Australian Designers Di$count Universe Claim Miley Cyrus Ripped Off Their Look; Are “Distraught” And “Heartbroken”
The evidence is certainly compelling.
Just when you thought the MTV VMAs were finally about to sneak out of your Facebook feed, another Miley Cyrus-centred controversy bares its glittery, evil-eyed face.
Overnight, Melbourne-based cult fashion label Di$count Universe (DU) issued public statements on Instagram, stating they had been left “distraught” and “heartbroken” after the Video Music Awards. Miley Cyrus and the 31 drag queens who joined her on stage for the closing performance appeared in costumes which the pair behind the label — Nadia Napreychikov and Cami James — believe were ripped off from their own work.
Exhibit A — Miley Cyrus’ costumes during the performance of ‘Dooo It’, featuring the cast of Ru Paul’s Drag Race:
Exhibit B — The work of Di$count Universe:
Exhibit C — A very confused public:
Miley Cyrus x discount universe costumes are giving me life ? — Yokia (@CirqueDSoleil) August 31, 2015
When you find out that Miley Cyrus ripped off Discount Universe pic.twitter.com/eJMJQ7fwnu
— Mr. Janelle Marie (@QueeferMadness) August 31, 2015
Exhibit D — A very angry Di$count Universe:
“To our dearest DU Family, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts for all the LOVE and support,” the pair wrote in another post on Instagram. “We are obviously distraught, and this couldn’t have come at a worse time as we are on our official last day of making the new collection, so we are trying our best to rise above and stay focused.
“We’ve kept our mouths closed about a lot of things in the past, but the one thing you can’t TAKE and get away with is someone’s IDENTITY. We know it might be risky for us career-wise to comment on this, but if we didn’t, it would mean that we stand for NOTHING. We will be discussing this soon.”
Di$count Universe is part of the VFiles group, and the platform’s founder, Julie Ann Quay, also issued a statement: “At VFILES we understand inspiration comes from many places and fashion in all its forms is a collaborative process between passionate and talented people,” she said. “Taking another person’s work, recreating it and saying it is yours is not right.”
— VFILES (@VFILES) August 31, 2015
So: Was The Look Stolen Or What?
The costumes for Cyrus’ VMA performance were in fact designed by cult New York-based label BCalla — aka Brad Callahan, a queer designer who has worked with drag performers in the past, has dressed Azaelia Banks and Lady Gaga, and who has the most NSFW website you’re likely to see today.
Super babe @ms__fitz taking these #BCALLA chaps out for a spin. A photo posted by @bcallabcalla on
In an interview published with Nylon soon after the performance, but before the allegations of theft surfaced, Callahan explains he had initially been approached to dress Cyrus for a promo shoot — but, after sending over an option from his range, her stylist Simone Harouche asked him to begin sketching looks for a performance.
Callahan, who provided some of the sketches to Nylon, says Cyrus’ team “just wanted something fun, something outrageous. They started me sketching by sending me inspiration images, I reacted to the images and from my sketches a direction was born.”
The reference images sent over by Harouche “were really easy to be inspired by”, Callahan says — but he claims he took most of his guidance from two in particular: “The first being a vintage picture of two little kids at a carnival wearing giant paper mâché heads as backpacks, and the second being that iconic image of Bowie in custom Kansai Yamamoto.”
“Miley’s look was a bit more involved [than the outfits of the drag performers] and took several rounds of sketches,” he continues.
Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating
BCalla’s clothes may indeed have been referencing Di$count Universe, but it’s also likely that both labels work from the same set of influences, shared by many who dress pop stars in this era. A big part of that influence comes from drag culture — and given Cyrus’ shady history with cultural appropriation, working with a queer designer who already outfits drag performers may have been a deliberate move on her team’s behalf.
Neither the colourful sequins or ‘Evil Eye’ icon offer enough evidence to prove the Australian label’s claims that their work was directly stolen, either: the aggressively hypercolour, glittered-up nature of the range has been an iconic element of Cyrus’ promo shots and live shows for over a year now.
The mystic or evil eye, meanwhile — an ancient symbol of luck — has been appropriated by a range of modern designers, from Kenzo, Charlotte Olympia and Mara Hoffman. “Peepers have suddenly taken the world by storm”, gushed Refinery29 back in 2013 — but the trend had roots even earlier if Katy Perry’s Jean Charles de Castelbajac dress from 2008’s MTV Europe VMAs is anything to go by.
But while the similarities could be innocent or coincidental, they were striking enough to have warranted confusion online, and a fair amount of outrage from Di$count Universe’s fans. After all, Cyrus and her stylist are well aware of DU’s work; in 2013, Harouche bought a T-shirt from their online shop which was later used in a now-infamous October shoot by Terry Richardson, that would be emblazoned on merchandise for her 2014 Bangerz tour.
According to The Saturday Paper, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Iggy Azalea, and M.I.A. have also requested product from DU for promo and tours.
Cyrus supported the label again in October the next year, when she performed on Channel 7’s Sunrise:
— Fairfax Life&Style (@LifestyleAU) October 13, 2014
And then — just to complicate the whole shebang even further — the internet’s favourite style-guru grandma, Baddie Winkle, was snapped backstage at yesterday’s VMAs wearing a Di$count Universe tracksuit while standing next to Cyrus herself.
@baddiewinkle in DU with miley!!!! #vmas #discountuniverse A photo posted by DI$COUNT UNIVER$E (@discountuniverse) on
To the delight of the label, Winkle also appeared on the red carpet in an iconic DU dress.
Clearly the baddest b*tch at the #VMAS!!!!!!!!!!!! #BESTDRESSED #baddiewinkle backing it up in DU again ?????????? A photo posted by DI$COUNT UNIVER$E (@discountuniverse) on
That one above is real Di$count Universe.
This one below? Not so much.
With thanks to Alyx Gorman for research and references. Di$count Universe, BCalla and VFiles were all been approached for comment for this piece.
Feature Image via MTV