Two Toronto ceramic artists have accused fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm of ripping them off for his latest collection.
Pansy Ass Ceramics, whose artwork was recently featured in NOW’s Love & Sex issue, explore gay male identity through cheeky and X-rated porcelain ornaments, clothing and pins. Their work has gone viral and they now have more than 53,000 Instagram followers.
So when an image that looks exactly like their 2017 cocksucker enamel pin turned up on a T-shirt from the German designer’s spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection, their followers took note.
Kris Aaron and Andrew Walker were tipped off to the identical design after RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9 winner Aquaria was photographed wearing the shirt for a Tush magazine editorial.
“We have a lot of loyal followers and there’s a local Toronto drag queen who saw it posted on Aquaria’s Instagram,” Aaron tells NOW. “She said, ‘Hey, I think your design made it into this magazine.'”
But Aaron says Pansy Ass Ceramics never gave Willhelm permission to use the image.
“I went to his website and saw that he has our design on a shirt and a pair of pants and a tote bag, so I immediately was enraged and reposted the photo calling him out,” says Aaron. “Then our followers started messaging him and posting things on his page calling him a thief, and it blew up.”
Willhelm’s Instagram comments are filled with users accusing him of stealing the design. Aquaria also addressed the situation in an Instagram post. “Wearing design by @pansyassceramics apparently stolen by @bernhardwillhelm which is really whack and shady since yo dumbass now dragged me into your irresponsible bullshit,” the drag queen wrote.
Since then, @diet_prada, an Instagram account that calls out knock-off designs, posted a comparison.
NOW has reached out to Willhelm’s U.S. publicist for comment, but has not received a response.
“He hasn’t reached out. He knows obviously what’s going on because he’s made a couple of posts on his Instagram with the hashtag [#cocksucker],” says Aaron.
Pansy Ass Ceramics is consulting with a copyright lawyer and has applied for a copyright on the design. “It could be months before I actually have the copyright and if we don’t really hear anything from his team then I guess we’ll take him to court once we get the copyright,” says Aaron.
“I mean, we like and respect what he does, so that’s why we were shocked by it all,” says Aaron. “As a creative person, he should know better than to steal another creative person’s design.”