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Provoked by Plagiarism

DW staff (tip)August 11, 2007

German fashion designer Philipp Plein has printed provocative words on his T-Shirts as a protest against plagiarism in China. His efforts have even gotten him death threats.

Discount clothing at a Chinese market
Product piracy is a designer's worst nightmareImage: AP

Philipp Plein has become famous in China due to his provocative T-Shirt design, but the 29-year-old German is less than completely happy about his fame -- maybe notoriety would be a better word.

Plein said he came up with the idea to print the words "F--- YOU CHINA" on T-Shirts after being struck and irritated by rampant Chinese product piracy. He wanted to prevent a product-pirate from copying his work.

He printed the words "Manufactured in Europe, produced and designed by Philipp Plein." Under that was a drawing of a Chinese man that might be seen as portraying a negative stereotype or even considered racist by some.

He had 100 of those T-shirts made and as of yet, no imitations have hit the market.

The "Neo-Fashion-Nazi"

Plein's T-Shirt design with the controversial logo
The controversial logoImage: DW

But the idea didn't go over too well in China. A Chinese college student saw the T-Shirt in a clothing store in Bremen and wrote about it on Chinese Internet forums.

People in China then started collecting signatures against Plein, who was promptly nicknamed "Neo Fashion Nazi." It did not take long for an anti-Plein Web site to be set up.

Many Chinese Web sites suggested that their countrymen in Germany are seen as second-class citizens. They inundated the Plein's company with phone calls and e-mails. Many callers simply screamed vulgarities at him before hanging up the phone. Plein and his co-workers even received death threats.

A purse with the initials PP for Philipp Plein
This woman's purse is an original by Philipp PleinImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

An explanation that the logo actually stood for "the fascinating and urban collection: kiss you China" did not placate the Chinese: Some proposed the idea of boycotting all German products.

The T-Shirt affair not only resulted in people's disgust and some nasty name-calling -- a few high-level spats have grown out of it. Chinese diplomats in Germany called on Plein to recall the T-Shirts that were still in stores and destroy them.

Press conference cancelled

A large luggage looking statue of a Luis Vuitton briefcase
One of the favorites when it comes to designer piracy: Louis Vuitton purses and bagsImage: AP

Plein felt he needed to act, but he cancelled a press conference planned in Munich at the end of July. Instead of speaking out personally about the incident and apologizing publicly, Plein apologized through a press release.

An important photo shooting kept him away, said Plein's spokesperson. "Photographers, models, etc. were already booked," he said.

In the press release, Plein said that at no time had he purposely wanted to offend the Chinese people. The logo on his T-Shirt was neither a political nor a racist or discriminatory statement, he said.