An Open Letter

I got this in the commentspace, in response to this post. I think it warrants a reply.
Dear Blue Floppy Hat,

It's all very well to sit comfortably behind the anonymity of your blog and rip the so-called rippers. However, allow me to ask you just one question - did you visit Prashant's stall at the fashion week? If you did, did you meet him? Do you know that international fashion journalists, before drawing meaningless tangents where they don't exist, check each reference? Ditto all serious designers.

Sadly, dear Floppy, you don't seem to have understood the meaning of the aesthetic exercise that fashion is. You give too much importance to what you see, depriving the faculties of your brain of their natural functions of logical inferencing.

However, coming back to the comparison you so happily have discovered and publicised, I'd like to tell you that this fact was already known to the designer when he decided to put his face on that dress. He chose to go ahead with it because his aspiration demanded it of him - a fact I'm sure you were unaware of, because even if your research is strong, your logic is not.

Therefore, dear Floppy, before you try and sensationalise anything creative again, make sure you look deep into the matter. There are those who know better, and then, there are those who just know.

My best,
Varun Rana,
Features Editor,
'&' Andpersand Magazine

Dear Varun,

I think it'd be better if I answered you point by point. But I must first thank you for leaving me your name, I appreciate the fact that you didn't just just choose to make your comment anonymously, as you could well have done.
Now, on to the substance of your comment:

Firstly, like many bloggers, I am not a fashion student or journalist. Access to Fashion Week isn't something that everyone gets, even if they happen to be located in the city in which it happens- and I wasn't. I don't mean to condone a lack of knowledge on my part, but I did make an effort to find out as much as I could about Mr Verma before I made that post- and all I have to go on by way of knowing anything about him is his site, a few interviews (in which he sounded like an intelligent and articulate young man), and assorted Fashion Week writeups in the press and online. And while we're on the subject of fashion journalists, one of the people who commented on that post is a fashion editor. I am neither a designer nor a member of the press, but I've asked for her opinion on the subject, since I think she'd be in a better position to know about expectations in fashion journalism than me.

Secondly, I know that fashion has everything to do with aesthetics. My judgment is obviously impaired by the fact that I can only experience the clothes in 2D, picture form. Obviously, my thoughts are going to be limited to what I saw. I would like that not to be the case, but what we see is all most of the country has to go on as far as high-end fashion is concerned. My opinion was formed on the basis of whatever information was at hand- a little more, sensory and otherwise, would always be welcome.

While we're on the subject of logical inferences, the one I drew was,to the best of my knowledge, fairly logical. Given that the Lanvin dress was shown at Paris Fashion Week in October 2006- less than a year before Mr Verma came out with his version of the screen print- the only conclusion I could come to was that it was a copy, because nowhere was the original dress mentioned, and it certainly wasn't reported anywhere- I went through the newspapers in three metropolitan cities to check, not to mention the Internet. If Mr Verma did mention the fact of Lanvin being his inspiration to anyone at his stall during Fashion Week or anywhere at all, the fact certainly wasn't- as far as I know- reported by the press, in fact there doesn't seem to be a single acknowledgment of Lanvin or Alber Elbaz anywhere. If there was one, could you please tell me where to find the reference?

And as far as 'happily discovering and publicising' the comparison goes- if you read the original post, you'll find that I said I was extremely disappointed and let down to find what seemed like evidence of a copied design from someone I thought of as talented and different from the run-of-the-mill. I wasn't exactly dancing with glee when I saw the picture. And if the fact of the similarity was known to Mr Verma when he made that dress, maybe (as I've mentioned earlier) an acknowledgement would have been in order? If his aspiration demanded it of him, surely making it plain wouldn't have hurt? And I don't see how it's all right to copy a creative work and not acknowledge the original maker (if he didn't- and if he did, then the press is doing him a disservice by not reporting the fact), even if copying is standard practice in the fashion industry. There isn't really any justification for it as far as I can see, either under logic or intellectual property law.

"Therefore, dear Floppy, before you try and sensationalise anything creative again, make sure you look deep into the matter. There are those who know better, and then, there are those who just know."
I'm not sure what exactly that's supposed to mean. Is it that I have no right to comment on fashion because I have nothing to do with it professionally? There may be those who know better, and those who just know, but since when are we supposed to not question them, and not contest their views? And given that some of those people who 'know' are members of the press, isn't telling the rest of us, the unenlightened ones, what you do know, something of a professional obligation? Better coverage of Fashion Week, and more pictures of the collections- especially online- might help. But I tell things the way I see them, and I stand by what I said. As a blogger, I can do no less.


