The sincerest form of flattery? One design, two SA designers

A Leighton W. Couture design premiered in 2014. Photo by Marc Arevalo.

Anyone who knows anything about what San Antonio is like at its deepest, darkest core knows that our fair “city on the rise” is also the “biggest small town in Texas.” You can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who goes to the same salon. You can’t surf your Grindr without recognizing someone that comes in to the restaurant where you work at least once a week with his “fiancée.” You can’t bring a new squeeze to an event without being nervous about bumping elbows with at least three of your past sexual companions. We all that live here know and accept this, so it surprises me to some extent when there is any sort of drama with public figures involved in the same circles.
But if you are following local designer Leighton Whittington (@TheLeightonW) on Twitter, you might have seen the photo he posted several days ago calling out fellow local designer and Project Runway alum Samantha Plasencia for ripping off his one of his designs.*
OISA_Bianchi_WhitPlas1 OISA_Bianchi_WhitPlas2 OISA_Bianchi_WhitPlas3
With any artistically inclined profession there can be a well-rounded debate about tiptoeing the line between “stealing” and “reworking.”  According to Whittington, the idea for the piece in question was inspired by the wings in Disney’s Maleficent trailer: a sexy Angelina Jolie-esque look of a feathery pattern cut out of a bad-bitch leather material that is both tough and feminine, like most of his work. He finished the design and put it in his debut collection and that was that. … Until someone brought to his attention a picture that Plasencia posted on her Instagram recently of a design so similar he had to do a double-take. Whittington said he looked at every detail to see if the designs were as similar as they appeared, and he claims very few differences. He then posted a picture comparing the pieces on his Twitter and Facebook, where he and Samantha traded comments that I was informed were later deleted by her in an attempt to maintain some semblance of professionalism.
A design from Samantha Plasencia's website, samanthaplasencia.com.

A design from Samantha Plasencia’s website, samanthaplasencia.com.

The sticky part of the situation is who should back down and who should take the cred for the design–not so much who made the first cut in the fabric. Plasencia sent me information stating that she began her design in December 2013 and took it to casting for Project Runway in February 2014, but didn’t post it publicly (because of stipulations involving Project Runway) until late April 2014. A picture from her website with dates can be seen here. Whittington argues that images of his design was used in late March/early April 2014 for promotion and since he used it publicly before her finished design was published, he has the rights to the design. The two designers have had no other professional affiliation other than a brief moment last year when Whittington’s professional and life partner, photographer Marc Arevalo, contacted Plasencia to talk about using some of her designs in a shoot.

 

Could the designers creating the same looks at the same time be a coincidence? After all they have both cited the same big-name designers as inspiration.

We are pretty much talking about what’s a socially and professionally “cool” and “uncool” thing to do here, because it is my understanding that in the eyes of intellectual-property law, articles of clothing generally fall outside the law’s protective umbrella because they are predominantly seen as a “useful article” according to The Man. (Bianchi, dissenting.) Check out this post from Oliver Herzfeld on Forbes for a rundown of the protections available to fashion designers.
The question here is: Is Samantha Plasencia being at-all dickish or is she in the right?  Technically speaking, if she made the design first, is she entitled to claim it even though another designer was using an almost identical look for publicity before she made hers public? Keep in mind that Plasencia has been called out before for being a liiiiiiiiiiitle too similar to fellow designers (once by our very own Deidre Stevens in an SAFW article), but the information she provided seems to be pretty black and white. She told me over the phone that she doesn’t really keep up with local designers because she is more concerned with big dogs like Balenciaga, and Alexander Wang. Be that as it may, maybe this contretemps could have been avoided with a little more local awareness.
And since we are talking about social-media beefs, can we just take a minute to reflect on how absurd they are? I have seen the most intelligent people look like fools over a status-update rant that can be deleted but not forgotten. If you are going to rip on anybody, don’t do it in writing, text, email, or in tattoo form. Do it to their face so they can’t use it against you in any sort of point they make in the future. Namaste.
*Specific photo being referred to seems to have been taken down.
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