open letter to willy chavarria
re: balenciagay


London, 24 July 2018


To: WILLY CHAVARRIA (@willychavarrianewyork)

CC: Barney’s New York, THE TREVOR PROJECT (@_thetrevorproject), @diet_prada, my followers, The Internet.


In June 2017, I designed a t-shirt which is printed at the front with a “BALENCIAGAY” lettering. On July 16 2017, I uploaded for the first time a picture to my Instagram wearing the “BALENCIAGAY” t-shirt. Motivated by the good feedback and requests from people who wanted to buy the t-shirt, on September 15 2017, I released the t-shirt on my website and the promotional visuals on my Instagram. The t-shirt has since been sold across the world, and many of my followers have shared images of them wearing the t-shirt on their profiles.

This morning I woke up to find Barneys New York is selling on their website a t-shirt by designer Willy Chavarria which is printed at the front with a “BALENCIAGAY” lettering.

As a creative, concepts such as appropriation, borrowing and alteration have been present in my work for over a decade in different media. I am inspired by the works of artists Andy Warhol, Dapper Dan, Demna Gvasalia, Jeremy Scott or Jeff Koons. I admire and support the creations of Tunisian artisans who hand-made such random goods like computer mouses, pedicure sets or burqas in designer prints to make a living in their country. I believe in the digital world we live in, where billions of visual references are shared for free everyday which help create each individual’s unique taste and aesthetics.

What I don’t believe in is in the reality of a established brand selling a “borrowed” idea from an independent emerging designer in one of the biggest department stores of the world, for six times the price, without credit. The life of an independent emerging designer is tough for everyone of us. I have to work three jobs to be able to build my brand in the little time I have left, with many days working all night long and going to work the morning after with no sleep. Due to the vast competence of today, it is hard to be noticeable in the age of the algorhythm without a large budget for PR and marketing. That’s why credit is CRUTIAL for us, and that’s why many young creatives are even forced to work for free in exchange for “exposure”.

After the initial shock of seeing a copy of my design up for sale on Barneys’ website, those two aforementioned ideas started battling against each other on my mind.

To be honest, I am very flattered my idea had been copied, it validates my design and it gives me hope my designs can be sold one day in such a place like Barneys. I appreciate Willy Chavarria and their team took a moment to update THE slogan from MY DESIGN FROM 2017 and update it to the current Balenciaga branding. And last and most importantly over-emphasizing this situation would totally go against my artist manifesto.

On the product page of the t-shirt on Barneys’ website it states “Willy Chavarria will donate a portion of the proceeds from this item to The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.” I am honestly very happy they have taken this initiative, as it touches me directly since I have suffered from self-destructive and suicidal behaviours in the recent past, and thanks to the therapy I attended I was able to channel my inner issues through my designs and focus my energy on something positive for myself: the creation of my brand.

I do not want any money from this, neither I can economically and emotionally afford a legal battle for this. But I think we can make a little change on how situations like this are currently handled. That’s why the only thing I request from Willy Chavarria is to please credit me as a source of inspiration for such design and to please donate the 100% of the benefits of the sales of this t-shirt to The Trevor Project, since there is many people out there who can benefit from this situation, and I believe this is the most peaceful, positive and compassionate outcome this situation can have.

To my customers and followers, I would be very grateful if you could help me sharing this message and reaching a bigger audience. Let’s make some noise and hopefully The Trevor Project could receive a more substantial donation to help LGBT youth who is suffering. But please, do not spread any kind of hate message or negativity through this, that would go completely against the message I am trying to put out there.

To my fellow designers and to the brands in a privileged position out there, if you ever feel the need to “borrow” a design for your brand, please credit us or hire us to work with you: Writing a DM on Instagram takes as much time as screenshotting someone else’s design and putting it into your moodboard.

Nothing is original anymore, it has actually never been - the foundation of classic art was artists copying each other systematically to master their skills. But how can an emerging designer make it out there if their designs are ripped off? Is it fair an established brand takes an idea from an emerging one and sells it as theirs in one of the biggest retailers of the world?