ONE of Scotland’s leading design companies has accused a high-street giant of creating a “rip-off” of one of its most famous patterns.
Glasgow-based Timorous Beasties says a pattern similar to its London toile, which contains distinctive drawings of the London skyline and is used on wallpapers and textiles, features prominently on a Topshop onesie entitled Toile de Jour.
In a posting on social networking website Facebook, Timorous Beasties displayed the two images side by side along with the headline: “Spot the Difference – Real or Rip-Off?” before going on to describe it as a “Topshop rip-off of our London Toile design”.
The company stated: “They have actually used our artwork. Some parts have been redrawn but for the most part it is our exact drawings. They have even lifted drawings from our New York Toile also and incorporated them. Shame on them.”
Timorous Beasties’ London toile has a cream background with a blue, green or red and pink design, and retails for £108 per metre of pure cotton fabric, £90 per roll of wall- paper, or £99 for a cushion. It features subversive scenes of gangsters, drunks and homeless people in front of landmarks such as Norman Foster’s the Gherkin, London Bridge and the London Eye.
By contrast, Topshop’s hooded onesie, which is made of cotton and polyester and retails for £25, is cream and contains a blue pattern of similar London scenes without the subversive message.
Timorous Beasties was contacted by Scotland on Sunday but declined to comment further on the situation. However, Topshop, which is owned by Philip Green’s Arcadia group, said it was investigating the claims.
Timorous Beasties has become famous for its provocative toile designs – themselves based on old toiles produced in the small French town of Jouy-en-Josas in the 18th century. Their toiles were designed using the same techniques as the original toiles by separating the drawings and producing extra depth and texture by overlapping and the company has produced a range featuring cities such as New York and Glasgow. Their controversial Edinburgh toile, which featured a double-decker bus beside roadworks, a homeless man sleeping rough outside St Giles’ Cathedral and two men vomiting and urinating on Greyfriars Bobby’s statue, was used on the cover of the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival programme.
Retail expert Dr Jason Turner, marketing lecturer at Abertay University, said: “It is very much a David and Goliath situation. Topshop have been a bit naughty in doing this, but if you look at the design you can see that they’ve got some images inverted or adapted.
“Rather than saying ‘Hands up chaps, yes this is a copy’, the chances are Topshop will say it is a homage and point out that Timorous Beasties have a certain type of clientele that probably won’t be buying onesies. The argument may well be: you make wallpaper, not onesies.”
Turner added that copies of designs first seen elsewhere are becoming increasingly visible on the high street. “Historically, this is becoming more and more common,” he said. “Tesco were one of the first with a dress that was a carbon copy of one that Kylie Minogue had worn, and it flew out of the shops because it was hugely discounted.
“Companies will now make no apologies for saying they make copies, as they’re selling the copies at discounts. There is an element of caveat emptor, buyer beware, because they will say ‘How could you seriously think we could sell a Stella McCartney dress for £50?’”
Last year designer and illustrator Kate Moross took to Twitter to lambast Topman, another Arcadia company, for copying a print featured on one of her sweatshirts, posting a comparison picture and alleging that poor pay from high-street retailers forces some young design employees to copy original work.
Commenting on her discovery, Moross tweeted: “Hey Topman look forward to hearing from my lawyers. Ripping off independent designers has to stop.”
Topman later said it had been in contact with Moross over the issue and had “resolved” the matter.
Regarding the London toile design, a spokesperson for Topshop said: “At this time we have not been contacted by Timorous Beasties with regards to the allegation, the nature of which we take very seriously. We are currently investigating this matter.”
Timorous Beasties was founded in Glasgow in 1990 by Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, who met studying textile design at Glasgow School of Art. The company opened its first shop in 2004 on Great Western Road in Glasgow and a second shop in central London in 2007.
It has collaborated with brands such as John Lewis and Liberty of London and produced home accessories for the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.
Onesies – an all-in-one garment – have been one of the clothing market’s most recent success stories. Retailers reported pre-Christmas sales up 600 per cent last December.