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Desi designers ripping off stuff?

Indian fashion ? barely a decade old ? has always been slammed for borrowing heavily from the west.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 18:41 IST

You've seen pictures from Manish Malhotra and Surily Goel – the former, the most celebrated designer in Mumbai and the latter, Bollywood's latest blue eyed girl – plastered all over the papers and the news channels. Now, we dig out pictures from international magazines showcasing the works of renowned designers. We found the re semblance between some of the work showcased at IFW and ones in the fashion mags very similar. In some cases, uncannily similar. Co-incidence? You decide.

Indian fashion – barely a decade old — has always been slammed for borrowing heavily from the west. We are criticised for using west ern silhouettes and trends and adapting them for the Indian run way with just a different interpretation – the criticism is that this makes the gurus of the Indian fashion industry darzis and not designers. Imagination, integral to designing, is said to be in short supply.

Take a look at the pictures again. It is quite clear that the Surily dress that Preity Zinta wore to the designer's LFW showing is quite similar to one made by American designer Megan Odabash. The ‘knee-length' garment that made it's way into the ‘Roses are Forever' collection and the LFW runway had been featured in the shopping column of the May 2006 issue of a US Elle edition and had been described as a ‘beaded cotton dress'. Everything, from style to cut, from embellishments, to slits on the side, to the print around the slits is similar.

What does Surily have to say? She says she designed the dress in October – “I wore it to the Verve lunch in November” she says — so the Odabash line, which would be shown on the runway in October, would have been out at the same time as hers. Copying therefore would be out of the question.

Plus, she says, she's never heard of Odabash. Two designers thought of the same motif, embellishment and cut at the same time. Impossible isn't it? We said so to Surily, who then dug out the magazine we were quoting from, and saw the dress in question.

She said: “That dress (Odabash) has no beading, mine has shells, beads, stones and is fifty times heavier. She's selling it at $225 (Rs 18, 000 approx) and I'm selling at Rs 11,000.” So, is that enough of a difference? Surily has this explanation: the designer says she did not create the motifs or even the fabric – these are “ready African motif kurtas” that were picked up from the Hill Road market and “re-embroidered and restitched.” Er… in that case, can you really call it the designer's creation?

Moving on to her mentor, Manish Malhotra's resortwear collection (showcased at the Raheja Exotica in Mumbai in February) had a piece from the collection by Chloe held way back in October 2005 at Paris Fashion Week (the piece was subsequently used in the Spring 2006 advertisement campaign of the fashion house and appeared in fashion magazines). Malhotra was unavailable for comment.

Copyright has always been a hot issue in fashion worldwide. Allegations fly about collections being ‘overly' inspired. Broadly speaking, there are different types of inspirations. Some are acceptable, while some clearly border on plagiarism. While this is a hazy (if hot) topic out there – all it takes for one person's creation to become another's is a few changes, making it difficult for the copycat to be sued under law, which makes a dress or design difficult to patent — designers worldwide accept that this remains unethical.

While designers such as Manju and Bobby Grover and Shantanu Goenka clearly borrowed a ‘look' and a mood from the western runway by using YSL's Elizabethian ruffles and the buzz was that Suneet Varma's prints closely resembled Cavalli, the Surily piece and the Malhotra design are also very similar in motif, besides over-all feel and construction. While HT Style gives you these pictures to demonstrate how designs in international magazines turn up bizarrely on runways another time, another place, the instances we have shown you are by no means the only ones. While Ralph Lauren has sued D & G in the past over the issue, closer home, we have had Tarun Tahililani and J.J. Valaya slugging it out over digital tshirt designs. At LFW too, there were many stories of copying – from a Mumbai designer whose kaftans are liberally inspired – she is said to have directly lifted a gold beaded kaftan from Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad's 2004 collection.

So the next time you shell out those thousands at a designer store, just keep in mind that you may not be paying for the designer's originality but his creativity with a few back issues of Elle and Vogue.