The formerly anonymous duo discuss five years of fashion industry vigilantism
Deep fakes, influencers, viral fashion – we live in a world unrecognisable from the one we stood in ten years ago. As a chaotic decade comes to a close, we're speaking to the people who helped shape the last ten years and analysing the cultural shifts that have defined them. Explore the decade on our interactive timeline here, or head here to check out all our features.
Long a Wild West of dodgy labour practices, teenage models, late night parties, and zero personal/professional boundaries, in an industry is as unregulated as fashion it can feel like nothing resembling law and order is possible.
After all, there are few outlets capable of the New York Times journalism that took down Mario Testino and Bruce Weber for the sexual misconduct which they were allegedly allowed to perpetrate, unchecked, for decades. Fashion magazines’ editorial remits are often restricted by advertisers, whose public relations departments are quick to fire off emails threatening to pull the cash should anything mildly critical find its way to publication. Not to mention the fact that those who have been mistreated resist going on the record for fear of being blacklisted and left having to find a new career. Often, it’s the rich and powerful against the poor and powerless, meaning people have been left without a voice – or the means – to speak out.
Enter Diet Prada. Founded at the tail end of 2014 by New Yorkers Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, the anonymous account was – and remains – dedicated to ‘ppl knocking each other off lol’. With early posts comparing designers who seemed to have taken the idea of inspiration a bit too literally, the account quickly became known for its side-by-side image collages, easily-understandable visual binaries of original versus imitation. There were indeed lols, like the schadenfreude of laughing at influencers unknowingly wearing fake Dior, but more and more, the account became a place for the darker side of fashion to be aired, an Instagram whistleblower calling out not just copying but model exploitation, sexual assault, and racism.
Their justice is a kind of digital vigilantism, a tough love, sharp-tongued public humiliation that has been as divisive as it has been effective. What’s undeniable is that it’s had an impact. Brands must behave or face the wrath of the duo and their audience of Dieters – the changing tide of consumer sentiment has meant companies have no choice but to buck up, admit their fuck ups, and say sorry. Of course its founders have made a few enemies in the process – most famously Stefano “say sorry to me” Gabbana – but one thing’s for sure: fashion enters the 2020s in a different place because of them.
What day was the account activated? What was your mission statement?
Diet Prada: We started the account on December 11, 2014 but we never set out with a mission statement – we were just coworkers joking around. Now that it’s grown so much we have a greater sense of responsibility. We still poke fun at the industry, but increasingly try to do right by our followers by listening to their stories and elevating those that deserve it.
You've both worked in the industry for a long time – how diverse and inclusive was fashion in 2010?
Diet Prada: There’s still tonnes of room for improvement (but) some pretty major things happened in 2010. Tapering off from the ‘Russian Wave’ of thin, white, blonde models in the mid-late 2000s, we started to see more diversity on the runway. Specifically in regards to size inclusivity, there was a moment that was pivotal in changing the way we see the body in fashion. The AW10 season first saw Miuccia Prada cast comparably ‘curvy’ models at the time like Lara Stone and Doutzen Kroes, and then (they appreared) again at Louis Vuitton with the likes of Laetitia Casta and Elle Macpherson. The stigma associated with natural hair, especially within the high fashion world, quickly began to dissolve with Lineisy Montero’s Prada exclusive for AW15.
On the media side, we saw Edward Enninful take the helm of British Vogue and Tyler Mitchell shoot Beyoncé for the cover of American Vogue. In the coming decade, hopefully we’ll begin to see more POC take powerful positions on the corporate level as a result of the diversity councils established at various luxury brands.
Where have things fallen short?
Diet Prada: The back end of many companies still need work – diverse staffs are way less likely to allow gaffes like a blackface balaclava to make it anywhere near a linesheet, let alone a shop floor. Size inclusion also still really needs to improve – you could count the amount of designers actually putting out product for plus sizes on one hand, when it felt like ten years ago we heard many promises of extended sizing and made to measure startups that never materialised.
Buzzwords like transparency, sustainability, fair trade were definitely super niche a decade ago. Any time we see work by young designers we’re always amazed at how they’re building their businesses around these issues, rather than as an afterthought or marketing gimmick. There’s a new generation ready to make meaningful change, hopefully consumers catch up soon.
What's been the greatest contributor to change?
Diet Prada: Probably social media and that we can all be connected online, to share and amplify our stories. Having a worldwide town hall allows new forms of justice to be meted out.
You’ve played a key part when it comes to meting out that justice – and you’ve also been criticised for it. How do you respond to those who think you go too far, or encourage digital pile-ons?
Diet Prada: We either ignore them or let a discussion play out among Dieters. Sometimes they have very valid criticism and it’s helpful feedback for us to grow. We can’t control what followers comment elsewhere, but compared to other online forums or Instagram accounts, they tend to be on the more civil or constructive side.
What’s been the biggest story you broke?
Diet Prada: The one that felt like it had the most personal impact was calling out the predatory and abusive photographers Marcus Hyde and Timur Emek. It started with a tip from Sunnaya Nash, an LA-based student and model who Marcus (who had worked as Kim K’s personal photographer) was attempting to solicit nudes from in exchange for taking free photos. She declined sending nudes, so he told her he would charge her. It was pretty nasty, but nothing compared to what started to come out after we shared her story. One story was coming after another… from young girls and women who’ve shared similar experiences to much worse (including accusations of rape).
As those stories were coming, we started seeing certain names a few too many times. One of them was Timur Emek, a photographer who had worked with Victoria’s Secret and shot several of the VS Angels for other projects. We made a post with a few accounts from different women and not surprisingly, more came out after. There were so many survivors who were able to find a sense of justice online.
What do you think that moment represented?
Diet Prada: It showed how abhorrently common predatory behavior is throughout the industry and especially how social media platforms can become tools for predatory photographers specifically. The #metoo movement is far from having run its course, in the fashion industry it sometimes feels like it’s just getting started.
Do you think that those who have been cancelled like Mario Testino and Bruce Weber will stage successful comebacks?
Diet Prada: I think it depends on how you would define a “successful comeback”. Will they be shooting Vogue covers again? Hopefully not. The new wave of photographers like Tyler Mitchell and Ethan James Green have proven they have the chops, so hopefully we won’t see a Testino or Weber cover again.
Brands have hired diversity officers after a series of recent fuck ups, do you think this would have happened without the account putting a spotlight on these issues? Do you think brands really care, or are they being forced to care?
Diet Prada: It probably wouldn’t have happened. So many of the things we cover have been happening throughout the decades, it’s just that nobody could demand accountability so swiftly on such a global scale. Information travels incredibly fast now. Within a brand, it’s honestly probably mixed. I think they want to care, which is important. There might be people from the old guard who don’t understand the fuss and would prefer to not be bothered, and then there are others who want to push forward.
“...hopefully we won’t see a Testino or Weber cover again” – Diet Prada
What do you think will happen to fashion in the 2020s?
Diet Prada: Gender lines will continue to blur. Young people might flock to uniform dressing having gotten tired of churning trendy styles. A return to elegance and a sense of formality post-streetwear over-saturation. Savage x Fenty and other female-led lingerie brands will usurp Victoria’s Secret’s throne.
Labor rights will be another great wave – we’ve seen internships go from unpaid as the norm to occasionally being a paid position, as it should be. The barriers of entry are high enough to get into the industry, we can’t expect to find the top talent of the world solely amongst those privileged enough to work for free.
How can we build a better, safer industry for the future?
Diet Prada: Build new systems for accountability, hire more people of colour from top to bottom on the corporate level, empower storytelling from marginalised communities.