New York-based fashion aficionados Lindsey Schuyler (30) and Tony Liu (32) are akin to Batman (with the runways being their Gotham), swooping in to save the underdogs when big players steal from them, keeping influencers honest, and righting other fashion injustices. Their weapon? Instagram. Since they first posted on their account Diet Prada in December 2014, their following has grown to over 6,00,000, thanks to their biting wit and deeply researched posts. On a breezy afternoon at a Williamsburg café in New York City, the creators of fashion’s greatest watchdog let us into their process.
ELLE: How was Diet Prada created?
Lindsey Schuyler: Tony and I met through work. We would be going over the runways, always talking about fashion and where our love for it came from. As we clicked through the shows, we’d spot copies and say, “Oh, that’s so Prada,” or “That’s so Galliano,” and “Who are they really kidding?” We would pull up references and place them side by side, and it was just like, “Oh my God, I can’t!” So, we started making collages and texting them to our friends.
Tony Liu: We would tell everyone that we had a new post up, and everyone would stop and check it out, and just giggle in their corners. So, it was a way of comically passing the monotony of working at a fashion company.
ELLE: You are often referred to as fashion vigilantes. How do you feel about that title and the responsibility that comes with it—especially now that you have revealed yourselves?
TL: Of all the labels, I probably like ‘vigilante’ the most. I’d like to think of us as advocates for design, integrity and originality, rather than critics. Because a lot of people like to call us critics too, but we really aren’t. A part of the drive to keep doing this is to help out the brands that have been knocked off. Sure, they can send out a tweet or message, but they need somebody to elevate that. A lot of them don’t have the money to litigate, so social-media shaming really helps because it catches on.
On Liu: Cotton blend jacket and trousers, both Gucci; On Schuyler: Satin dress, Gucci.
ELLE: Which brands do you both believe are truly original?
TL: Everyone has references, and we get that, but Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. We love Dries Van Noten.
LS: I love Marc Jacobs; his ’80s collection was great. And Jacquemus; I think he has an awesome trajectory. Plus, the way he is building [the brand], it’s almost like a family business. His creations are sexy in an empowered new way, and it’s not like you have to have your boobs pushed up to your neck. You can be at ease and yet be womanly and sexy. I like that.
ELLE: How do you define the line between referencing and copying?
TL: I think you understand that certain designers have their constant reference points, and it’s almost a part of their ethos, like when Miuccia does the ’70s. So, I think it really comes down to the intention, and if they are looking to pull a fast one on you and get away with it. It’s great when they acknowledge the references and we can really understand how it is built into their vision for the brand or its collection.
LS: You can also sometimes tell when you look at a designer’s show, where it is like...this fabric or that dress. And that’s when you are obviously just cherry-picking from somewhere.
View this post on Instagram
Earlier today, Meghan Markle wore custom @emiliawickstead...i mean @givenchyofficial Haute Couture....i mean @dior . Having invented the boatneck bodice, do you think Wickstead (aka Fit Police) will have anything to say about this lewk? lol • #dior #christiandior #diorhautecouture #mariagraziachiuri #boatneck #dress #meghanmarkle #royalwedding #givenchy #clarewaightkeller #emiliawickstead #royalstyle #royalfamily #princeharry #wiwt #ootd #dietprada
ELLE: You have your own line of Diet Prada merchandise. Was that always the plan or did it just happen?
LS: Honestly, it’s fun to come up with a design, and print T-shirts. The first one was the Stefano Gabbana #pleasesaysorrytome T-shirt (in October 2017, Diet Prada called out Dolce&Gabbana for allegedly copying one of Gucci’s designs, to which Gabbana fired back, demanding an apology). We have never made more than 200 pieces of something.
TL: You can say that they are commemorative items, for our fans. I mean, they are so passionate! It is as if they are buying into the story and history of Diet Prada.
ELLE: Do you have a plan to expand?
TL: One option we have is to launch a sort of media website, but you don’t need to move beyond Instagram these days. We have such a community there, and everyone is able to interact and voice different opinions. It has mostly become a platform to discuss issues that are largely ignored. We talk about different kinds of social advocacy issues because there is so much exploitation within the fashion industry.
LS: There was a jeweller in London who made these really beautiful rings with numbers on them and Valentino did them down to the T, but then agreed to stop selling them [after we put the post up].
TL: We also posted about Danielle Bernstein who is an influencer and was stealing [design ideas] from several brands, who were actually trying to build an authentic relationship with her, for her jewellery line for Nordstrom. But Nordstrom has now agreed to remove some of the offending pieces.
View this post on Instagram
Since Native American appropriation is apparently STILL trending (see: @projectwomens commerce-oriented tradeshow tipi and @silviaulson 's ill-advised feather headdresses styled with a swimsuit lifted from @bfyne - the originals drawing inspiration from the designer's Nigerian heritage), let's throw it back to Milan Resort 2019 in June where @albertaferretti thought it'd be cute to play dress up in Native American garb. We'll let Wednesday Addam's remind us why that's not cool lol. • #culturalappropriation #wednesdayaddams #addamsfamilyvalues #valuesingeneral #nativeamerican #costume #albertaferretti #mfw #tipi #projectwomens #bfyneswim #silviaulson #dashiki #headdress #featherheaddress #tribe #ootd #wiwt #dietprada
xELLE: When you started out, was there a conscious effort to stay anonymous?
TL: I don’t think so, because we never thought it would explode into the thing it has become. Everyone at work knew, and so did our close friends and family.
