Fashion

Who’s afraid of Diet Prada?

Oh, pretty much the entire fashion industry – and that’s exactly how it should be.

Emma Sells | 12.10.2019

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TONY LIU AND LINDSEY SCHUYLER AT PRADA I GETTY IMAGES

Hands up if you follow Diet Prada on Instagram? Silly question, really: given that the account and its founders, a pair of sartorial vigilantes with a flair for snarky captions, currently have more than 1.5 million followers, we’re going to call it and say that of course you do. It’s one of the biggest modern fashion phenomena of the past few years, started by the initially anonymous duo, Lindsey Schuyler and Tony Liu, as a tongue-in-cheek vehicle for calling out runway copycats and employing the now instantly recognisable technique of posting two near-identical runway or look-book shots and ridiculing the laziness of the lookalike. Its followers gleefully cackle and bicker in equal measure – the comments are often packed out with heated, usually thoughtful discussions – not least because it’s not afraid to take down labels that might previously have been considered untouchable in the rarefied world of high fashion: Prada, Loewe and, most notoriously, Dolce & Gabbana (more on that later) have all been in its firing line.

Fashion has long played fast and loose with the lines between inspiration and plagiarism, from big-name designers cross-referencing their predecessors to the high street making its fortune by cannily ‘reimagining’ each season’s standout runway looks for those of us on a budget. And, arguably, the problem has got worse over the past few years; now that labels are offering up four or more vast collections a year, it’s understandably hard for designers to leave their studios long enough to muster the requisite original ideas. Throw into the mix the fact that, in a digital age, there’s always someone with access to fashion’s back catalogue watching, and it’s no wonder that Diet Prada, tipped off by its loyal band of Dieters, has plenty of fodder for content.

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A large chunk of the account’s success can be chalked up to timing. It launched in late 2014 and its popularity has grown alongside a broader game-changing mood: a rise, with the help of social media, in the number of people who are enthusiastic and willing to stand up and shout about perceived injustices. Since Diet Prada’s inception we’ve seen the Women’s March, the Harvey Weinstein scandal break and the advent of #MeToo, plus climate-change protests sweeping around the globe, led by young campaigner Greta Thunberg. We’re all activists now and, let’s face it, for all its aspirational glitz and glamour, there are worryingly murky aspects to the fashion industry that are crying out for serious change; high-profile discussions about a lack of diversity, the treatment of models or horrific working conditions for those making our clothes can only be a positive thing.

So Diet Prada is playing an important watchdog role that’s historically been missing – and much needed – in the industry. It’s not simply giving a voice to young and small brands whose work has been casually ripped off, either; its remit has broadened beyond copyright infringement and regular gleeful Kardashian take-downs to encompass tackling racial insensitivity and abuse of power. They’re genuinely making a difference – and headlines – too. They denounced Russell Bateman, the founder of celebrity-favourite workout group Skinny Bitch Collective, for cultural appropriation and disrespect of women after he posted videos from a Kenya retreat, resulting in an apology from Bateman and the implosion of the business. And they have a long-running feud with Dolce & Gabbana, culminating in their protest posting screenshots of Stefano Gabbana’s allegedly racist direct messages ahead of a high-profile Shanghai show. The label claimed that its accounts had been hacked, but the show was cancelled and Gabbana’s personal account was quietly closed.

Diet Prada does have its detractors, though. Schuyler and Liu’s ability to be so indiscriminately vocal is thanks, in large part, to their outlier status; where industry critics and journalists have advertisers to answer to, who might influence their ability to be truly honest, Diet Prada is, in theory, beholden to no one. Which is why when the pair appeared on the front row at Prada and took over Gucci’s Instagram Stories, they were accused of selling out and compromising their lack of bias. There are legitimate worries, too, about their own accountability; taking on big brands is one thing, but the ethics of publicly shaming individuals, especially when you have such a huge platform on which to do so, are a pretty grey area.

There’s no denying, though, that while Diet Prada can’t, of course, take all the credit, the appetite for accountability is changing the landscape of the industry and, whether it’s due to a fear of going viral or a genuine desire to change, some of the biggest names in the industry are taking steps to up their game. Gucci, for example, which came under fire last year for producing a black balaclava-style sweater with red lips, which had racist connotations, not only apologised but has since appointed Renée Tirado as its first-ever head of diversity, equity and inclusion. And Prada, which has also faced accusations of cultural insensitivity thanks to some ill-thought-out keyrings, has launched a Diversity Council co-chaired by Ava Duvernay. It’s proof that it’s possible to truly love fashion and question its ethos, to let brands know that it’s not enough just to produce beautiful clothes, we want to know they’re doing it with integrity. So thank goodness for Diet Prada: holding brands to a higher standard, one snarky comment at a time.


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