Jeremy Scott, the Los Angeles-based designer who moonlights as the creative director of Italian design house, Moschino, where he showed a paper doll collection not terribly unlike one (at least in concept) that John Galliano showed in 1999, is also the star of a new(ish) documentary, Jeremy Scott: The People's Designer. At the movie's premiere last summer, he was served with a copyright infringement lawsuit in connection with his designs.
Hardly a stranger to such litigation, you may recall that Scott was similarly sued several years ago on the heels of showing his Fall/Winter 2013 collection. He settled that lawsuit out of court in a relatively quiet manner, agreeing not to "produce or distribute" the collection and to pay Jimbo Phillips - the graphic artist whose work he allegedly copied - an undisclosed sum for what Phillips claims amounted to copyright infringement. The suit that Los Angeles-based street artist Rime filed thereafter against Scott followed a somewhat similar track, settling out of court before trial.
Lawsuits in the fashion industry, particularly intellectual property ones (which can be complex and technical and arguably a bit dull, as a result), are of little interest to the vast majority of people – including many that work in the fashion industry and that are consumers of high fashion. This is good news for Jeremy Scott because it means that the lawsuits in which he is involved are likely going unnoticed for the most part. With this in mind, is it safe to say, then, that Scott is walking away untarnished but for a sizeable sum of money (think: the settlement amount and his legal fees)? I wouldn’t necessarily go that far.
Scott is known for building his brand (and now Moschino, too) on imitation in some form or another. It was The Simpsons’s and Lisa Frank imagery for Fall 2012. Shrek for Spring/Summer 2015. And who could forget his ode to fast food and SpongeBob for Moschino (read about the legality of that collection here)? The latter collection utilized clear references to a number of brands’ trademarks (think: McDonald’s, Hershey’s, even Chanel) – albeit with a bit of a Moschino twist. The Italian design house has been ruffling feathers since its Franco Moschino days. In fact, Chanel threatened suit upon the brand’s founder when he spoofed their perfume on a t-shirt. Or how about his aforementioned Fall/Winter 2013 collection (pictured below), in which Scott reportedly took a bit too much copyrighted material from Jimbo Phillips and plastered it all over his garments and accessories.
The most recent case, the one involving street artist Rime, is especially problematic. Not only did Scott allegedly copy Rime’s work, but he has also been accused of superimposing the Moschino and Jeremy Scott brand names in spray-paint style as if it was part of the original work. This gives rise to copyright infringement issues, as well as ones of trademark and false designation of origin, as well.
So, how is Scott, who is being slapped with lawsuits alleging that he copied, supposed to fare in such an industry? Well, if we look around, he seems to be doing just fine. He has a gaggle of die-hard celebrity fans that includes Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Rihanna, A$AP Rocky, and more. He was invited by MTV to recreate its Video Music Award statues. And don't forget the recently released film that not only chronicles but also celebrates his rise to fame as a fashion designer.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery – in theory – and since much of what we see in fashion is a reinterpretation of something that has already been done before and copyright law does not extend protection to ideas, but only to the unique expression of those ideas, there is a lot of room for inspiration (which is certainly what I would categorize the paper doll idea as). But at the end of the day, no one really likes being copied. This is the exact reason why so many US-based designers rallied with the Council of Fashion Designers of America for a number of years to push for copyright protection for their designs. You may recall that Lazaro Hernandez, half of the Proenza Schouler design duo, testified before Congress on behalf of one iteration of the proposed fashion copyright legislation some time ago.
CFDA President Diane Von Furstenberg, who rose to fame in the 1970’s thanks to her iconic wrap dress design, was also a vocal supporter of the bill. The bill made sense in theory (if we ignore its many significant flaws) because fashion is an industry that is based on creativity, originality and innovation (or at least it is proclaims to be), and we want to protect the original creations OF the designers. It is also the reason the CFDA champions original design with its “Can’t Fake Fashion” initiative. (It is worth noting that Scott is not a member of the NYC-based trade organization, which boasts a roster of the US’s most esteemed designers).
Notwithstanding the foregoing, you would think that eventually, Scott’s alleged copycat ways would come full circle and the industry would not be as welcoming of a individual (or better yet, a team of individuals), that is being accused of employing the same tactics as high street copiers – namely, taking the work of others without their permission and using it as your own to make a profit. We all hate H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and Nasty Gal for doing this. So, why don’t we hate Jeremy Scott?