tags Revok, Reyes, and Steel, when a mural the trio did in San Francisco was replicated on garments for the Just Cavalli Spring/Summer 2014 collection.
Besides, this is not the first time Scott is accused of copyright infringement: skateboard graphic design duo Jim and Jimbo Phillips of Santa Cruz Skateboards stated indeed he plagiarised their artwork for his A/W 2013 collection (and let's not even mention correspondences between other designers's creations and Scott's that extended to Moschino's designs and Barbie's clothes...) .
The Moschino/RIME case hasn't been settled yet: Scott and Moschino claim indeed that, since the graffiti mural was done illegally (not the case, though, as Tierney stated he had permission), it can not be protected by law.
This statement is surreally being supported by the Moschino lawyers who are referencing the unresolved 1947 Black Dahlia murder, stating that the killer could not sue the police and the media for distributing the photos of his "criminal handiwork". In a nutshell, if a murderer can't own the images of his victim's dead body, then a street artist doesn't have the copyright of an illegal graffiti he created. Yet, in this case the Moschino lawyers seem to be confusing copyright law, forensic evidence and vandalism acts (mind you, if Tierney had permission, he didn't deface a property, so this accuse doesn't stand).
Prompted by the consequences that the Moschino/RIME case may have and by the ridiculousness of the comparison between a case involving a murderer and another revolving around a graffiti artist, New York-based artist and photographer Adrian Wilson launched a cleverly controversial project - the "Jeremy Scott Free Inspiration Gallery" - part of Wilson's Inutilious Retailer store located in 151 Ludlow St.
Here you can find "Moschino-inspired" garments and accessories, such as spray paint can purses (very Moschino A/W 2015...), or tote bags replicating the Moschino signature and emblazoned with the words "Stolen Moschino Art".
There is more behind the gallery, though, than the Moschino case: this could be considered as a first attempt at reacting against a corrupt fashion system that is killing creativity.
It is indeed not rare to hear about pretentious conferences and debates being organised with head of fashion companies, representatives of high street retailers, designers, prominent editors and high profile bloggers invited to talk about the future of fashion and slowing down the production rhythms.
Yet such events do not produce any kind of tangible solutions, but just a barrage of Instagram pictures of beautiful people blatantly talking and nodding at each other.
Wilson has instead already started his own personal revolution via the Inutilious Retailer, a shop that functions in a unique way since Wilson offers here one-off creations made with mass-market clothes. Customers can walk away with a design they like as long as they create a new one in the store workshop. Then the piece goes on sale and the cycle repeats.
The time has definitely come to talk about the consequences of appropriating specific artworks or copying previous fashion designs and, above all, to act.
For what regards the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, it looks like they will have to add a note to their graffiti guide, explaining that a copycat graffiti is not just somebody trying to imitate gang graffiti, but it could also be a fashion designer/house stealing from a graffiti artist.
Can you introduce us some of the graffiti artists that created one-off designs for the gallery?
Adrian Wilson: Graffiti and street artists are notoriously difficult to wrangle - many often do what they do out of passion, not fame. I invited a small group of people who represent the diversity of those creating art on the streets of NYC to exhibit in the limited space: famous anti-Trump street artist @hanksynyc; old school graffiti writer and artist E F Higgins III; trademarked character @Frank_Ape; black female graffiti and wheatpaste artist @LadyMillard; young slap (street sticker) and graffiti artist @hypno_nyc; graffiti and 3D printer artist @RSCLNY; fashion designer and street artist @reneexors; street yarn bomber @madebylondon; one-off clothing illustrator @samuel.allen18; visiting Spanish wheatpaste artist @Balu_art and wheatpaste/painters @citykittystreet and @the_dtore
In your opinion, why do designers tend to assume that they can use graffiti they find on walls for commercial products/purposes without asking for permission? Why do you think fashion houses do not opt for creative collaborations?
