Thanks to P. Diddy, the Yale School of Architecture now has some legitimate street cred.
Sean Combs (aka Diddy) recently released a T-shirt design featuring calligraphy that strongly resembles a 2007 poster for a symposium at the Yale School of Architecture, titled “Seduction.” The only difference: the word “Seduction” has been changed to “Sean John.” The controversy, which began nearly three weeks ago, died down when the shirt was removed from Sean John’s retail website.
On Oct. 8, Marian Bantjes — one of the poster’s designers — posted on his Twitter account about the similarity, and soon thereafter the shirt disappeared from the brand’s website. It is unclear whether the shirt was taken down because it sold out or as a response to the tweet, said Michael Bierut, a partner at the design company Pentagram, which the School of Architecture commissioned to create the poster. One of Bantjes’s later tweets about the subject was tagged with Combs’s Twitter handle “iamdiddy,” alerting his account to the nearly identical designs.
A representative from Sean Combs’ corporate office couldn’t confirm whether or not the shirt is still being sold in stores.
Pentagram also tweeted the news after being tipped off by Bantjes, but the firm did not directly contact Sean Combs’ clothing line or send a cease-and-desist letter, said Kurt Koepfle, an associate partner who handles the firm’s public relations.
In issues of intellectual and creative copyright, it can be very difficult to prove a case in court, Bierut said.
“Intellectual copyright law is just so swampy that it seems not to be worth the trouble,” he said. “If you go to any fashion studio, there are bulletin boards covered with source material — things torn from magazines and downloaded from blogs. They all just become grist for the mill for what will become the next collection.”
Bierut asked Bantjes to design the poster back in 2007 for a symposium at the School of Architecture entitled “Seduction,” he said. Mark Gage, the curator of the School of Architecture show, wanted something that was “overwrought and sick-looking, … fecund and overly juicy,” Bierut said, and Bantjes obliged. For the assignment, she drew an elaborate typeface that spells out “Seduction” in swooping, dramatic lines that weave and dip, reminscent of vines or curling hairs. The poster became well known in design circles and was exhibited at a Rococo exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in 2008. The museum still has the original design in its collection.
“In this world there’s naturally a fine line between blatant copying and using precedents in the service of actual invention,” Gage wrote in an e-mail. “The shirts were probably not the world’s best example of using precedent in the service of innovation — they’re pretty literal copies.”
Although the T-shirt has been available online since as early as 2009, Bantjes only learned of the ripped-off design two weeks ago, when a friend sent her a message via Facebook. That is when Bantjes sounded the Twitter-alarm.
“With the Internet, it’s both easier to copy designs and easier to catch it when it happens,” said Bierut.
Word of the allegedly stolen design reached the School of Architecture when Gage e-mailed Robie-Lyn Harnois, events and career development coordinator at the School of Architecture, after Bantjes’s tweet.
“All roads lead to Yale, even the roads that drive through hip-hop street fashion,” Gage wrote.
Harnois said that she and Gage are friends, and that he forwarded her the news because she has an interest in fashion.
“He thought I would get a kick out of it,” said Harnois. “I sent it to Dean Stern and some alumni and they all responded with questions about the legality of it, and what was going to happen next. It turned out a lot of people got more than a kick out of it.”
Bierut has designed more than 70 posters for the School of Architecture.