Blue Floppy Hat


Yohan said...

Very interesting. As far as I can tell, Mr. Rana's criticism of your post was high on peevishness and low on content.

Either that, or every time Anu Malik rips off a tune, it's cool because "his aspiration demanded it of him."

You don't need to be defensive at all, Nisha. Your opinion is your own, and doesn't even have to be logical. In this case your logic seems to have worked fine. However, even if you had written "Prashant Verma is a tiny green elephant" you would have been well within you rights. In any case, no designer - serious or otherwise - can expect deference on the basis of being in the "know" or being driven by his "aspiration."

I encourage you to piss off more journalists! Freedom of expression and all. And freedom to call a spade a spade, and a twit a twit.

[And to think he used the word "logic" in there. I bet he wouldn't know a syllogism if it hit him in the ampersand.]

WendyB said...

"I'd like to tell you that this fact was already known to the designer when he decided to put his face on that dress." Oh really? Because that's called COPYING. Jesus! This letter is so poorly written that I want to return it to him covered in corrective red ink. Floppy, you gave a nicer and more considered reply than that incoherent rambling deserved.

Libertygirl said...

To address your original question to me: is your criticism valid, and should you be allowed to make it as a non-professional fashion writer? My view is, certainly, yes. I do think however you need to be careful in the way that you couch yourself: accusing people of copying is a rocky road to travel down. You certainly won’t want to find yourself being sued my dear. I think you need to be quite dispassionate: point out the similarities and leave the reader to draw, in this case, the obvious conclusion.

Libertygirl said...

Mr Rana’s riposte to you was high on blather, low on content, and extremely patronising. I have to say that I was completely stumped by the comment that the designers’ aspiration ‘demanded it of him’ What? How loopy. The extrapolation there is that he felt it necessary to copy Lanvin’s dress! A better defence would be that he was simply unaware!

If he really felt a need to produce a dress with a photo on there are plenty of other ways to do it without producing a mirror image of a famous dress by another designer, of which he is already aware. To be frank, it sounds as though, yes, he did copy it. The excuse given is not satisfactory.

Libertygirl said...

And also not very helpful to the Indian fashion industry. There is enough debate about intellectual copyright and blatant copying of fashion designer’s work in Asia in the press without an established Indian designer doing something so odd. If it was an intellectual exercise as Mr Rana seems to infer, although it’s difficult to cut through all his waffle, the designer certainly kept very quiet about it. If he wants to be influenced, produce homage, or simply make a comment about the ethics or influences on the fashion industry, then do it obviously and proudly a la Marc Jacobs & Richard Prince this season, and then issue a flippin’ press release.

Libertygirl said...

In regard to Mr Rana’s contention that you simply just don’t know what you are talking about, I, as a so-called ‘international fashion journalist’ with fifteen years experience working for the best fashion magazines in the world wldn’t think twice about running both images. I don’t think you can be expected to research more than you did in this case.

There is an enormous amount of debate in the media about the concept & importance of the ‘citizen journalist’, & the challenge to the hegemony of the traditional media. The blogosphere is influential, and does challenge our preconceptions about how news is gathered and disseminated. In fact your over-excited correspondent is merely confirming that view by getting so hot under the collar about your comments. Goodness knows what he would have done had they appeared in, say The Times if India.

Libertygirl said...

I don’t think Mr Rana is doing himself, or his magazine, any favours by acting in such a pompous manner, although I commend his honesty. It just might have been more helpful to issue a cogent defence of the designer (which takes one line in his entire letter), rather than spend the entire comment telling you what a useless person you are.

Libertygirl said...

Oh - and because I want to leave you LOTS of comments! Unless the designer expects all of us hacks to be psychic, talk to the press and explain why you do these things. Otherwise don't be surprised when we pick up & comment on them.

Elisabeth said...

Good lord!

That's a little bit much, isn't it?

One would hope nowadays we can freely say what we want; and express our opinions without recieving a sarcasm laden response...

Rollergirl said...

Pfft, what a lot of drama over not very much! If the designer wanted to pay a witty homage to Lanvin, why didn't he use Alber Elbaz's face on the dress? THAT would have been a dress worth buying!
I have nothing much to add except it's your blog so you can say what you want. (But commenters have a right to say what they want too.) Ok, I've said enough now :)

WendyB said...

Ha! I agree. An Elbaz dress would have been funny.

selinaoolala said...

how mean! god i dread the day this will happen to me, there would be no fashion blogs if it was just industry people. Your point was that is practically the same dress and this rana guy is saying your eyes are wrong and just trying to insult you in the most simpering way. jeez just uncalled for, you are fab, end of.

