Copycat fashionistas: When plagiarism hits the fashion industry

Actress-producer Anushka Sharma’s clothing line, NUSH, has been embroiled in a copyright violation case with reports alleging that several pieces from the Autumn-Winter collection have been lifted from Chinese e-commerce sites. The clothing line was launched in October this year in partnership with Suditi Industries. While Anushka had said that she has taken personal interest in the styles of NUSH, the CMD of Suditi Industries, Pawan Agarwal had clarified that she was never part of the designing and procuring business, and hence can’t be blamed for it. He also accepted that there had been serious lapses on the design and procurement part on their side and on that of the Chinese manufacturer from whom they had procured some of their designs.

Plagiarism in fashion is not new and many designers have had to fight the duplication of their collections. From boutiques and shops in Chandni Chowk and other markets in cities across India, to other designers lifting designs, and online portals that sell fakes at extremely low prices, to huge apparel brands, ace fashions designers from have had their constant run-ins with copycats. We take a look at the designers who have been victims to plagiarism:

Ritu Kumar: The first designer to take legal recourse for plagiarism, Ritu Kumar took on a series of Kolkata based retailers and designers in 1999 after discovering that many of her designs were being replicated and sold at much cheaper prices on the streets of Kolkata. The premises of the retailers were raided and all copies of the Ritu Kumar designs were confiscated. In 2016, the ace designer filed another complaint against apparel brand Biba for recreating her designs. She sought an injunction against Biba from reproducing, printing, publishing or selling garments which were a reproduction of Ritu Kumar collections.  Ritu Kumar, however, lost the case since under Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act, 1957, since the copyright ceased to exist as it had been reproduced more than 50 times.

Copied right down to the model: Rohit Bal’s creation (left) and Seema Mehta’s (right)

Rohit Bal: Ace fashion designer Rohit Bal became the first designer to copyrigth his entire collection. He had accused designer Seema Mehta of blatantly copying his summer/resort collection 2016, where everything from the collection design to even the model, Mohit Dahiya, was the same. After Bal found out about the plagiarism, he issued a strongly worded statement on Facebook and Instagram. He wrote, “The original by Rohit Bal on the ramp. The fake by some parasitical designer. Adding her name would be giving her unnecessary publicity. We are surrounded by wannabes and parasitical desperate designers who should really hide their heads in shame and not strip this creative art of all its dignity and respect. Shame on you SM. She has also used the same model. Just the height of blatant shamelessness and utter disrespect for this profession. Feeling disgusted and appalled.” (sic) The designer has also accused apparel store Asiana Couture and others in Chandni Chowk of blatantly copying his designs.

Anita Dongre: Anita Dongre also followed Rohit Bal in copyrighting her entire collection ahead of the Fashion Design Council of India’s ‘India Couture Week’. The designer, who has said that plagiarism is a by-product of the fashion industry, has had her designs widely copied by shop owners and sold at much lesser prices.

Nida’s creation (left) and the apparel sold by the retail chain (right)

Nida Mahmood: The designer accused a popular retail brand of copying her designs in June, this year.  Nida Mahmood had posted on FB page, “One of the largest garment and lifestyle retail chains in India has had the audacity of blatantly ripping off one of my designs from the Junglee Billee collection. No changes made to the design, not even an inspired piece. No, this is the exact replica of my design with just heightened colours. Instead of a dress, this is a kurta.” Mahmood has taken it up legally with the brand, which has since removed the collection from their stores.

Tarun Tahiliani: While in Dubai for the Dubai Fashion Week in 2008, Tarun Tahiliani saw an exact copy of one of his creations from his Fall/Winter Collection 2006 with the ‘Mynah by Renu Tandon’. According to Tahiliani, he immediately stepped into the store and bought the garment for Rs 19,000, as he needed proof of the copying. He then filed a case of plagiarism against Tandon, who in turn filed a defamation case against him stating that she did not copy his designs, and that someone else had done it to create a misunderstanding. The case was then settled amicably, out of court.

Suneet Varma: Controversy rocked the fashion industry and the Lakme Fashion Week in 2005, when designer Suneet Verma  accused colleague Aki Narula of lifting one of his designs from his Fall/Winter 2003 collection and using them to dress up Rani Mukherjee in the film Bunty Aur Bubli. Narula, however, claimed that his profile as a costume designer also involved sourcing clothes along with designing and creating them, and the particular dress in question was picked up by a member of his team.  Narula then slapped a defamation case on Verma, claiming that he had trying to get into Bollywood for long and had particularly wanted to be the costume designer for Bunty aur Babli.

Sabyasachi’s sarees and lehengas have been widely replicated and sold at a fraction of their costs. By Sou Boyy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27954313

Sabyasachi: Perfect copies of most of the ace designer’s, pricey wedding sarees and lehengas are available at Chandni Chowk. While the actual price of these lehengas could be anywhere between Rs 7-8 lakhs, the replicas are available from Rs 30,000 onwards. The designer, however, has said that he believes that imitation is the best form of flattery, and these copies also tend to contribute to making his collections more popular.