French Artist Orlan Takes $31.7 Million Lawsuit Against Lady Gaga to New York

Orlan sued the ‘Born This Way’ pop star for forgery in Paris in 2013.

Born this way? Lady Gaga and French artist Orlan.

The French artist Orlan, who in 2013 sued Lady Gaga for $31.7 million for plagiarism over her Born This Way video in Paris, has taken the case to New York.

Page Six reports that Orlan’s lawyers requested subpoenas in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, January 6, with the intent of deposing fashion director Nicola Formichetti and make-up artist Billy Brasfield—the creative team behind the video’s striking aesthetic—about the inspiration for the video, including the facial prosthetics that the current V Magazine guest editor is wearing.

When the video clip of Born This Way, an epic pop ode to self-acceptance and self-empowerment, was released in 2011, Gaga’s bizarre look garnered wide-spread praise amongst fans and mainstream media for the pop star’s defiance of conventional beauty standards and maverick style.

The video was directed by SHOWstudio’s Nick Knight, the reputed photographer and art director who collaborated with Alexander McQueen on many iconic fashion shoots and projects that cemented the fashion designer’s unique aesthetic.

However, for anyone knowledgeable about contemporary art, Gaga’s facial lumps, which accentuated her forehead and cheekbones in a skull-like manner, seemed less of an original coup than an unacknowledged tribute to Orlan’s “Carnal Art.”

The main difference is, while Orlan’s implants were the “real deal,” Gaga’s were just make-up prosthetics. From 1990 to 1995, the French artist (née Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte) underwent a series of nine plastic surgeries, which she documented to show the modifications applied to her face and body. In some cases, the aim was to imitate the features of important artworks from art history, from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Botticelli’s Venus.

Orlan during The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan (1990).Photo: via Required Taste.

Orlan pictured during The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan (1990).
Photo: via Required Taste.

Unsurprisingly, Orlan and her team spotted the similarities too, and in 2013 sued Gaga in a Parisian court for 7.5 percent of the profits generated by the Born This Way album, which amount to over $31.7 million.

In an interview with Artinfo at the time, Orlan’s attorney Philippe Dutilleul-Francoeur explained:

“We are suing the American singer in Paris civil court for forging two works by Orlan. The first is the sculpture Bumpload (1989), which is extremely similar to the cover of Lady Gaga’s album Born This Way. […] The second work is Woman With Head (1996), which was used by Lady Gaga in the first seconds of her video for “Born This Way.” In it we see the singer’s head placed on Plexiglas and surrounded with decapitated heads, like Orlan’s head in Woman With Head. […] But notice that we’re not attacking Lady Gaga for having copied Orlan’s look, which is an ethical and not a legal issue. We’re accusing her of having forged her artworks, that is, of reproducing them illegally. […] That is part of intellectual property law.”

Orlan’s Woman With Head (1996) and still from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (2011).<br>Photo: PortalNet.

Orlan’s Woman With Head (1996) and still from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (2011).
Photo: PortalNet.

In the same interview, Dutilleul-Francoeur also explained that the artist hesitated for a long time (two years) before taking legal action, but that Orlan was shocked that “Lady Gaga drew from her work so freely without asking her permission. Without even so much as a phone call,” adding that “Orlan’s entire universe of hybridizations was copied in the Born This Way album, such as giving birth to oneself, which is seen in Orlan’s photography series Orlan accouche d’elle-m’aime (1964-66). The inspiration went too far.”

Orlan’s Orlan accouche d’elle-m’aime (1964-66).<br>Photo: via Wom(ae)n Participative Project.

Orlan’s Orlan accouche d’elle-m’aime (1964-66).
Photo: via Wom(ae)n Participative Project.

The case has now been taken to a New York court. According to Page Six, the artist’s US lawyers, Peter Stern and Alan Sash of McLaughlin & Stern, have declared that “whether in France or in the United States, Orlan’s unique artwork should be protected. We hope that questioning members of Lady Gaga’s creative team will aid the French court in deciding the case.”

Meanwhile, Gaga’s representative has deemed the situation as “nothing but an attempt by the plaintiff to generate US press coverage around a meritless case that was filed in France several years ago.”

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