French fashion house Balmain is under fire for alleged creative theft following their Fall 2024 Men’s Paris Fashion Week show Jan. 20.
Creative director Olivier Rousteing’s latest collection included a gold face accessory that outlines the face’s silhouette. The piece is controversially similar, if not identical, to the “Cairo” jewelry piece Sarah Diouf showcased in her fashion brand Tongoro’s 2019 collection.
Instagram users questioned the face accessory’s statement-making usage in the Balmain show without crediting Diouf and her brand. Many comments underneath a Jan. 21 post called for answers and accountability from Balmain, Rousteing and model Naomi Campbell. The latter rocked the gold accessory on the runway and closed out the brand’s show.
In addition to the alleged creative theft, some claimed that Balmain’s move exemplified European brands’ exploitation of African aesthetics and creativity.
“Why didn’t you just ask to use and credit the piece from @tongorostudio when pulling accessories?”
“This face jewelry looks exactly like the one created by @tongorostudio and @dioufsarah.”
“Almost an exact copy of @tongorostudio’s 2019 collection. Such disregard for African creativity and ownership.”
“Once again, European brands exploiting the blueprint out of Africa. Talk about endorsing continued oppression & retraumatization of its people via intellectual THEFT!!!!”
Diouf commented on the similarities between her “Cairo” design and Rousteing’s for Balmain in a Jan. 21 Instagram post.
In addition to a lengthy caption, the designer posted a striking side-by-side of her and Balmain’s work. Diouf’s upload included context surrounding the tribal origins of the gold accessory’s design and notes on the jewelry piece’s success. The self-proclaimed “child of Africa” highlighted that her version of the accessory was previously worn by Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and even Naomi Campbell.
In 2017, Yves Saint Laurent was accused of stealing Diouf’s Mburu Bag design.
YSL’s version of the bag, the “Fetiche Long Clutch,” debuted at the brand’s Fall 2017 Paris Fashion Week show. Diouf launched Tongoro in May 2016, and the Mburu Bag was a part of its Spring 2016 collection.
When interviewed in July 2017 by OkayAfrica, the Tongoro designer explained that protecting intellectual property for small businesses in Africa was hard to achieve.
“We need some more organization to protect African creatives but I think it’s hard to make it happen,” she stated.
Balmain describes its 2024 Men’s collection as “a feast of vibrant colors, opulent gold and exquisite couture.”
An Instagram caption written by the brand noted that Rousteing pulled inspiration from “the sapeur cultural movement.”
Sapeurs have been recognized in Vogue Scandinavia and by the BBC as a subculture of dapperly dressed Congolese citizens, mostly living in Brazzaville and Kinshasa.
Balmain highlighted that it tapped on its previous collaborators, Ghanaian artist Prince Gyasi and British-Cameroonian artist Ibby Njoya, to execute its vision.
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