LS: It got to a point where we had to unfollow everybody we knew, because someone was going to be able to triangulate back.
ELLE: So, why the big reveal?
TL: We’re advocates for transparency, so we figured we may as well be transparent ourselves too. A lot of people were curious about who is behind it. We thought it would be fun to put a face to the name.
ELLE: And how was the reaction?
TL: Positive. We talk to a lot of Dieters (their fans) all the time. It’s become this incredible crowd-sourced content.
LS: It’s really fun. Sometimes, if Tony is not answering on text, I will go see if he is online. [And he usually is] sitting there and chatting away [with Dieters].
View this post on Instagram
If you follow DP closely, you’ll know we have a major soft spot for NY indie brand @area , so it’s a MAJOR bummer to see @leandramcohen of @manrepeller knock off their signature crystal fringe heels (and at $690...they’re not exactly the look for less). With a strong retro glam/borderline questionable taste kind of vibe since their inception, these shoes in particular have quickly helped them put their own stamp on a seriously over-saturated market...a struggle even for large scale brands. Scroll to the last slide for some serious s. • #area #areanyc #manrepeller #leandramedine #shoes #heels #shoesaddict #sandals #crystals #rhinestones #bling #sparkle #glam #retro #disco #fringe #wiwt #ootd #streetstyle #runway #thewebster #dietprada
ELLE: Which label do you see designers referencing the most?
TL: Maison Margiela! It’s a huge thing.
LS: I was going to say Balenciaga, but you are right. Because it’s actually Margiela at the heart of it. I am a huge fan of the brand—and have been for years.
ELLE: Have any brands asked you to take down a post?
TL: Not the major brands, but smaller brands have. Bernstein was crying on Instagram like a drama queen.
LS: I get that it was probably emotional for her. She was getting a lot of mail and stuff, but she cried on her Instagram story and immediately plugged the jewellery line again, so it was insincere. We are not trying to bully people, we are trying to help them.
ELLE: Have you ever been worried about legal action, or faced a situation like that?
TL: We post about Australian knock-offs fairly often, and Tiger Mist is one of those brands. They freaked out when we posted about them (in January 2018, Diet Prada called out Tiger Mist for allegedly copying designs from an indie label called Daisy) and were the first ones to issue a cease and desist.
LS: I was looking up libel laws in Australia. And I said, “Oh, if we get arrested, they would have to fly us there and maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing!”
ELLE: You did a takeover of Gucci’s Instagram stories during their S/S 2018 show. How was that?
TL: It was pretty insane. They gave us a lot of freedom to maintain our voice, and be as silly and goofy as we wanted to be. It was a turning point for us to understand the brand’s particular creative vision and how he [Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative chief] references the past.
LS: It really showed how brands have to use transparency these days. We were at around 30,000 followers when Gucci brought us on. We asked if they were sure, and they said that they wanted the voice. That definitely helped propel us.
ELLE: What did you think of the turban at the Gucci F/W 2018-19 show?
LS: If you’re getting into things that are religious, it’s sensitive, and you have to be sensitive with the way you treat it. We posted a more responsible way to do it, showing this [the turban] for the beauty of it rather than trying to pick cultural symbols. It was almost like Gucci was flaunting privilege a little, in order to appropriate these symbols.
View this post on Instagram
What’s the point of tryin to be all “avant-garde” if you’re just gonna rehash ideas from one of the greats? @josephfashion SS18 vs @commedesgarcons SS95 • #commedesgarcons #reikawakubo #joseph #josephfashion #celine #tributebrand #avantgarde #japanese #designer #tailoring #reconstructed #diy #blazer #wiwt #ootd #hype #trends #trendy #suiting #dietprada
ELLE: What is your take on representation?
LS: For so long, fashion was all about this ideal of tall, thin, blonde, white Eastern European women. It’s so much more interesting now. If nothing else, just to see everybody come together is fun.
ELLE: What do you think of the Instagram account Diet Sabya, which positions itself after you and chronicles Indian fashion?
TL: We’ve actually talked through messaging. Diet Sabya was kind of tepid about using the concept of our name and logo, so they asked if they should change or remove it.
LS: They had us linked in the profile, but we did make them take that out, because they are not affiliated with us. But I also think it’s cool, because it’s such a different market. We couldn’t possibly be informed of the whole Indian [scene], so I am glad that people care about it.
TL: I’ve heard some comments about the tone of Diet Sabya— and people say things about our snarkiness too—but it is something that resonates with the tone of social media. I think people like it, especially the humour. Everyone can relate and have a laugh. When you are too serious, it’s hard to draw people in. This is a way of engaging.
ELLE: The biggest problem fashion currently faces?
LS: Sustainability. And not just environmental, but that of the business too—because you[should be] caring for your staff, rather than abusing them.
TL: Sexual harassment is a big topic right now. Fashion is an industry that is built on friendships and supporting people, and there are so many people taking advantage of anyone just because of the power they have.
Featured image: On Schuyler: Silk dress, Bodice. Seude sneakers, Gucci; On Liu: All clothing and accessories, Liu's own
Photographs: Ricardo Abrahao
Styling: Malini Banerji
Hair: Corey Tuttle/Honeyartists
Make-up: Sarina Ziomi
Production: Isabel Scharenberg
Light assistant: Hector Adalid
Digital tech: Alexander Shaw
Assisted by: Divya Gursahani, Riya Khanna (Styling)
Location: Manuel Greco, New York