In a country where counterfeited designer handbags and clothes are sold widely, conversations about fashion copycats and plagiarism can often end fruitlessly with a simple question: So what?
But when one of Vietnam's most recognizable models publicly and blatantly admits that her shop sells copies of famous designs from international fashion houses, the blurred line between the real and the fake has been brought into focus.
It all started earlier this week when Huy Tran, a designer in Ho Chi Minh City, accused Ngoc Trinh, the model, of stealing one of his new designs.
Trinh fought back with a surprising response: “I admitted that the design was a copy, but not from Huy Tran. It’s a suit Victoria Beckham wore on a Miami street in June,” Ngoc Trinh wrote on her Facebook.
“Ninety percent of the clothes at my shop are copies of well-known designs in the world. Some are copied from local designers. If a customer sends me a photo of a design, I will have a perfect copy tailor-made for them.
“It is not a big deal in Vietnam. I only want to make beautiful, elegant but affordable clothes for my customers. I have never called myself a designer.”
Ngoc Trinh, a model managed by Venus Entertainment Corp, has been seen donning carbon copies of designs by Elie Saab, Valentino, Bally, Herve Lege and Dolce & Gabbana.
Ngoc Trinh (R) wears a copy dress from a design of Dolce & Gabbana.
Another dress is similar to an Elie Saab design.
Last year, popular singer My Tam, who also owns a clothing line, was criticized for a dress that looked like a perfect copy of a Viktor & Rolf gown.
Designer Cong Tin, who earlier claimed to have designed the dress exclusively for the singer, later apologized for the plagiarism.
But the case, like many others, ended with an apology and no further questions have been asked by the public and authorities.
Under Vietnamese laws, copying a design without permission is intellectual property theft, which is punishable by a fine of between VND15 million (US$670) to 35 million ($1,600). More severe cases may lead to criminal proceedings.
But nobody has ever been punished.
"Plagiarism cases are complicated," said lawyer Nguyen Duc Chanh. "And since most of the owners of the original designs live in other countries, they seldom know about their works being copied and they do not file complaints.
Just a few hours after Ngoc Trinh made the plagiarism confession, designer Huy Tran deleted his earlier accusations against Trinh.
“I just don’t want to kick up dust,” Tran explained.