For those who aren’t privileged to belong to the upper echelons of society, fashion weeks in India can be awe-inspiring affairs. The self-proclaimed who’s who of style can be seen flaunting clothes by their favourite designers, posing for the paparazzi and coyly clicking selfies. But this protected little bubble is now perennially on the verge of being unceremoniously burst by @dietsabya’s account on social media platform Instagram. Fashioning themselves, so to speak, as whistleblowers against “gandi” (bad) copies of couture designs, the makers of this account are calling out leading Indian designers for plagiarising designs and celebrity stylists for not doing their due diligence.
The irony that @dietsabya is itself a “copy” of New York-based @diet_prada is not lost on anyone, especially the designers who have been at the receiving end of @dietsabya’s tongue-lashings. In one of its early posts on Instagram, the handle called out Mumbai-based designer Nikhil Thampi for lifting ace American designer Brandon Maxwell’s white ensemble. In what has become trademark style for @dietsabya, actor Bhumi Pednekar sporting Thampi’s “copied” design is juxtaposed with supermodel Gigi Hadid in Maxwell’s original, with a puckish caption that called Thampi’s design an “eww, copy”. Thampi, without offering a direct defence, hit back: “Also, what’s really amusing is how a rip off of diet Prada is ripping people off.”
Intrinsic to social media is its interactive nature — so, the exchange didn’t end there. When @dietsabya pointed out that it has boldly called itself a “copy” in its Instagram descriptor, Thampi shot back: “One must be an original to point fakes out.” For @dietsabya, though, all publicity has been good publicity and it carries on boldly.
Resolutely keeping its anonymity intact, the Instagram handle made its first post on March 15 during the Amazon India Fashion Week. In a short two months, @dietsabya has over 34,000 followers, a feat for any digital influencer. But beyond the numbers, it is also the kind of followers this account has attracted that is notable. Actors Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor, stylists Shaleena Nathani, Anaita Adajania and Pranav Sood, and designers Anavila Misra and Gaurang Shah are among its most prominent subscribers. Which is only natural, considering that many actors act as clotheshorses for designers to showcase their latest collections and stylists are the crucial link between the two.
A celebrity stylist who did not want to be named said that she follows @dietsabya for one simple reason — to keep a close eye on these Instagram posts and desperately hope never to feature in them. Other designers and stylists are not as appreciative of the venture. The account often gets blocked — a badge of honour that @dietsabya flaunts with posts — and it is only rarely that a designer chooses to explain how his or her design is not a plagiarism. @dietsabya did not respond to an emailed questionnaire.
Ruffling feathers aside, @dietsabya is tackling an issue that has for long plagued the Indian fashion industry. Top designers like Rohit Bal, J J Valaya and Sabyasachi Mukherjee have often railed against their designs being copied and a legal process that does not protect their interests. Meanwhile, this naming and shaming on Instagram is likely to do a more effective job of checking blatant copies than intellectual property suits.