Designer Lamont “Tory” Stapleton took to social media the weekend of Aug. 25 to charge the luxury brand Balenciaga of appropriation, a form of cultural exploitation that is particularly sensitive to the Black community regarding creative license.
According to Lamont, in 2019 he kicked off the collection Struggle is Common in response to losing a close friend who battled with addiction, with a popular logo on a black crew neck that says “Free.” The term “Free” was a statement commonly used by the culturally and fashion conscious to encourage others not to be enslaved by trauma, addiction, or any other negative life experience.
A few days after his launch, Stapleton was invited to a private party in Los Angeles with celebrities who noticed the crew neck and fell in love with the story behind the collection. Lamont was seen wearing the infamous crew neck in photos with notable figures such as Ye, Paris Hilton and Khloe Kardashian. While wearing the statement piece to the party, he brought more attention to the brand.
After what he thought was successful networking, a few months passed and he was tagged by hundreds of people in a Vanity Fair post where Sean “Diddy” Combs was spotted wearing the popular “Free” black crew neck. Ecstatic that such an icon was wearing and supporting his brand, Stapleton was confused once he realized that he didn’t distribute to Combs. Friends began sending him the link to Balenciaga’s website showing him proof that his concept was stolen and resold t0 25X for the original price without any credit or agreement with him. The Balenciaga “Free” crew neck version debuted on their fashion show runway in the Fall/Winter 2021, coincidentally a year after Stapleton’s design debuted.
After his post on social media, many consumers were enraged that a designer as big as Balenciaga would take credit for a concept that was derived from a place of personal sentiment and that the company would take advantage of a Black creator’s work. This issue has come to the surface multiple times in correlation to appropriation and Black creatives feeling undervalued by major designers taking their ideas and marketing them as their own. Stapleton closed his post by tagging Balenciaga and offering to engage in a dialogue to discuss the reasonable “coincidence.” Consumers anticipate what the response will be from Balenciaga, with high hopes of accountability and credit to Stapleton.
Balenciaga has yet to respond to this issue, however, their Instagram profile remains blank on the issue.