Back in November, Harper’s Bazaar celebrated the launch of that month’s issue with a jean-jacket decorating party at The Wing, a women’s “work and community space” located in Manhattan. As most jean-jacket decorating parties do, this one eventually became the origin of a heated, multi-platform scandal surrounding artistic license, appropriation, the concept of womanhood, and the origins of trendy patch catchphrases.
The New York Observer wrote in a studious recap of the party at the time that “most of the jacket accoutrements had undertones of female empowerment, like an iron-on patch that read ‘Girl Gang’ and a pin that said ‘Yas Kween.’
“That feeling of female empowerment could be felt around the room, as attendees fawned over other’s coats designs, complimenting their handiwork and using it as inspiration for their own creations,” the report continues. “At a time when we could all use a little more female-centric encouragement, this particular fête was perfectly timed. In fact, it might best be described as the chicest feminist gathering of the year and guests have the pins to prove it.”
But was it really the “chicest feminist gathering of the year,” one in which “that feeling of female empowerment could be felt?” Or, was its very premise built on dishonesty, the unforgivable crime of patch theft, and a microcosm of the battle between Big Feminism and Grassroots Feminism? Leste, a “bi-annual risograph-printed erotic magazine,” would have you believe the latter.
The trial surrounding the theft has been litigated largely on social media, with the individual (or individuals) behind the Leste account driving the outrage via their own accounts. But what can we parse about what actually happened, when we step back from the drama (in which numerous parties were called “disgusting” and “demons” for their unauthorized use of the patch) and allow cooler, investigative heads to prevail? Is this a scandal built upon malice or carelessness? Who stole the patch and what was their motive?
Fast forward from the jean jacket party six months ago to May 7, when Rookie editor-in-chief and actor Tavi Gevinson posted an Instagram story in which a woman (later identified as Lenny Letter deputy editor Laia Garcia) can be seen wearing one of the patches affixed at that same decorating party. It reads “WHEN WOMEN SPEAK IT IS MOSTLY POETRY”—a phrase that originally appeared on a poster written by Leste editor Sara Sutterlin that accompanied the magazine’s first issue. Leste, which is currently promoting a Go Fund Me to help stay in business, then posted a screen grab of the story on its official Instagram account, noting the patch as their own work that had seemingly been made into a patch without their consent or any attribution.
Leste also tweeted about the story, calling Lenny and Rookie staffers “gross rich fucks.” (For disclosure’s sake, two Jezebel staffers have contributed to Rookie.)
Garcia appears to have later messaged Leste, explaining that while she had attended the jean jacket decorating event in question, she meant no harm, and was also not responsible for the offending patch’s production or distribution. Leste later posted the screenshots of the conversation on Twitter:
Leste has since launched a social media campaign against The Wing, Harper’s Bazaar, and their sympathizers, tweeting and retweeting others about the incident more than 50 times. On May 7, the account posted, “Rich girls throwing private parties to share bootleg stolen art like people’s creative labor belongs to you”; it later added “@audreygelman you’re disgusting pay us” (directed at Wing co-founder and CEO Audrey Gelman) and “Y’all are demons.”
The conversation moved to Instagram after Leste supporters started leaving comments like, “Money over independent thought, personal property, and basic ass sensibility as well huh? Scamming looks real bad on ya,” “Pay Leste,” and “Fuck u.”
“We went after The Wing first. They reacted horribly, deleting our comments, blocking everyone who asked them a question,” a Leste rep wrote in an email to Jezebel.
In another Instagram, The Wing did respond to several commenters, explaining their involvement in the production of the patches for the patch party.
“1. We did not make [Leste editor Sara Sutterlin’s] work into a patch without her consent. We did not approve or sell it,” the comment reads. “2. A third party did make a patch and gave it out at an event in our space. 3. What we should have done in that moment was alert Sara and @lestemagazine and ask them how they wanted to handle the situation. 4. We are making a donation to their Go Fund Me because we support her work and feel terrible this wasn’t handle [sic] properly.”
In response to another commenter, noting past critical deleted comments about the patch, The Wing wrote, “We were being a little defensive at first because we didn’t make the patches. that was a mistake and we want to make sure we handles [sic] this in a way that is in line with our values.”
Leste confirmed their correspondence with The Wing in an email to Jezebel [sic’d]: “Audrey Gelman finally contacted me to ‘apologize’ putting all the blame on Harper’s Bazaar and explaining that they had ‘no idea’ Harpers was going to make patches (and yet, its their party and its a jean jacket decorating party.....but the patches are a SURPRISE?) and offering 750$ as compensation which is NOTHING but we accepted it.”
And, to be sure, Leste documented that correspondence with a tweet:
“As a space built to elevate women, we hate that Leste’s art was taken out of context and manufactured without their knowledge and consent,” said Gelman in a statement provided to Jezebel. “While we did not produce or approve these patches, our deepest regret is that we did not mandate that the piece be pulled from distribution after realizing consent was not granted.
“Ultimately this happened in our home, and it was a learning moment for us. We will aim to be that much more vigilant about protecting artists in the future.”
Leste also told Jezebel, “Harpers Bazaar e-mailed me yesterday [May 8], even though we didn’t go after them (seemed like a lost cause, too poor to afford a lawyer) admitting to it being their fault and offering monetary compensation, but they have yet to reply to me or quote a price.”
According to Leste’s Twitter account (Leste has not responded to requests for clarification since our initial email exchange), a representative from Harper’s Bazaar did get in touch with them, taking full responsibility for the coopting of the patch, and decided (it seems) to pay half the fee from the patches to Leste, and half, confusingly, to The Wing.
In a statement provided to Jezebel, a representative from Harper’s Bazaar said simply, “We have been in touch with the artist and are working to straighten things out.”
Given the evidence we have, the provenance of the patch remains largely a mystery, with at least one compelling suspect. But as humans, it is mostly unbearable for us to be left with any sort of unexplained phenomenon—it makes us feel weak and wretched and deeply mortal. If only there could be some sort of unifying patch theory that could put our minds to rest! Some working explanation of how that poster got onto that patch and onto the S/S 2017 jean jackets of 30 or so beautiful women!
What if I told you that if you looked far enough back into the receipts—of any social media scandal—that you really could find salvation? Or at least some kind of satisfying narrative?
Rewind 33 weeks, to this Instagram post from The Wing—what seems to be where The Wing and Leste became enmeshed for the very first time:
There it is—the patch, and accompanying regram credit. Now, scroll down in the comments even further.
There it is, in black and white, a comment left on May 9.
“hi guys, we posted this on our instagram and credited @lestemagazine who we admire and think are visionary women,” the comment reads. “then harpers bazaar made patches out of all our instagram posts as a surprise for the event. when we saw them we made sure to share with everyone present that the image originated with Leste. We are very sorry for the confusion, we would never have made this ourselves!”