Danish 26-year-old art student Nadia Plesner designed this T-shirt depicting a Darfurian child holding a Louis Vuitton bag with a Chihuahua on his shoulder. The message is that the media covers meaningless things like handbags and Paris Hilton’s pooch instead of the issues that matter (we’re guilty, we know). So Plesner dressed a Darfurian child like Paris so that maybe, just maybe, the world would pay attention. Louis Vuitton sure did! In February they slammed Plesner with a copyright lawsuit demanding $20,000 a day for each day she continued to use this image and reimbursement for legal fees. Plesner refused to stop using the image, and on May 30 she’s scheduled to meet with Louis Vuitton in Paris with her lawyer. We rang her up today in Amsterdam, where she goes to art school to get her side of the story.
Why did you choose this Louis Vuitton bag?
I was trying to think of what assets to give the small boy so that people would relate to the images we see on most front pages. I changed the design a little bit so it wouldn’t be a complete copy, but it’s meant to be a designer bag in general.
But this is clearly a Louis Vuitton bag.
I think some of the symbols in the world become so well known they are more than what they are. Like the McDonald’s logo or the Coca-Cola logo — they relate to other things than the item itself. And I was looking for something that has these colors and was oversized compared to the boy.
You don’t think, say, a Fendi bag has the same cache?
I’ve traveled all over the world in places like Asia and Thailand and these kinds of bags in these colors are what I’ve seen the most everywhere. Not only the real bags but the copies — everybody wants to buy them to display a specific image and that’s what I was trying to show.
Did you think about changing the design once the suit hit?
Yeah, I discussed these options with my lawyer, but I feel like I made the drawing in a way the image is most powerful. I thought as an artist I was free to make the art like I wanted because it’s producing a caricature. If I was making bags and I was copying the design, I would understand the problem. But in this way I feel like I have the artistic freedom to display the caricatures that I want to.
So to you, the Louis Vuitton brand resonates more than any other?
I think it resonates in a way that people understand it when they see it. If I had used another bag, it wouldn’t have been as strong. You see these bags on all the magazine covers right now. If Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan were all wearing plastic bags, I would have made a plastic bag on my drawing.
How did you feel when you learned of the lawsuit?
Well, the first five minutes I was a little bit shocked and a little bit intimidated because it’s quite a big amount they’re asking from me because I’m a student.
Fear didn’t motivate you to stop using the image right away?
I felt stubborn because I worked really hard for this campaign. It was just starting when they contacted me. I want to continue, and I felt my only option was to find a lawyer and contact media who want to share my story.
You’ve gotten enormous response in media around the world and on your Website. How much does that surprise you?
I’m very surprised, but I’m also very happy. I think this lawsuit has given my campaign more attention than I ever would have gotten without it.
Are you nervous about the meeting in Paris?
I’m very interested in what they have to say about it. Yes. I’m nervous, but I’m also very curious about how they’re going to respond to all this. So far I’ve only received the first letter and then the lawsuit that is kind of harsh in the way it’s presented. I’m not interested in a big trial and hope we can find some kind of settlement. Obviously I would like to continue my campaign.
How will you pay a fine if that’s what it comes to?
Right now I’m trying to set up a legal fund on my Website. I’ve had some e-mails from people who — in case I have to pay a big fine — would like to help.
You’re studying filmmaking. Have you considered turning this story into a film?
My teacher at the art academy suggested I should tape parts of it to document it for myself. I have been contacted by a Swedish guy who makes documentaries — he asked if I’d be interested in a documentary. I’m not sure if I want to do it because if I agree, I want it to be about Darfur. If it’s going to be about me and my trial, it doesn’t help my campaign so much. It was never my intention to stand in the spotlight myself. I just wanted to start a debate, and I’m trying to give my interviews in a way to show this.