Adrian Wilson: The point of the gallery is bigger than the RIME Vs. Moschino case. Of course there are legitimate collaborations such as the Ash sneaker or Tumi luggage collaborations with graffiti artist "Crash". Want to use Keith Haring graffiti on your clothing? You will have to pay the Keith Haring Foundation. Want to use a Basquiat? Same thing. Yet in the past we have seen the Roberto Cavalli case with the brand turning into another offender - what is it with Italian labels?! Law is not the 'pick and choose' concept that some fashion companies like to think it is. Everyone knows you can't just use a Basquiat, but there is a view that if it is a less well-known artist - or fashion designer - who has little money and definitely not enough for expensive litigation, the clothes will be in the store, sold and replaced by the next design by the time any "Cease and Desist" arrives in the mail. No better example of the 'selective memory' business practice was Forever 21, who had 50+ anti-copying lawsuits filed against them, but sued another company for copying its own designs in 2014! The attitude is summed up by fashion industry linguistics: "Inspiration" is taking other people's ideas and using them yourself, while "Copying" is someone taking your ideas and using them. It's the same thing, people. The issue with this case is that the graffiti was not even changed by Moschino. They took it, stuck it on their clothing and when RIME asked why they thought they could do that without even asking permission treated him like it was none of his business. As you point out, asking would have been simple, an apology and offer of collaboration would have been professional, but neither was forthcoming. In fact they set their legal dogs on RIME for having the balls to stand up to them, claiming that as it was illegal art - which it wasn't - it invalidated his copyright ownership.
There is also another common practice in the fashion industry: blaming other people. In the Moschino/RIME case, Scott claimed the artwork was shown to him by the creative design team and he accepted it; it sounds like a lazy answer since, if this was the case, he should have investigated the situation and checked if the art was original or taken from somewhere else. Do you think that the fast fashion rhythms are being used as an excuse for being lazy?
Adrian Wilson: Excuses are exactly that. We are taught as children that when we do something wrong we apologize and make amends, not give excuses. Sure, there are mitigating circumstances. Fast fashion forces designers to come up with more and more designs, but any industry that sells more things usually hires more people to create those things. Get more interns to check the source. You're Moschino, not some struggling low end business. Then there's the Internet. It searches for things in milliseconds. There's Google Image search. It's all basic stuff and maybe a task for the HR department to take on if the designers are too busy. A classic "I didn't realise" excuse is when Urban Outfitters sold a copied snake ear cuff by small brand Marty Magic. Not only did they copy the design, the counterfeiters directly recast the original, including the M logo on the back. Again, Urban Outfitters claimed they had no idea, but searching for "Snake Ear Cuff" on Google resulted in a page of Marty's designs and it was a 5 second fact check. The fact is that designers and suppliers no longer have to go on "inspiration trips" to find new ideas, when they can just trawl the Internet. The supplier of the snake cuff probably showed the Urban Outfitters buyer lots of images of other people's jewelry and, only once it was picked by the buyer, it actually physically made and shipped them.
On one of the T-shirts on sale in the gallery there's written "Don't Steal, Heal", but is it possible to heal a system as corrupted as fahion? In which ways?
Adrian Wilson: As I said in my speech at the Fashion Vs. Graffiti event that we hosted at the Gallery last week, there is hope. Because "everybody does it" is not an excuse or reason to not try to change things. We have civil rights, transgender rights and many other kinds of moral improvements that began in the midst of endemic racism or homophobia, so there is a long list of how society can change. If you say politically incorrect things or steal from work, you can be fired, so why not be fired for stealing other people's art? Any change has to come from two places: figureheads at the top setting an example and those starting at the bottom being educated by colleges to behave ethically and say no to either copying or being copied. Jeremy Scott is a terrible role model; Conde Nast partnering with Forever 21 are terrible role models; those who still ask Terry Richardson to shoot their campaigns despite his sexual behaviour are terrible role models. The CFDA has tried to tighten up design protection (in Europe protection lasts for 25 years but, ironically, this continent has spawned the originality crushing 'fast fashion' phenomena), but there are many loopholes and again the proposals seem very beneficial to some parts of the fashion business and detrimental to others. How many members of the CFDA and its "Don't Fake Fashion" campaign can honestly claim that their designs have always been completely original? But so are colleges like FIT who push their students to work as free interns, so are fashion colleges that teach their students how to take runway designs and change the price point, so they can be sold in the high street because "that is what you will have to do" and so are colleges that do not protect their students' designs. In my opinion, every fashion student should be taught to say no when asked to copy. Every college should copyright their students' work and teach them how to protect their work once they enter the marketplace. If every employer knows that students from Parsons, SCAD, FIT and elsewhere will not stand for copying - and the college will morally and legally support alumni if they are copied - this industry can change. If colleges don't change, why can anyone justify 4 years and $200,000 to enter a business where anyone can copy your final year runway designs without punishment? There is a historical precedent for this change. Manchester, England, was established to manufacture cotton. The machines still used today were invented and refined there in the 18th and 19th century. Technology made the city the biggest producer of fabric in the world, but there were no design schools or copyright controls, so when other countries established their own manufacturing, Manchester realized that mass production alone was not enough, good design was also needed. In the 1840s it introduced legal protection for designs and the copying stopped. Design schools were set up because the investment in education was now worthwhile and the value and sales of goods increased because they aesthetically improved. In the 1880s over 80% of all fabric worn in the world came from Manchester and, by 1913, 4 million miles of fabric were being exported each year. The West has lost its manufacturing base to the developing world. All we have left are our design ideas, and if we don't encourage and respect them, what will we have left? How can we criticize Chinese copying when Jeremy Scott/Moschino does the same thing and then, even worse, is willing to go to court for their right to be able to do such a thing? The other important thing to change the industry are the literally thousands of eagle eyed fashion bloggers and websites such as Julie Zerbo's The Fashion Law who can spot misbehavior and call offending designers and companies out, constantly shaming their behavior online.
