My very own ‘Dior and People Tree’ moment(s)…

David and Goliath.

There is a huge debate on at the moment about Dior copying work from People Tree and from what I can see. Yup it looks totally copied and not just ‘inspired’. And I am not condoning ‘inspired’ either. Just that Dior did not even make the effort to take an idea and bring in some fresh perspective to the entire thought. That at least would have shown more respect for People Tree and themselves. But I think it goes beyond just having some one copy your work. It is really that somehow in India there is nothing one can do about copyright really. If the length of a dress is changed- the copyright can be challenged. So by that logic Dior moving the motifs around and re-spacing them as it were could potentially let them get away scot free. Maybe with a little infamy involved but then it is said in today’s day and age. No publicity is bad publicity!

The same had happened to me when I saw my work walk the Lakme Fashion week runway in 2010 without permission i might add by none other than designer Malini Agarwala of Malaga.

The image on top is of a Kathakali face I painted on a trunk and showcased at my 2008 exhibition in the Cha Bar at the Leela Palace hotel here in Bangalore. It has since been published in many newspapers and magazines as also on many blogs and websites. The following images show the bag that was made using my work and a model carrying that bag on the ramp.


After I found out I waited 24 hours to calm down before I called her. She initially denied it. She then blamed it on an intern. But I pointed out that it was her name on the runway show so the buck stopped at her. She then wanted me to ‘collaborate’ on a new line. At which point I asked her to buy out the first copied design for a token 1000/- rupees so that we could have a fresh start. She said ‘ya ya will do that lets work on a new line’.

I went to her office in Mumbai with my husband and a dear friend who understands these kinds of deals. He asked her multiple questions and we agreed to a profit sharing for the new line as and when it came out. Did I mention she was retailing the said bag on which she had used my design for 18000/- INR!! How do I know this? I did my homework. I went to her store and spoke to the sales lady BEFORE I went to meet her. The sales lady said ‘we have sold dozens of this bag as it is a very ‘hot’ selling piece’. After my phone call with Malini it had been pulled from the store and I was told by her that it did not sell at all!

When she heard the remuneration plan to share profits and that she would have to show me her sales reports and books, she asked to outright buy out a series of designs. When she heard the price for those she said – I could have got it copied – yet I am asking you. And that is after her offer to collaborate!!

She wanted a few days to decide. Then she went to London (I think) and I got busy with my life. I lost my grandparents in the interim and this was not priority. I finally wrote to her again asking status a few months later. She accused me extortion. At which point I sent her a legal notice. I sent one to LIFW and FDCI as well. Both companies said they were indemnified and I should feel free to sue. But it is interesting to note that both FDCI and LIFW never pulled her from their Fashion Weeks. And if you see her Facebook page she has celebritiies galore that patronize her.

Her lawyers were known to mine and they accepted the ‘copying’ part, blamed the intern who had conveniently left the company since without a forwarding address I might add. They basically said they would keep me court for the next 20 years and that they would keep me coming to Mumbai for court hearings every week. I had two little ones at the time and my husband used to travel. A lot. And I had no help of any kind at home. So this scenario would not have been possible to play out for me.

I was also told that I needed to put my claim on paper so that she would/could not sue me at a later date for using my own design!! And that I should just put it out there especially since I had proof of my claims. I should let them sue me for defamation. Since the onus would be on them to prove it. So I put out a blog post and left it at that. Mind you I was still nice enough not to name them. Malini did call a few days later to ask why I had put out a blog post 🙂

It happened again a few years later….and then again and again and again and again…. There are quite a few – big and small. There are times when people try and copy a painting in an effort to paint. And then there are times when my painting is used on a product as is. Some actually take the effort to repaint or re-touch in photoshop, maybe change the colours a bit or resize elements. One time I found my motifs on fabric and used on a wallet. Apparently the fabric was available as yardage!! And don’t even get me started on kettles and their proliferation.
Come over for chai and I will list them all for you with photographs 🙂

Such is life. I decided to just concentrate on my work and carry on. Though I did learn to always document what I find. I think for me what hurts most is when friends take ideas discussed in good faith and use them without a by your leave. There are many shades of grey going from white to black. And depending on one’s place and point of view, things get murkier. There are those I believe who make genuine mistakes and take inspiration a bit too far. There are those who genuiniely don’t realize that their piece is not just ‘inspired’ it is the same! There is imitation, inspiration, out right copying, plagiarism… And then there is Zietgist 🙂

On a more serious note – inspiring someone to better their own skills and visual vocabulary is one thing, blatant copying quite another. It makes me feel connected to another soul that they were so moved by a piece of mine that they felt compelled to add their own interpretation to it. But using it as is… where is the artistic merit in that?

My advice – take an idea and weave your own emotions through it, put your thoughts and feelings in there, connect to that ‘inspiring’ piece and add your life experiences to it and then see what you come up with. That is what makes art worth pursuing.

I do hope that Dior gives credit and compensation to People Tree. That is the least they can do.
P.s- I have proof of everything I have said here in the form of emails and photographs and image files.



1st Feb –  These two articles have since referenced this blog post. Do give them a read. They offer much food for thought.


6 thoughts on “My very own ‘Dior and People Tree’ moment(s)…

  1. Pingback: People Tree v. Dior: IP Infringement, Cultural Appropriation or Both? | SpicyIP

  2. Asif Shaikh says:

    The amount of effort involved in art is humongous and wicked elements can never understand this. There is an absolute need for a strict judicial system specifically for Plagiarism. Every now and then artists suffer and there is no one to pay attention.
    Sorry to hear about the incident. Hope you work do wonder in future.
    All the best Aarohi!

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