Versace has been called out by Los Angeles-based artist Kesh for copying her black and white graphic tee, featured in an American Apparel collection in 2013. The collection was wildly popular and lead the charge on the black and white graphic trend, which was a leading streetwear look through much of 2014. Yesterday the artist posted her $30 tee next to Versace’s $650 version (above right) on Instagram. Kesh’s graphic has been widely copied, but this is the first time a major fashion house has entered the fray, making a garment that seems like a duplicate with some minor modifications. The tee, which is described as a “Medusa head,” is sold out in three sizes on Selfridges. On Instagram, Kesh commented:
$650.versace rip off.
sold out in 3 sizes.
what is this madness?
from huge designer labels to small boutiques to giant pop stars to fame hungry former friends. what is this? Why can’t these companies . these brands . these people create their own work?
Kesh told NYMag she plans to contact her lawyers, “I am an independent artist and this is my work, my passion, my livelihood. I must stand up not only for myself, but for all the other independent artists who are being ravaged by these huge companies for nothing more than profit.” NYMag reached out to Versace but didn’t receive a response.
Laws protecting designs are notoriously tricky and they vary country by country. Big companies often have copyright experts whose role is helping them modify copied designs enough so they can’t be sued. However, even if Versace does escape prosecution, it isn’t immune to having its reputation impugned for stealing from an artist. Though big picture, this event probably has little to no impact on the Italian label.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the latest theft of Kesh’s idea is it creates a moment in which she finally can put a well-publicized stake in the ground and receive some credit for a graphic that has been copied by many, including as she implies above, former friends. If this story is picked up further and Kesh plays it right, as crass as it sounds it’s an opportunity for her to really up her profile as a creative.