The Clothes Horse said...

I think you dealt with that comment very fairly, calmly, and reasonably. I've read other bloggers so get upset at comments and go off the deep end, but I agree with your approach: of disagreeing, but giving a full explanation and logical reasoning.
Also, what is so wrong about saying you dislike something that many others as tooted as wonderful? I mean, isn't that part of the purpose of blogging, a personal monologue and dissection of what you find interesting or controversial? In the end what was said was one person's thoughts--an opinion, and everyone is entitled to that.

Iheartfashion said...

Brava on a well thought out response to an incoherent comment! And keep saying what you want on your blog.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Yohan, Wendy, LLG, Rollergirl, Elisabeth, Selina, TheClotheshorse, and Janet- thank you for your input!

Though this is going to be a LONG comment, it's only fair that I allow all sides of the debate their due.

I'd sent the following mail to the designer yesterday:
Dear Sir

I noticed a similarity between a dress you had shown in your Spring-Summer 2008 collection at Wills India Fashion Week, and a dress by Lanvin (pictures attached), shown at Paris Fashion Week (Spring-Summer 2007) in October 2006. I was wondering if that was a deliberate similarity, and also what the idea behind the design was.
I got the following reply back:

Dear Dru Notreal

i would like to refer u to the following pieces of work . search on
the internet : go check on the following :

jean charles de castelbajac ( has been putting faces on clothes for a
long long time - as a reference to pop culture )

john galliano homme tshirts with his face on it

mcqueen ss08 with a fully sequined dress with isabella blows portrait
made in sequins

gaultier paris in 2000/2001 with fully sequined images of a couple kissing

giles deacon ss08 with a blurred portrait of marilyn monroe

lanvins dresses (for yr information ) are blow up images of stella
tennant from the previous seasons ad campaign.

check out how all pop artists / musicians have had their image
plastered on t shirts and promotional goods sold at concerts.

check out how all artists use the idea of self portraits as a form of
expression ( frida kahlo / gustave courbet's the allegory / vincent
van gogh )

my work is a visual embodiment of human aspiration - of ambition,
desire and the quest for immortality as we fetch it despite and inspite of being mortal . that drive is what i embody as an artist, as a brand, as an individual or maybe all of the above. the dress with
the self portraits which ended the show built the narrative to a point
where the only befitting motif to represent this infinite aspiration
was a portrait of the artist where one could see it in his eyes.

at the end of it all, that piece really sums up alot of cultural
references - celebritarian, aspirational, iconography, self
portraiture, art history , humanity.

of course i had seen the lanvin dress last season, and the other works that i have informed u about by other designers. the "face on a dress" is a part of fashion vocabulary. like a floral print, or a corset etc. the idea of a persons face on clothes is an academic "type" which has existed for a long time .

i mean, a che quevara t shirt came before a lanvin, and so did a
vintage madonna concert tshirt - that wouldnt be called A RIP OFF .

aspiring for fullness in research is expected of all the people who
write, paint, design, etc. i thoroughly research my work - which is why when u step in and accuse me of ripping off it doesnt mean
anything to me because it literally seems like u tumbled across one
piece which forms a link with mine - it shows u havent observed enough
to "already know" that the idea, or for that matter any idea in
creative fields is an accumalated effort of human beings across
centuries getting sharpened and fine tuned with time. it would have
been more appropriate and respectable had u asked me this before another journalist of much senior status bothered to let u know A BETTER WAY OF WRITING AND BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT YOU PUT FORTH TO YOUR READERS. dont get me wrong im not upset with u, because i have my research before u started yours and i just KNOW that I AM better informed. however i would like to let u know THAT ANY RESPECTABLE JOURNALIST WRITES TO A DESIGNER AND INQUIRES AND RESEARCHES ABOUT THEM BEFORE, I REPEAT BEFORE, THEY WRITE THE ARTICLE ... AND NOT AFTER

i did take the time out to read your blog and the comments posted
about the article ... and i did feel i should express my concern
towards just one more thing ... in your response where u said that "
one doesnt need to be a film maker to critique/ judge a film" ... well
Varun wasnt implying that ... what he said is that u should be well
informed and well read about issues that u chose to comment on . ure
free to be illinformed and still judge, but then again, we are free to look down upon u as an ill informed writer as well ! i mean i would
anyday respect a well reseached person and his judgement because
he/she makes an effort to research/ understand and educate themselves
... because they aspire to be wiser and better ... and im sure u would
too .

