In 2007, a 26-year-old Danish student artist named Nadia Plesner designed a T-shirt depicting a gaunt, malnourished African child. In one arm, he cradles a pocket-sized chihuahua in a pink crew shirt; from his other wrist dangles a Louis Vuitton purse. The idea? If Paris Hilton can be photographed and made into an icon known worldwide while doing the same thing, why not apply the same concept toward the ongoing Darfur conflict?
Plesner's T-shirt worked: The item soared in popularity, and all proceeds went toward medical equipment that was sent to the crisis-riddled region. She later told ABC News the world was desensitized to the "image of the starving black child. . . . It was a test to see how the media reacts if you 'pimp the victim.' I think it worked."
Only one problem: Louis Vuitton, obviously, wasn't too happy about it.
Visit nadiaplesner.com for info on how you can help.
The French luxury retailer sent Plesner a cease-and-desist in February 2007, but Plesner refused to halt production. Louis Vuitton then filed a copyright infringement lawsuit—one that snowballed larger and larger each day. It started with a demand of $7,500. And with each mention of Louis Vuitton on Plesner's website, an additional $7,500 per day was tacked on. This resulted in a $20,000-per-day figure.
While it's important for a high-end label to maintain its image (I guess), the lawsuit was an awful move for the company in terms of public image and perception. Some argued the lawsuit had no real basis, as it fell under the parody defense of the fair-use limitation and exception to copyright law.
While Louis Vuitton dropped the case in October 2008, there's still no end in sight: Plesner has been sued again by the company for (they say) selling the same T-shirt again. But the Internet has come to the defense of Plesner this time around. Social news websites such as Reddit have taken up the cause of besmirching Louis Vuitton's name with Operation Skank Bag, posting daily front-page links to things such as images of trash bags printed with that iconic Louis Vuitton monogram print or a discarded purse being used by a transient. With the tremendous popularity of Reddit, millions are viewing these images. In July 2010, the site boasted more than 8 million unique visitors and 400 million pageviews—and that's a typical month.
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But what Louis Vuitton should probably be more worried about is Anonymous, the originator of Opertion Skank Bag. Anonymous is an online-based community dedicated to, uh, fighting the power (in various forms) with collaborative projects using hacktivism and protests and mass organization. Scientology and Fred Phelps and the rest of his assholes at the Westboro Baptist Church are two of their most popular targets so far.
The next time you head over to South Coast Plaza to drop $1,200 on a bag that all of your friends already have, think about Louis Vuitton's priorities—and head over to Chanel instead.
(That was a joke. Kind of.)
This column appeared in print as "No LV for Parody."