A few looks from the Vika Gazinskaya Spring 2018 ready-to-wear collection appear to take direct inspiration from the work of artist Brad Troemel—without permission, acknowledgement, or arrangement. Through a few posts on Instagram, Troemel alleges that, after making a back-to-back comparison, the dresses, which made their debut during the shows in Paris last week, directly lift designs and imagery from paintings he first showed at Tomorrow Gallery in New York last November.
The fracas erupted yesterday, after Troemel posted the looks from the Vika Gazinskaya collection next to images of work from “Freecaching,” his show at Tomorrow (which has since merged with Hester gallery to become Downs & Ross). In that show, the work on the walls served as certificates that authenticated his studio inventory, which Troemel said he had hidden in Central Park (you can read the full explanation here), and consisted of grids that contained 130 blocks, alternating between colored blocks, white blocks, numbered blocks, or blocks covered in snippets of text.
The looks designed by Gazinskaya, who has been at the helm of her Moscow-based namesake line since 2006, allegedly lift not only the aesthetic of the work in “Freecaching,” but also, at times, the precise design scheme—the dresses consist of grids with colored blocks, white blocks, numbered blocks, and blocks of text. Sometimes, the arrangement appears to be nearly identical.
“It’s a swatch-by-swatch copy from the upper left black to the lower left yellow to the text breaks between the green and yellow to the text break between the pink to the blue,” Troemel wrote in a comment on Instagram. “There’s really no room left for coincidence.”
Troemel implies in his initial post that he came across the appropriation in a Vogue review of the show, which lists as influences the choreographer William Forsythe, the actress Katharine Hepburn, and thrift stores in London and L.A.—but makes no mention of the artwork that it ostensibly copied. The story has not been updated to include any mention of Troemel’s influence, and the lead image is still of a dress with the Troemel-aping grid.
Representatives for the Vika Gazinskaya line did not respond to a request for comment. However, the designer appeared to be posting in the comments section of Troemel’s Instagram posts and other posts. The first occurred after the handle @gentle_virus, which appears to be the Instagram presence of the artist Mark Fingerhut, wrote “Copied from brad troemel” on one of the @vikagazinskaya Instagram posts. The designer responded immediately, saying: “Actually, it is too obvious to ‘hide’ it. So, it is an inspiration. And I can use art in my clothes as much as I want.”
This seems to be a confirmation that she had at the very least used Troemel’s work as a jumping off point. A few hours later, Troemel doubled down on the accusation, sharing with his 60,000 followers a screenshot of her statement where she admitted to the work being an “inspiration.”
“If my work was an inspiration as you say, you probably would’ve mentioned me as an inspiration when asked what influenced your line in Vogue,” Troemel wrote. “Instead, you covered it up, thinking your world was so large and mine so small that you could get away with ripping me off without anyone noticing. You are an international fashion brand selling goods that are direct copies of my work for thousands of dollars. I’m a working artist trying to figure out how to pay my rent next month. This is not a horizontal relationship of influence.”
Gazinskaya jumped into the fray immediately after, saying that she had seen an image of Troemel’s work in “Freecaching” while making the line and even went so far to share that image with Amy Verner, the fashion critic who wrote the story for Vogue—but didn’t know the name of the person who made it. She also alluded to a note she had sent Troemel, and implied that she will retroactively credit him as an inspiration.
“I wrote u that I had no idea who u are and never hided the picture which inspired me,” Gazinskaya said. “I were showing it to buyers and Amy. But we both did not know. I wrote u this, saying that we will add the ‘inspiration’ being u. Since now I figured out your name. But u prefers to stay angry – I thought artists are more kind and spiritual.”
“im not angry at life im angry at you for directly copying my work and profiting from it,” Troemel responded. “You say you had ‘no idea it was my work’ but it was obviously *someones* work, there arent 140 block gradients with numbers and text excerpts growing on trees. At which point you directly copied the series block by block.”
A few comments later the tone shifted and Gazinskaya became more contrite, saying “‘Shame on me’ I did not know your work” and adding that “for me it is great to know and point your art was an inspiration.” She also said that, contra his claims of fighting a much larger fashion world machine, she too struggles to make a profit when the retail stores mark up the costs of her dresses by a factor of five.
In a profile of the brand, leading online trade the Business of Fashion says that the “label is currently stocked in luxury boutiques such as Fivestory in New York and Symphony in Dubai, as well as online at Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and Moda Operandi.” A green draped ruched dress from Vika Gazinskaya retails on Lyst.com for $1,575. Katy Perry wore a Vika Gazinskaya skirt when she appeared on The Late Late Show in May.
The commentariat was quick to condemn Gazinskaya and compare the predicament to other instances of brands swiping ideas from artists, such as when Supreme borrowed liberally from Barbara Kruger’s aesthetic to create its iconic logo. Kruger had an immortal response to a reporter’s inquiry on the matter: “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.”
For Troemel, too, this must seem like a bit of an absurd situation—his practice also dissects and sends up issues of appropriation and ownership, fashion and retail, social media and digital influence, all of that. It almost seems like he could’ve cooked up the whole controversy himself.
When reached over text, Troemel said he declined to comment until he speaks with his attorney later this afternoon.