IF YOU'RE planning to buy one of Martin Margiela's horse-print T-shirts, get ready to change your plans.
The oversized cotton creation is sold out at the designer's Beverly Hills boutique.
Shocking because the shirt's price tag is $1,395.
And even more shocking because the screen-printed design features three campy yet strangely familiar white stallions charging across an ominous sky as lightning flashes on the jagged peaks below. It's a T-shirt design that is, more or less, available all over the Internet for about $20.
Although Margiela's representatives say the graphic is a "collage of nostalgic images compiled in-house," a nearly identical image, titled "Summoning the Storm," was painted in 1998 by a British artist named David Penfound. He didn't flip out at the fact that his copyright-protected work has apparently been, uh, borrowed. It happens, according to Penfound, all too often.
"The designer must know it's illegal," he wrote in an e-mail when asked about the similarities between his artwork and Margiela's tee. There are some differences in Margiela's design (instead of an Indian chief in full-feathered headdress looking toward the heavens, summoning the storm, the Margiela tee has a cluster of rocks covering in the foreground). But just compare the drama, details and style -- and draw your own conclusions.
Penfound commands between $1,000 and $4,000 when granting approval to companies wishing to use "Summoning the Storm," which has found its way onto jigsaw puzzles, mugs and skateboards.
On top of that fee, Penfound also gets a royalty of up to 10% when an item is sold. (Will Penfound summon his own legal storm with Margiela? "I will be contacting them today," he wrote.)
When it comes to clothing, Penfound is picky about who reproduces his work. The 34-year-old painter gives his sole stamp of approval to the Mountain, a New Hampshire-based T-shirt maker who has been using Penfound's designs for 12 years. "Summoning the Storm" graces the front of the Mountain's 100% cotton tee and is one of the brand's bestselling styles, available through a variety of retailers for a mere $19.95.
The Mountain's tee is basic, while Margiela's comes fully loaded with a long back panel for an asymmetrical hem, billowy sleeves and detachable shoulder pads that create the strong silhouette that's his trademark.
But at the end of the day, a horse is a horse.