why jeremy scott’s plagiarism probably doesn’t matter


Okay, since the Jeremy Scott/Jim Phillips thing kicked off last week, I have had a niggling voice in the back of my head that I just can’t seem to shake. It keeps telling me that the whole scenario is just too strange.

Jeremy Scott must be an intelligent man, right? And he must have a relatively good mind for business, or at least a person or team of people who take care of that side of things for him, right? Surely someone along that line must have noticed that Scott’s designs were looking a lot like those belonging to Phillips, and surely that someone would have pointed out that stealing someone else’s work (or at the very least borrowing heavily without giving credit where it’s due) is just, well, kind of a really bad idea.

It’s a really bad idea for lots of reasons. Scott was once described as “Fashion’s Last Rebel” by the New York Times, with the editor of Paper magazine proclaiming “Fashion is not necessarily about originality. A lot of it is about being a lemming. Jeremy has always been a leader”. An allegation of stealing strips him of his ‘originality’, as well as his integrity as a designer – especially as someone who is seen as being on the fringe of fashion. It will lose him fans and prevent new customers coming to the label. If the legal action that NHS (the company who owns Santa Cruz skateboards, for whom Phillips’ work is best known) comes to fruition, it could cost Scott a whole bunch of money or it could mean that next season’s collection is unsaleable, altogether.

Or will it? Will this scandal really cost Scott anything at all? The word “scandal” doesn’t really seem to stick in fashion. It’s more like something that can be half-heartedly washed away in a brief shower of repentance.

Take Galliano, for example. John Galliano was one of British fashion’s most favoured sons, revered around the world for his eccentric personality and his whimsical, larger-than-life designs at Givenchy and then Dior. His career seemed to nose dive after it emerged that he made some heinous antisemitic remarks in a bar in Paris. Only, he didn’t really take that much of a hit – sure, he was sacked from Dior and he had to apologise a lot, go to rehab and learn about Jewish history, but the buzz around his temporary residency at Oscar de la Renta recently was huge. When Galliano’s shit hit the fan, some (very few, actually) commentators expressed the opinion that he should never work in fashion again. LVMH chairman, Bernald Arnault categorically stated that the designer would never be welcomed back into the LVMH fold, to work for any of the brands owned by the group, and Karl Lagerfeld was decidedly pissed about the entire situation.

Aside from Arnault, Lagerfeld and some others, the majority of the fashion industry’s heavy hitters seemed sympathetic to Galliano’s “plight”. Giorgio Armani said “I’m very, very sorry for him. It’s obviously a difficult time for him. I’m also very sorry that they even videotaped him without him knowing and now that’s all out“, and Roberto Cavalli denied that Galliano was a racist man, despite there being actual physical evidence to the contrary. Many others outright blamed the people who made the video recording, suggesting that Galliano had been provoked and taken advantage of because he was drunk or high or whatever state he may have been in at the time. The idea that someone who isn’t a racist would say blatantly racist things because they were ‘provoked’ doesn’t make any sense to me and it actually really irks me so I am going to move swiftly on.

My point is that while the tabloids and other media were quick to label Galliano as ‘disgraced’, he actually still had the support of the wider fashion community and while the initial shock of the events indicated that this was really it for Galliano, his name is still widely respected and he has been welcomed back to fashion via his Oscar de la Renta stint with open arms by, seemingly, most of the industry. His reputation may have taken a bit of a battering for a while, but it wasn’t tarnished all that badly.

The same goes for Kate Moss, who, incidentally but unrelatedly (not a word, I know) has been a huge supporter of Galliano throughout his fall from grace. The great ‘Cokate’ scandal of 2005 saw the model dropped from several advertising campaigns, including those of Burberry, H&M and Chanel, although she continued working for Dior (there’s that Galliano connection again) amongst others. She checked herself into rehab in Arizona (the same clinic that would later be used by Galliano, actually…), was never charged for her drug use and continued her career. It has been suggested that the scandal actually helped her to become more successful, and doubled her earnings, but it’s difficult to actually quantify the exact reasons for her increased cash flow.

My final example is the allegations made against Terry Richardson of sexual abuse and all round grossness. In 2010, a Danish model confronted Richardson and accused him of being degrading to women and of manipulating young models to force them to perform sex acts on him. For instance,  Jamie Peck, who was 19 at the time, who wrote an account of Richardson’s terrifyingly hideous behaviour for The Gloss. Feminist website Jezebel covered the story, and were inundated with anonymous tales of Richardson’s conduct, including an admittance that Richardson’s behaviour “is tolerated because the industry folk are just sheep. There are only a handful of photographers who have the power, a handful of editors who have the power, and a handful of clients who have the power. Everyone else just follows this small group of people”. So, everyone knows that this really, really bad stuff is happening but everyone allows it to happen because, basically, that’s how fashion works? Not. Cool.

The picture I am trying to paint with these examples is that nothing sticks in fashion, because the industry seems to have bred a sycophancy that sees those with power being forgiven really, really easily for doing really, really bad things. The ties between personalities, advertising, magazines and brands are so strong that (even the worst) misdoings are swept under the rug and basically ignored (when was the last time anyone mentioned Kate Moss’ cocaine scandal?) to prevent any upsetting of the proverbial apple cart. If, for instance, American Vogue were to print an article damning Galliano’s behaviour as unforgiveable, the magazine would never be privy to any of the designer’s future “genius” and certainly wouldn’t have been invited to watch de la Renta’s most recent show. Cavalli, Armani and other designer friends of Galliano could take offence and refuse to advertise in the magazine, or offer them pieces for editorial purposes. The downfall of American Vogue spirals from there.

What troubles me most about the Jeremy Scott saga, more so even than the actual theft of Jim Phillips’ designs, is that no major fashion media (i.e. vogue.co.uk, or any other magazine’s online platforms) seem to have picked up on the story or added any comment whatsoever. It could be that they are waiting for the full story to emerge, as Scott is yet to offer any comment on the debacle or, could it be, that it actually doesn’t really matter to them as Scott is a much bigger name in their world than Jim Phillips, and is therefore worth protecting.

It’s obviously impossible to predict how the saga will play out, but it is clear that this has already had an affect on Scott, whose Facebook page has been overrun with comments from the extremely pissed skateboarding community (some of whom have made gross homophobic remarks, which is another of the more troubling aspects of this situation). Scott’s name has suffered somewhat already, and I sort of feel that it is probably going to get worse for him. However, chances are that the fashion industry will be there to rally around the designer, and maybe suggest that he took Jim Phillips’ artwork because he was “provoked”.

I can’t help but feel that this was all a calculated move by Scott, to boost awareness of his name and of his brand, and to increase his notoriety amongst those who perhaps don’t follow fashion that closely. His reputation may suffer, he may be forced to bow out of creating and showing collections for a year or two, but when he returns the buzz will be ridiculous and he will be lauded as a genius and a fashion martyr and people like me will rue the day that I ever said a bad word about him because he will emerge as fashion’s golden boy.

Images from hypebeast.com & grazia. Video from NewsTsar’s youtube.