humans of new york vs dkny

Hot on the heels of the allegations against Jeremy Scott regarding the striking resemblance of his Autumn/Winter 2013 collection to the work of skate artist Jim Phillips, another case of possible fashion kleptomania has cropped up. My initial reaction to this story was pretty much “what on earth is going on?”, followed by “how is everyone so gross?”.

This time, a photographer has accused a major fashion house of stealing his intellectual property – a body of his photographic work – and using it, unauthorised, in window displays.

Brandon Stanton is the photographer behind the (brilliant) website Humans of New York, which consists of street photography of some of New York city’s most interesting-looking residents – Stratton describes his work as a “photographic census”, and it’s just pretty cool all round if you’re into street photography and street style. Apparently, DKNY is really into it, too.

Stanton says he was approached by the brand who “asked to purchase 300 of my photos to hang in their store windows “around the world”. He was unhappy with the amount of money he was offered so he said no. Case closed, right? Right? No. Wrong. So wrong.


DKNY seemingly decided that they didn’t really need the photographer’s permission and, since they still wanted to use the photographs, they would anyway, in a window display in Bangkok (above). The whole situation went viral pretty quickly, with angry fans of HONY posting and sharing all over DKNY’s social media outlets.

The brand have since released a statement of apology, and have pledged to (as is Stanton’s wish) donate a whole bunch of money to a YMCA in Brooklyn, which is actually pretty cool of them I guess. DKNY state in their apology that, basically, the entire thing was a mistake and that the Bangkok store in the middle of all of this accidentally used a mock-up design that was made with Stanton’s images, rather than using images that were properly licensed.

The fact that DKNY have responded to this so quickly, and offered to fulfill Stanton’s request to donate money to a worthy cause with no resistance indicates that maybe this was all a big mistake and a misunderstanding on the part of the Bangkok store. However, I can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just kind of, I don’t know, weird. Isn’t it weird? I can’t be the only one who thinks so. How is it possible for a huge brand like this to inadvertently use the work of a photographer without being licensed to do so? Don’t they have people who are in place to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen?

Maybe it was just a big whoopsie on DKNY’s part, or perhaps they thought that Stratton would never find out since Bangkok is kind of a way away from New York. There’s no real way to know, I guess, but I am pleased for Stratton that DKNY have been so quick to apologise and to donate to his chosen cause.

Images from Buzzfeed. Check out HONY here.