I have always hated New York City. I was never able to see the charm. I have only been there a handful of times and I am always overjoyed when it is time to return to San Francisco. New York City is for the young. New York City is for the patient. I am neither.
However, this most recent trip was different. On this trip, I tried to loosen up and appreciate the pros and do my best to ignore the cons. This was no easy chore but I think I succeeded. I spent time with my beloved East Coast friends. I ate at several fantastic restaurants. I saw some amazing art installations. The weather was perfect. This was the New York City all my friends told me about and I finally got to see it with my own jaded eyes. But of all the experiences I had this last week, there is one that stands out. A single moment that made the rest of the week pale in comparison. It was the moment I realized Paul Smith owed me an apology.
It started simply enough. Lance told me we should swing by the Paul Smith store in SoHo because there was something he wanted me to see. A little background is probably necessary here. Paul Smith is Lance’s favorite fashion designer. He even based one of his blog designs on the iconic Paul Smith stripes. Before I met Lance, I hadn’t even heard of Paul Smith. Lance showed me his genius. A short while later, I bought my first and only suit. It was a Paul Smith and I love it immensely.
We wandered down the hyper crowded cobblestone streets of SoHo-on-a-weekend and made our way to the Paul Smith boutique. We don’t have a Smith store in San Francisco so I was looking forward to seeing his collections in person. Lance led me over to a shelf and pointed at a long sleeved shirt. (just noticed the website refers to it as a sweater… but its pretty much a sweat shirt). It was red with a print of flocking birds in white. “This reminded me of your work.”
It really did. I snapped a picture with my iPhone and put it out of my mind. It was a nice print reminiscent of my work and nothing more. We left empty handed. Back at the hotel room, I pulled out my iPhone and looked at the photo again. It bugged me that it seemed so familiar. Plenty of people have done flocking experiments with code but I have come to find that the personality of the coder is often reflected in the flocking behavior exhibited by the birds. My flocking code differs from Psyop’s. Psyop’s differs from Reynolds’. And so on.
I opened up my laptop and made my way to my Flickr account. I looked over the three images I posted last year of hundreds of birds in flight that I made with Processing. At first, I saw no direct relationship. The Smith design simply looked like another iteration of the work I had done. It nagged at me. It seemed implausible that someone else could have come up with a flocking behavior that had so many aesthetic similarities to mine. Then I saw it. A circle shaped negative space on the edge of a half-circle of flocking birds. This detail was present in both.
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god…”
“What? What is it?”
“I think Paul Smith stole my work!”
I pointed out the detail to Lance who confirmed my suspicion. The more we looked, the more the neighboring details fell into place. Smith’s version was mirrored left to right so I loaded the image in Photoshop and flipped it. “Oh my god! He totally stole my work!” I was dancing around the room. “Paul Smith stole from me!” I will admit it was a strange reaction. I didn’t realize this until later in the day. I was actually thrilled that someone had ripped me off. Someone I liked. That sincerest form of flattery bit doesn’t mean much if the person doing the imitating is making shit work.
“We have to go back!”
“I have to buy it and I want to take better pictures so I can be sure.”
Back at the store, one of the salesmen recognized us from our earlier visit. He asked if he could help us. I pointed at the shirt and said I wanted one. He sized me up as a large and grabbed a couple and led me to the changing room.
“If the arms are too short, we can find you another one.”
I put the shirt on and it fit fine. I couldn’t stop smiling. The whole thing was so damned surreal. Here I am in a Paul Smith changing room trying on a shirt that features a design element stolen from my Flickr site!
“It fits perfectly,” I told the salesman. “It’s like I made it myself,” I joked and smiled at Lance.
“You did make it yourself,” the man replied, oblivious to the inside joke but wanting to play along.
Lance asked the salesman if he knew anything about the print on the shirt. He said something about hobos and the passing of knowledge or something. I was too distracted to pay attention. I said I will take it and he led us to the cashier. $235 later, I was walking out of the store with my very own personalized Paul Smith shirt.
Back at the hotel, I took a couple more pictures with Lance’s camera. I loaded them into Photoshop, flipped them horizontally, and overlaid my image. I had to scale and rotate mine a tiny bit but easily found it to be a pixel perfect match.
In the following two images, cyan represents a perfect match between my content and the shirt content. White represents parts that were cropped out of my original image. The remainder of the red is from content added that isn’t part of my original image. So basically, cyan birds with red glows are stolen.
Amazing, right?! So many circumstances had to line up perfectly for me to even know about this design theft. My boyfriend happens to be a Paul Smith junkie. We both happened to be in New York City around the same time this article was released. Lance and our friend Tara both had to wander into the Paul Smith store. They both needed to be familiar enough with my work to notice the similarity and agree that I should probably see it with my own eyes. All the planets aligned.
Later that evening, Lance, Tara and I went out to dinner at Cookshop. I wore the new Paul Smith shirt. How could I not! At one point during the meal, I went to the mens room. As I stood at the sink, I looked up at the mirror and saw my collaboration with Paul Smith. I couldn’t stop laughing. Processing on a Paul Smith shirt! Casey and Ben are going to love this.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit I am not completely innocent in all this. The birds I used in my coding study were culled from other people’s Flickr photos. I didn’t ask permission. I searched Flickr for images of flocking birds and traced a total of seven small silhouettes which I used in the original flocking study. However, I did not then go on to print my versions on clothing and sell them for hundreds of dollars each.
So what now? I have no idea. I am not angry. I am not feeling vindictive. I am flattered and amused. This isn’t like that Urban Outfitters/Johnny Cupcakes incident. I don’t actually feel wronged. I do feel that some designer for the Paul Smith brand committed an embarrassing act of laziness. This should not be excused and I imagine they will be dealt with accordingly. I don’t get a ton of blog traffic but I would be surprised if this didn’t eventually get back to the Paul Smith organization. And Mr. Smith, if you are reading this, Lance and I have always wanted to spend a week in London. Oh, and I am a 42L.