By WALLACE BAINE
If some in Santa Cruz have their way, the Screaming Hand will soon haunt the dreams of Jeremy Scott.
Scott is a famous fashion designer – “Fashion’s Last Rebel,” as the New York Times called him – who is the object of a growing flame war on the Internet. He is being accused by legions of Santa Cruzans, as well as skateboarders from just about everywhere, of stealing the designs of iconic Santa Cruz graphic artists Jim and Jimbo Phillips.
Scott’s Feb. 13 fashion show in New York, debuting his fall 2013 line, would have likely escaped the notice of most Santa Cruzans if not for several
outfits that bore a strong resemblence to the work of the Phillipses, the father and son duo that, between them, are responsible for many of the most famous looks in skateboard design, including the famous “red dot” logo for Santa Cruz Skateboards, and the blue “Screaming Hand” logo.
“We want to expose this guy,” said Dustin Graham, a Santa Cruz artist who helped launched the flame war by putting together a photographic side-by-side comparison between the work of Jimbo Phillips and the designs Scott brought down his runway in New York. “The skate community has really gotten behind this. I mean, this guy is Mr. Hollywood who thinks he can get away with this. I’m an artist myself so this means a lot.”
Jimbo Phillips was reluctant to comment on the controversy – NHS, Inc., the Santa Cruz-based skateboard manufacturer that owns the copyright to many of the Phillips designs has not announced plans for legal action against Scott, who has not publicly commented on the controversy.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said Phillips. “Skaters have been very passionate about it.”
That’s a strong candidate for Understatement of the Week. Graham’s graphic has been shared more than 600 times on Facebook from Graham’s feed and more 230 times from Jimbo Phillips’s feed. Tweets and Facebook posts aimed at Scott run the gamut of epithets and curses – something that Phillips said he is uncomfortable with and does not endorse. One Facebook poster redesigned the famous screaming hand, turning it around with its middle digit extended at Jeremy Scott. As of Friday, Scott’s apparently vandalized Wikipedia page read: “Jeremy Scott is an American fashion designer born in Kansas City, Missouri, known for plagerising [sic] other artists and designers work.”
Various blogs and news sites have picked up on the controversy including Spin magazine and the New York Observer.
Though Scott’s name is not a household word outside the fashion industry, many of his clients are enormously famous. His clothes have been worn by Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna, Lada Gaga and Katy Perry.
Scott is known for his appropriation of symbols and iconography created by others from “The Simpsons” to Coca Cola. Many of those images were, of course, legally licensed. In other instances, he has admitted inspiration for other works such as “The Flintstones.”
The designs that Scott displayed at his Feb. 13 show did not duplicate the Phillips designs outright, but altared them just a bit while using the same colors. The Phillips look has always included a style that could be called “cartoon grotesque,” faces of comic ugliness with yellowing teeth, bulging eyeballs and protuding tongues. “It looks like he had someone re-draw (the original designs),” said Jimbo Phillips.
“We had never heard of Jeremy Scott until it was brought to our attention,” said Robert Denike, the CEO and president of NHS/Santa Cruz Skateboards. Denike said that Scott did not license the Phillips artwork or work in collaboration with either Phillips or NHS.
Denike made the following statement:
“It’s obvious to us, the Phillips family, the fans of Jim Phillips Sr. and Jimbo Phillips, and fans of the brand Santa Cruz Skateboards, as well as many in the global skateboard and skate art community that there is clear and obvious infringement by Mr. Scott. We are discussing this with our legal team to determine our next steps.
“These two artists and this brand are iconic. Any true fan of skateboarding will tell you how the Phillips artwork style, this brand and the activity of skateboarding has positively influenced their lives. It may just be artwork to Mr. Scott, to be used and thrown away by next season, but these artists and brand mean a lot to many people around the world. And by the looks of the outcry on social media, skateboarders and non-skater’s alike are angry to have two of their most favored artists and one of the original true skateboard brands violated in such a way.
“I hope that Mr. Scott sees that his actions have hurt and affected many people, including the Phillips family, and that he has also severely damaged his own reputation. It is not too late for him to do the right thing, as an artist and creative person, and fix his error in judgement.”