Kanye West’s first stump speech was a tough act to follow, but Miley Cyrus managed it.
In her finale as host of the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, Cyrus debuted a new ode to pot and pacifism, Dooo It!, with a gaggle of 31 drag queens, trans activists and burlesque dancers. It was a suitably dramatic spectacle from a gleeful purveyor of scandal, especially one who had just helmed the most bizarre awards show of recent memory.
But Cyrus’s controversy hasn’t ended with the broadcast. Her costumes – which were produced by the Brooklyn designer Brad “BCalla” Callahan – are now sparking criticism due to their striking resemblance to the Australian streetwear line Discount Universe.
The brand is known for its sequined third-eye motifs and grotesque pop-art facial prints, of which Cyrus has been a patron; she’s donned their graphic digital print tees in past photo shoots, and incorporated the imagery into her Bangerz tour. In October she swanned around the Sydney Opera House in one of their sequined robes and tops. Rihanna, Madonna and Katy Perry have also worn Discount Universe’s bold club-kid looks.
“There is a certain, very heavy influence of the Discount Universe aesthetic permeating the performance, and also Miley’s new vibes at large. It definitely seems strange that Miley has worn their designs before and then went to someone else to produce that same look for her,” said Laia Garcia, 31, associate editor at Lenny and former staff writer at Yahoo Style. “BCalla’s fall collection had the neon colors and such, but the sequins, the themes, the color blocking: that is obviously Discount Universe DNA.”
The parallels also didn’t escape Discount Universe designers Cami James and Nadia Napreychikov, who posted a letter on Instagram a few hours after the VMAs. While the note did not name Cyrus explicitly, it was clearly a reaction to the ceremony; the duo had just posted a red-carpet photo of the 87-year-old social media star Baddie Winkle in one of their glittery frocks.
The duo also later slammed Cyrus stylist Simone Harouche for “victim blaming” in the press. Julie Anne Quay, founder of the influential fashion network VFILES, condemned Cyrus’s “parody” and suggested Discount Universe may pursue “action” to protect the “creative integrity” of their work.
Responding to the accusations, Callahan said: “Discount Universe is a major brand anyone with a slight interest in fashion would know. I have only respect for them,” he said. “I am well aware of the challenges of being an independent designer in this industry, but it would be a disservice to my creative inspiration in this case to say Discount Universe was a reference point.”
This isn’t the first time Cyrus has been accused of appropriation. Following her headline-grabbing reinvention from wholesome Disney Channel teen to twerking electro-pop eccentric, her self-described “ratchet” look of bandannas, grills and exaggerated street style has yielded frequent claims of black cultural co-opting.
Jay Jackson, who coordinated Cyrus’s costumes with Harouche and danced onstage as his drag persona Laganja Estranja, defended BCalla.
“All of the outfits were airbrushed and they were also made out of vinyl, which is very different from Discount Universe,” said Jackson. “Discount Universe is not the first designer to put an eye on an outfit; people have done that for many, many years. I think it’s a little unfair for them to call her out like that. OK, you’re disappointed you didn’t get used, but Miley is not the type of person to do something to betray someone. That’s not her personality at all.”
Harouche declined to comment, but told Yahoo Style: “It’s very sad that people need to use Miley’s amazing performance as an opportunity to create press for themselves, when they had nothing to do with the creative process.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re taking away from this young designer’s opportunity to make something special for Miley.”
Cake Moss, another member of Cyrus’s drag ensemble, maintained that Cyrus was successful because she delivered her “message” at the VMAs. “She said she wanted to start a pussy riot,” said the dancer, 25, whose offstage name is Sam Spillman, “and that’s exactly what she did.”
This article was written by Stacey Anderson, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st September 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010