What may be the consequences of Moschino winning the case?
Adrian Wilson: Law is either about planned legislation or precedent setting cases. Believe it or not, Moschino claim that RIME cannot protect his designs because it was illegal art - note: it wasn't - and therefore can't be protected. They are using the case of a murderer who marked a body with designs he claimed were his copyright as a precedent as to why the RIME work has no protection! As RIME's lawyers point out: "By defendants' logic there would have been no copyright protection for 'This Land Is Made for You and Me' if it were written by Woody Guthrie while 'trespassing' on somebody's meadow (...) Or for Jack Kerouac if he wrote On the Road using a pilfered typewriter. Or for William Burroughs if he wrote The Naked Lunch while under the influence of an illegal substance."
Social media help talking and debating about these issues involving creativity and copyright and raising awareness around these cases. But do you think that major magazines/publications may be scared to publish such stories or even write pieces about Scott and other fashion designers/houses borrowing/copying their creations in case they may get sued? Do you think that the lack of criticism (and honesty) is killing creativity as well among fashion designers?
Adrian Wilson: There are many double standards and lack of moral backbone in the fashion industry: who has stopped using Terry Richardson despite the many allegations against him (even an in-depth New York Magazine article refrained from making any judgements)? why does Conde Nast partner with someone like Forever 21? Was it just very convenient to ignore (and that's being charitable) John Galliano's drug spiral and overwork that led to his delirious and badly worded tirade in his local cafe when laughed at by two older Jewish women? Galliano had a fraught relationship with his bosses and was treated as a pariah by those in the fashion industry who now sit and applaud his runway shows. Of course if he had simply overdosed, he would have been idolized as yet another lost genius in the mode of Lee McQueen, (note that the latter's fashion house advertised recently for a 1 year unpaid intern...). Yes, of course, the industry is fucked up. It is a rabid dog chasing its tail before the final death throes, based more on money and Instagram fame than originality. Jeremy Scott just signed up to an agency to boost his fame as a celebrity which shows exactly where his future dreams are. Contrast that with someone like Ralph Rucci who never released a perfume, never cared about fame, is one of America's most innovative and original designers, yet has financially struggled all his life to remain true to the world of fashion. Someone once told me "A principle is not a principle until it costs you money" and I would like to see more in the fashion industry putting principles before money because long term, it is the only way to save what is left.
Can we buy products from the Jeremy Scott Free Inspiration Gallery online?
Adrian Wilson: I have discussed it with the graffiti artists, but there are no plans to sell the pieces.
How long will the gallery be open for and will you ever take it somewhere else in the world? Would you, for example, like to transform it into a pop art shop at the next Venice Art Biennale?
Adrian Wilson: That would be amazing. As someone who has spent years promoting the idea of respecting art, in whatever media it has been created, I think spreading that message in any way so that people are inspired to know they can make a change, is my goal.
Image credits for this post
Image 4 - 16 courtesy of/copyright Adrian Wilson. These images are taken from Adrian Wilson's Instagram feed #interiorphotography
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