Santa Cruz skateboard artist Jimbo Phillips went from feeling flattered to angered when he saw what looked like his designs on a clothing line being worn by models during New York's Fashion Week.
The clothes were the fall line by Jeremy Scott, whose trendy designs have been worn by celebrities including Katy Perry and Kanye West. He's so high in the rarified air of young fashion designers that he's been interviewed on MTV.
"My initial reaction was, wow, this stuff is on a New York runway," said Phillips, 43, a Harbor High graduate who since he was 18 has created colorful and iconic artwork on skateboards, concert posters and paintings.
"The more I saw it, it's kind of like a span of emotions. At first you are laughing, then you are kind of angry. I've never experienced anything like it."
Friends started emailing pictures of Scott's new line of shirts and dresses to Phillips during Fashion Week, such as these. Phillips posted two simple comments on his Facebook page: "WTF" and "???"
"I didn't want people thinking I condoned the art," he said. "It wasn't up to my standards. I looked and thought those were bad renditions. A lot of people were wondering and I made a statement that this wasn't coming from us."
Scott hasn't responded to a request for comment.
Fans in the skateboard community, however, had a lot more to say. They began ripping into Scott, calling him a thief and a lot worse. Some responded with homemade graphics, such as the Screaming Blue Hand created by Phillips's father, Jim, with a raised middle finger. Some went even further, crossing into hate speech.
Phillips said he wants people to know that isn't coming from him, but his fans are passionate.
"He stepped on a hornet's nest," said the artist, whose 11-year-old son, Colby, is following in his footsteps and creating skateboard art. "I don't want to personally bash him, but skaters can be ruthless. These are guys who fall on concrete all day. Anyone who can fall on concrete and jump back up and get on the board, they have integrity."
Phillips doesn't know what he will do about the possibly purloined artwork. His father, Jim, whose art is also mirrored in Scott's collection, has said he wants nothing to do with a legal case. Much of Jimbo's art is owned by NHS, the 40-year-old Santa Cruz skateboard company that pioneered wild board art.
"We had never heard of Jeremy Scott until it was brought to our attention," said Robert A. Denike, CEO and President, NHS, Inc./Santa Cruz Skateboards.
"This is not a collaboration or under license, nor did we or the Phillips family approve the use of this artwork on his apparel designs in any way.
"It's obvious to us, the Phillips family, the fans of Jim Phillips Sr. and Jimbo Phillips, and fans of the brand Santa Cruz Skateboards, as well as many in the global skateboard and skate art community that there is clear and obvious infringement by Mr. Scott. We are discussing this with our legal team to determine our next steps.
"These two artists and this brand are iconic. Any true fan of skateboarding will tell you how the Phillips artwork style, this brand and the activity of skateboarding has positively influenced their lives.
"It may just be artwork to Mr. Scott, to be used and thrown away by next season, but these artists and brand mean a lot to many people around the world. And by the looks of the outcry on social media, skateboarders and non-skater's alike are angry to have two of their most favored artists and one of the original true skateboard brands violated in such a way.
"I hope that Mr. Scott sees that his actions have hurt and affected many people, including the Phillips family, and that he has also severely damaged his own reputation. It is not too late for him to do the right thing, as an artist and creative person, and fix his error in judgement."
Could it be coincidence that Jimbo and Scott had the same vision?
"I would think that was possible if there were one or two," said Phillips. "But there are 10 to 12 pieces with the same designs, the same color palette. A lot of people say it's overwhelmingly obvious."
"I'm just an artist. I sit down and draw every day," he said. "I've never really dealt with this kind of stuff. I'm not sure if it's worth the time and energy."
But he worries that the images, portrayed in a way he would never do them, is cheapening his art, "wrecking your style."
His style has spread the Santa Cruz name around the world. In travels to Europe he was surprised that people there knew his work and the surf town. Skateboarding is a global sport and Santa Cruz is its epicenter, he said.
"It spans back to people's childhood," he said. "When they were 11, they got that Roskopp board and they'd sit in their bedroom and stare at it. They imagine jumping off a ramp and the graphics speaking to them. It really sinks into their brain and that's where a lot of this passion comes from."