At last month’s Grammy Award ceremony, Lorde was the only woman nominated in the flagship Album of the Year category, for her first project in four years, Melodrama. The sequestering nod was an honour as much as it was an insult: The singer’s body, swathed in a scarlet Valentino dress, responded accordingly.
Lorde’s breathtaking gown was embroidered with a protest poem by neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, whose work delivers poetry in public spaces. The feminist was part of Lorde’s testimony of the power of words — particularly in a Hollywood reckoning against sexual misconduct, as highlighted by celebrities in their Golden Globes black dress code.
The dress played with the connotations of red: Hester’s adultery in The Scarlet Letter; the red carpet; red’s ubiquitous association with passion. And while this was happening in New York City, Zara’s headquarters in Artexio, Spain was denounced for their own literary appropriations.
Of the 2.5 million items that Zara distributes per day, this little black dress, printed with quotation marks strikingly similar to Off-White’s signature branding slinked across the front as though a name badge couldn’t say enough. The drama here is that this look is just too straightforward in how it’s “borrowing” from Off-White.
So how did Lorde get the silent O.K. in a climate where Diet Prada is keeping tabs on everyone?
Lorde borrowed a poem and credited the poet. This was also one of the first times anyone has so publicly expressed wording in literal pen and ink to paper; needle and thread. In a world of borrowing and quotations à la Zara et Lorde, we’ve been using clothing to illustrate ideas in the context of form, symbols and repetition since symbology in ancient empires. Even a straight jacket owned by Agnes Richter was fretfully embroidered with words twisted into the yarns of her jacket to reflect her declining mental state in a German asylum.
So what’s wrong with commandeering the words of another?
No one can truly know the intention—are the words are being passed off as original?—except for the person who applied them. Lorde’s method to her melodramatic dress realized the importance of her presence at the event, not only as a means of standing behind her work, but also how, as a woman artist, it takes a lot to be recognized and awarded. Virgil Abloh does not own quotation marks, but he used them to convey his ideas about fashion as a form of architecture.
Zara doesn’t owe anyone for misusing the ideas of other designers. Their quote lends nothing significant to the design, nor the person who wears it.
After all, Zara’s dress is only one of 2.5 million.