i dont know why i have bothered to take a moment to "help" u ... but
its true ... by being poorly researched and not having a broader and wiser perspective ... uve got more flack on this article than i. and ironically all the fuss made about that dress in the press has been made by senior and more well researched writers/ editors. so i guess they got it right . and maybe u didnt !

so go out there and make an effort to a better journalist. its going
to take you somewhere . i gain nothing by writing to you, frankly i
couldnt care less about what you have written about me cuz i dont
bother whats written about me by people who arent well researched.
period. but i would be glad if u take some of my advice and aspire to
be MORE SINCERE towards your work. it would be nice to to see better
articles by u in the future. take care and all the very best.

seasons greetings
Prashant Verma
As someone who's interested in art and fashion, I do know of the 'faces in fashion' trope, and of the work of every one of the designers and artists mentioned here.
However, I drew my conclusion based on a rather clear similarity to the Lanvin dress specifically because of the fact that it had been shown just one year previously, and also the fact that your dress had been styled in much the same fashion (ankle-strap sandals, hair in a topknot).
It's possible to argue that no idea in fashion is ever truly 'new', and that there isn't any way to avoid similarities within what has become, as you say, a genre of sorts- it's just that this particular set of two was rather striking.

It's certainly helpful to have an idea about why you chose to put out that dress, and believe me, my telling you that it looks similar is absolutely no reflection whatsoever on your skill. Older, more established designers than you have copied designs or ideas- Nicolas Ghesquière copied one, almost stitch by stitch, off Kaisik Wong in 2001. And admitted to it, too. John Galliano (under whom, I believe, you once worked) was fined by a French court earlier this year for copying images for an ad campaign. No doubt you were aware of these, but there's also no doubt that the designers in question are brilliant in their own right, and haveput out some amazing original work, before and since.

And, for the last and final time- I am not a fashion journalist, neither do I wish to be one. That doesn't absolve me from certain standards of responsibility regarding what I put out on this space, but I did the best I could to find out what the references behind your work were- something that a journalist with even more experience than Mr Rana, seems to agree with. Perhaps I should have sent that email over a week ago, but the contents of your reply make no material change to my opinion. You and Mr Rana certainly have a right to 'look down', as you put it, on me, if you think I'm ill-informed (I'm leaving aside the fact that I studied intellectual property law in some detail), and you'll have to forgive me for not deferring to the opinions of 'senior and more well researched' writers, because I reserve the right to disagree and to stand by my original views. This is, in my opinion, a huge fuss about nothing, and it's getting old, really fast.

Thank you for sending that email, all the same. I appreciate the promptness of your reply, and wish you all the best with your next collection.


Blue Floppy Hat

Yohan said...

Wow. Suddenly this is all very real.

ambika said...

Perhaps it makes me less adventurous and creative, but that letter was like trying to navigate a myspace comment by a 13 year old and ridiculously condescending given the text-speak of his response.

Your responses have been amazingly articulate, polite and thought out. They make me want to applaud.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Ambika: thank you for the support, I had some thinking to do after seeing everything yesterday. Following my last comment, I received a further email from the designer, which I hope he won't mind me quoting:
thank you for the good wishes sweetheart ..all the very best to you too ... and if ure ever coming down to new delhi ... well it would be lovely to meet ...

warm regards
xx prashant verma

It's nice of him to make the offer: however, I declined it (intriguing as it might have been) in the interests of preserving my anonymity.

In response to Perakath on the next post, I have to say this much: I appreciate feedback. Free speech and honesty are things I value a great deal - to quote Voltaire (for angle, plus he was cleverer than I will ever be),
"I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
I never intended this to be a space where the only opinion allowed to be voiced is a corroboration of mine. In fact, I never intended this to be anything but a place for the ramblings that I can't do as my real-life self. And I value the opinions of my readers and fellow bloggers, even when they happen to oppose my own. I may disagree with a commenter, but I'll always try to give my reasons for doing so, and allow anyone who comes after to see both sides of the picture. It is a dialogue of sorts, after all. And it's up to me to stand by my words or revise my thoughts on the matter- which I'm open to doing, only explanations are required in both cases. The same goes for anyone else.
As for leagues or whatever, the idea of a storm in a teacup drawing attention to this isn't something I'm comfortable with. I know you meant it in a complimentary sense, but frankly, I don't deal well with attention of any kind in real life- a trait that seems to have carried over to my cyberspace self. I mean, I love having readers, but this isn't thedirtydisher.

