Cape Town - Top fashion designer Gavin Rajah has found himself at the centre of a Twitter storm after one of his designs was called into question for bearing a striking resemblance to a dress designed by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad last year.
Rajah invited the Cape Times to his studio to defend his dress, which was shown at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town on Thursday.
On Twitter Rajah was called into question for plagiarism. Some said they were disappointed and others asked if Rajah thought people were too stupid to notice. Writer, blogger and creative Milisuthando Bongela tweeted: “I secretly hope there is some huge misunderstanding....”
Rajah said he was disappointed by the experience, so much so that he will “never do fashion week again”, but rather host his own shows.
Rajah produced sketches of the entire design process, a document detailing the inspiration behind the design and references of fans and the Japanese rising sun detail for the dress, named “rising sun fan dress”. He said he had never seen Murad’s dress before.
“If I had seen that dress, I would never have put it into the collection because someone would see the association,” Rajah said.
He said the fan design was something he often used in his work, and was a main focus of his latest Japanese-inspired collection. The bugle beading used on the dress was something he regarded as a trademark of his, as he can point out in designs dating back to 2004.
Independent producer of fashion events, Sim Tshabalala, was the one to make the connection and posted an image of the dresses on photo-sharing app Instagram. Tshabalala said he knew he had seen the dress before and was able to find an image of the “original” to share the comparison online.
Rajah claimed he had repeatedly tried to reach Tshabalala to explain his side of the story, and said he was shocked by how malicious and “full of hate” the situation had become.
Of the alleged copyright infringement, Tshabalala said: “I can excuse maybe a student designer, but if a top designer in the country does something like that – what does it say about the state of the industry?”
He said Rajah was “spitting in the face” of young designers who aspired to be like him.
But Rajah said Tshabalala had “a gripe” with him.
“It’s just been really horrible to hear the things he’s saying.”
He said he does understand that the designs look similar, but said short of having the original dress in his studio, he could not have imitated it. And even if he could have, he said he would not risk the “onslaught” and “career suicide” that would come afterwards.
Editor of Marie Claire magazine Aspasia Karras said it is a “tricky space” and described the lookalike situation as “disappointing”.
“There is no reason for Rajah to be venturing into this territory. He has demonstrated his ample skills for original and technically superior workmanship over many years, and I admire his work.
“I am saddened that this has happened and I am sure (Rajah) has a very good explanation.”