Dior accused of plagiarising design created by Indian brand after Sonam Kapoor wears it on Elle India's cover
The design copied by Dior and worn by Sonam Kapoor for the Elle India cover was originally created by Orijit Sen for People Tree
Fashion is an evolving art form, and it is not unheard of for couturiers of one culture to borrow from another when creating something new. From a recent incident, it appears that copying ideas from another artist too, is commonplace. International brand Dior has been accused of plagiarism by Indian graphic artist and designer Orijit Sen, who co-founded People Tree, an artists' collective and store. This allegation was made after Sonam Kapoor, who is on the cover of Elle India's January issue, wore the plagiarised design.
This design was originally created by Sen himself 18 years ago for People Tree. "We started People Tree in 1990. From the mid-90s, we have been working with a small community of natural dye and block printing artisans in a village called Kaladera in Rajasthan. It's been over 20 years since we've been working with them, and in the process, we have created a wide range of original block print designs which we use to make t-shirts and fabrics. This is just one of the many designs we have created," he explains. He adds that there are other pictures of international models wearing designs which have been copied, too.
The original design and the copy have the same elements placed in a slightly different manner, and even the background colour they have been placed on is similar. "The elements are copy-pasted. There's a difference in the processes involved; Dior has probably used a screen print or digital print, basically some mechanical process. Our design is based on hand block printing; each unit is small because the blocks are small. This is why the pattern repeats itself in a particular way. Dior's printing proces has allowed them to create a larger pattern. They have also made minor modifications," says Sen.
The designer was apprised of this issue only on the evening of 22 January, and he says he is still thinking about how he should respond. He is angered by the fact that an established brand is copying designs when they possess the resources to hire the best in the business. "It makes me very angry to see that a company which has large resources at its disposal still chooses to be a parasite on the work of independent craftsmen and designers, instead of supporting them," he says.
In the past, too, there have been several instances of plagiarism that People Tree has become aware of, and perhaps some that have gone unnoticed, says Sen. Usually, the culprit is another small-scale design company or other crafts communities who like a particular design and replicate it. "We usually don't mind that because we try to be as much a part of the creative commons as possible, but it should be give-and-take. We never mind it, especially when it comes to craftspeople copying our designs. But this is the first time — that I am aware of — that a big brand has plagiarised our work in an almost cut-and-paste manner," he says. He is of the opinion that it is a rampant issue which is not noticed enough. "It just so happened that Sonam Kapoor is a celebrity and she has happened to wear it on the cover of Elle. Had it been worn by someone on the inside pages, it may not have been noticed," he says.
The designer is of the opinion that rather than copying, it is incumbent on big brands to support the work of Indian craftspeople and designers and give back to the community, considering that the latter does not posses even one-tenth of the resources that companies such as Dior do. "The solution is to try to encourage local talent, to give due credit and respect. People Tree works on a tinier scale, but every artisan and every craft group's name is highlighted in all of our stores. Their labels are not removed and we don't find it a problem to share credit when someone else has created a product. You cannot obliterate the producer at any level," he says.
Sen himself does not believe in having vertical relationships with the craftsmen he works with, and he stressed that People Tree focuses on respecting the artist and their art. "It's not a designer-craftsman relationship where we tell the craftsmen what to do; it's a collaborative process where we have learnt from their ideas and skills, and implemented them in different ways. The creation of contemporary block designs is an important part of that process for us. We have learnt the traditional method from them. The master craftsman in the family, Raghunath Nama, got along very well with me, and over the years we've developed many ideas," he says.
He also says that because he is in the know of things and was alerted on social media, he knows that what has occurred is a violation of his rights — a privilege that is not afforded to many craftspeople in India. Even if they do, oftentimes they are unaware of what action they can take, and are thus rendered powerless. He says that the issue of stealing designs must be highlighted and recognised, and that there should be a way to hold companies responsible. "Today, the craft community is already suffering. The government takes away subisidies, it is not helping to create a new market, and it is creating difficulties through reforms such as GST and demonetisation, which are killing the craftspeople. To add to that, corporates are leeching off their creativity. Big brands need to own up to such plagiarism. Customers should also hold brands to account, to engage only in fair trade practices," he says.
"I speak up as an aggrieved artist, but this is not just about myself. It is about a larger issue, particularly relating to Indian craftspeople. Indian textile has been prized since the time of the Roman civilisation, and at points in history such as when Mahatma Gandhi used it as a form of protest. It is the soul of India. These people step over it without acknowledging it. At a cultural level, it is troubling," says Sen.
Dior has not yet responded to these allegations.