And it doesn't mean for a minute that I don't love you all for sticking up for me, and for the input.

Goodness, that was a LONG comment (again!).

Yohan said...

Perakath may have a point. Clearly they found your blog via google or the blogroll process. Either way, your opinions are starting reaching the people they are about. This is worth thinking about. The longer you're on a blogspot blog and the more popular it gets, the higher your google pagerank will be.

Wordpress allows one to keep one's blog outside search results. I used that until recently. Since I allowed searching, traffic has increased, and people land up at my blog using the strangest of search strings.

You are in a league of your own: as you said, there are almost no Indian fashion bloggers. Since blogs are now cool, and many Indians take their inspiration from the west, more and more Indians in the fashion industry and outside of it will google something like "Indian Fashion Blog" and find you. The features editor may actually have been working on a "what the blogs are saying" feature, like they have in most publications nowadays.

Sorry, that was a very long geeky comment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I didn't realise this commentspace was still active, or I'd have commented here, not the next post... Yohan, are you insinuating that Google ranks Blogspot blogs above other blogs because it's a Google service? Or merely that because you can't keep a Blogspot blog outside searches, the page rank will increase?

And yes the search strings used to land up at my blog too are hilarious :)

Hey this new sign-in with WordPress option is pretty cool...

disktop said...

I think pretty much all that had to be said on the merits of the post have been covered by the comments above.

Your blog is generating what it ought to i.e. reaction. Adverse or otherwise, this usually means that you have something to say. I think this is what you aspired to do when you set up the blog in the first place.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Cripes...someone out there is watching? Spooky thought.
Yohan: blogs have always been cool (you should know). It's just easier for me to connect with the fashion blogosphere at large than to really make a conscious effort to do 'Indian fashion reportage'. In fact, look what happens when I do the latter..and the blog has absolutely nothing at all to do with being Indian or Western- it's only what's in my head. If someone has a problem with that, they're free to say so.
Perakath: no probs with where you commented. And I think the new sign-in options are cool too.
disktop: I like reaction. And debate (just not the parliamentary kind :)). I'm just trying to get all this sorted in my head, really..

Anonymous said...

@Perakath: When I last checked, google didn't give one the option of being excluded from searches, while wordpress does.

@floppy: When I said blogs are cool "now", I meant that in the past three or four years the word went from being relatively obscure, to being found in most Indian newspapers. And the Bombay midday papers started quoting blogs a couple of years ago. In the US there are now influential political bloggers. In cultural terms this is uncharted territory!

Perakath said...

the best one though, IMHO, has to be Scott Adams' 'Dilbert Blog' :D

dreamecho said...

yikes, i think i had been holding my breath the entire time i was reading these comments.

you handled yourself with intelligence and grace. you did a fantastic job of standing up for what you believe in and backing that up. (and now i see why you found my post on defending one's opinions inspiring. :) i don't really have anything more to contribute...and maybe this subject has been about beat to its end...but i think it's high time i add you to my blogroll. keep on kicking butt!

X & Y said...

HILARIOUS! Do have a look at this link: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050820/saturday/main2.htm

It profiles our good friend, Mr. Rana, his background, and his talents! I'm sure you'll agree it's a riveting read. The information about his background probably explains the quality of the language he uses. The line of poetry quoted is laughable (Squishy: No meter!) Also, my favourite anecdote was the kal/tomorrow incident...knee-slappingly funny!


- Y.

susie_bubble said...

I've only caught wind of this petty debate and I'm absolutely flabberghastered that people are being belittled for presenting their opinion.

To think that I thought fashion hierarchy was breaking down somewhat...

Anonymous said...

Erm...the article X&Y references isn't too bad actually. People who learn English from scratch and then hold forth with the snobs are to be encouraged, I think.

I feel bad whenever I find myself looking down on someone whose English is wobbly. Of course, language ability has nothing to do with plagiarism.

I have some strong opinions about the notion of meter in poetry. English being stress-timed as opposed to syllable-timed (like Indian languages), there is a lot of freedom regarding how best to read a poem. The offending line falls into that category, even if its content may not please everyone.

Perakath said...

Well said, T-Man... especially the 2nd line.

Sally Jane said...

Well said! You've defended yourself with grace and dignity and that's a rare thing these days.

Ginevra said...

This is a dead discussion and my point is something that Blue was most likely too nice to say explicitly, but I couldn't help noting that the designer's tone suddenly became a lot nicer (going by Email #2) AFTER she mentioned that she'd studied intellectual property law. Not a good idea to piss off the lawyers now, is it? Or for that matter, any blogger.

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