In the past few years Jeremy Scott has become a more-than-well-known name in the street fashion sphere. Dividing the world of fashion with his outlandish and oft-controversial designs, his footwear collaborations with Adidas alone have seen enough cultural debate to fill a Sociology periodical – See his hi-top trainers with funky anke-shackles and chains, or his Native American-inspired (Read: ‘Make it tribal’) Totem trainers – but his latest collection for Fall/Winter 2013, presented this weekend just passed, has made considerably worse waves than perhaps even the designer himself originally expected.
Having had this guy’s work shoved in my face for a good few years now – I was going to say ‘having followed’ but resisted. I don’t follow him, I’m trying to escape him – it really didn’t come as any surprise to me that Jeremy Scott has taken the approach of courting controversy once again to further his own brand name. It’s a practice that Scott seems to regard as clever or edgy, but this violation might be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
People have jumped to Scott’s defense, talking about how re-appropriation and ‘paying homage’ is as big a part of streetwear as Nike trainers and sans-serif logos are. People cited Scott’s previous releases, such as a jumper with an all-over print of Bart Simpson’s face, as an example of artists just rolling with the punches and enjoying their work being celebrated in different mediums, but there’s a big problem going on here to do with lifting aspects of other people’s cultures without really respecting their original meaning or context. Nice bindi, by the way, Jeremy.
Everybody knows who the Simpsons are. Everybody knows who Matt Groening is. If you don’t, you can turn to the person next to you and have them explain. We all know that the Simpsons brand is licensed left, right and centre to anything that can be branded, from Bart Simpson underwear at British Home Stores to Simpsons donuts in Sainsbury’s to Simpsons clocks, chairs, t-shirts, computer games and god knows what else. It is hard to see how the Bart Simpson jumper could have made it to release without the image being licensed by Groening. Even if it wasn’t, however, there was never any risk of Groening’s brand being damaged, nor his coffers. ‘That’s Bart Simpson’ is about as far as anyone would expect the discussion to go.
If you look at Scott’s Santa Cruz rips, however, it is possible to see that these aren’t the original artworks, but commissioned designs that have been constructed to look as similar as possible to, but not the same as, the original designs. What that means is that Jeremy Scott’s team paid money to an artist to make some designs for a clothing brand, so that Scott could in turn avoid paying money to an artist for their designs. In other words, it’s a calculated effort to avoid paying royalties to the originator of an art – it’s effectively theft.
It seems unfair at a base level to target Scott for one violation when I’m dismissing his plagiarism of the Simpsons, but there’s another problem there as well. When the comparative images first popped up, the comments sections were reeling with two statements – ‘What the fuck, how the hell did he think he’d get away with this?’ and ‘Has anybody asked Jim Phillips about this?’.
Jim Phillips does not have a Wikipedia page. You will not find masses of newspaper articles or published books about him. He’s just a dude who did a load of designs for Santa Cruz skateboards back in the day. I’ve said it once already but the ‘Screaming Hand‘ is fucking iconic. But it’s iconic to a specific group of people, who know the man and respect him and his work very highly. When you’re talking about Bart Simpson, it’s something that everybody has an image of in their head and most people can tell you who designed it, even if they might not be sure how to pronounce ‘Groening’.
Jim Phillip’s artwork is just as iconic, but in a much less direct sense. Certain elements and aesthetics are strongly established in his designs, and as a result many people are ‘familiar’ with the ‘general idea’ of his artwork, but they might not be able to name a specific design, even less-so name the artist. Situations like this place the artist and his work in jeopardy, because you’re exposing that artwork to a whole new demographic of consumer in a vastly inaccurate context. Jeremy Scott has made no mention of Jim Phillips in the press, as far as I’m aware. Hypebeast say he simply alluded to the ‘messy fantasy of an adolescent boy’s world’. The end result is that you could have a whole new group of people walking around, pointing at Jim Phillips artwork and saying, “Hey, look! It’s that Jeremy Scott thing!” something that completely disregards the hard work and graft of a man who almost single-handedly shaped one of the most famous design aesthetics of 90s skate culture. That’s a pretty big deal.
Just as when he ripped the Kwagiulth people‘s traditional imagery and artwork for his Adidas Totem trainers, bastardising their culture and paying no tribute or recompense to the artists from whom he has stolen, Jeremy Scott’s Fall/Winter 2013 collection will make a heck of a lot of money off of the work of other, more deserving people. He is allowed to get away with it each time because people dismiss it as ‘fashion’, then the next season comes around and the press releases tell us about ‘controversial’ Jeremy Scott.
There is nothing controversial about this. Scott has been almost universally reviled by the streetwear community for pissing on the legacy of talented people and it’s about time he was made to stop once and for all. It’s now more important than ever that Santa Cruz and/or Jim Phillips litigates against Jeremy Scott to make a statement to other designers that if you want to jack someone’s style, you best have your fucking chequebook ready, and if the answer you get isn’t the one you want, you’d better roll the fuck on and start thinking of a new idea.