Santa Rosa artist The Velvet Bandit sees similarities with her work, AOC’s Met Gala dress
The Velvet Bandit isn’t mad. In fact, she sounds a little flattered and a touch nervous.
The Santa Rosa-based street artist, who has asked her name not be used and never identifies herself publicly in any way other than as The Velvet Bandit, said her phone started buzzing Tuesday.
By Wednesday, it was in full blowup mode.
The gown worn to Monday’s ultra-chic Met Gala in New York City by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic leader of “The Squad” and the voice of the new left, bore striking resemblance to art created by The Velvet Bandit.
The dress, which AOC said on social media was made by Aurora James, founder of design house Brother Vellies, was a white gown emblazoned with the nearly ubiquitous “Tax the Rich” slogan in bright red letters.
But the font, the lettering color and the style, bore likeness to The Velvet Bandit’s work — in particular a piece she featured in a recent TikTok video that went viral, snagging more than nearly 380,000 views.
The Velvet Bandit’s piece is of a masked Abraham Lincoln. On the mask, in striking red letters, is a handwritten message: “Tax the Rich.”
“My phone just blew up with all kinds of people sharing the picture of her dress,” she said. “People were like, ‘No, this is your artwork.’”
“It’s not just me saying, ‘That looks familiar,’” she said. “I have had a ton of people write to me, saying, ‘No, this is yours. It’s your handwriting.’"
Her social media accounts, where she posts much of her street art, is going bananas. She has reposted side by side images of her art next to AOC in the dress.
An Instagram post put up Wednesday asks her followers (she now has more than 6,800 after a recent surge) to tag the Congresswoman from New York’s 14th district and James for a possible collaboration.
“I'm a full-time lunch lady and single mom, which doesn't leave me much time in my day to try and reach famous people to hit me up,” The Velvet Bandit wrote. “They need a female street artist working on their team, don’tcha think? It would be an honor. Obviously they have fabulous taste.”
The Velvet Bandit also been contacted by lawyers.
But she doesn’t want to sue.
She’s not even mad.
However, a public tip of the hat from one of the most high-profile, progressive politicians in the nation would be nice, she said.
And a collaboration — The Velvet Bandit’s politics and humor lean left — would be even better. If she doesn’t already, The Velvet Bandit is convinced AOC would likely appreciate her work and her sensibilities.
The Congresswoman, who is a frequent target of her conservative colleagues and pundits, has an entire line of “Tax the Rich” merchandise on her “Official AOC Team Shop.” But that, too, has raised eyebrows, what with sweatshirts going for $58 and “Tax the Rich” mugs selling for $27.
(The Velvet Bandit’s “Tax the Rich” hoodie sells for $32).
Even with a history of using the phrase, the font, styling and coloring on that merchandise doesn’t resemble The Velvet Bandit’s piece like the dress did.
“Maybe it’s coincidental,” The Velvet Bandit said of resemblance between the dress and the art.
“But anyway, they should want to work with me.”
‘I know I don’t own the phrase’
The last few days have been a bit disorienting for an artist who has labored to maintain her anonymity. There has been attention on social media. She was the lead item on the celebrity gossip website TMZ for a stretch Wednesday. The British tabloid Daily Mail picked up the story.
The tale seemingly has all of the elements — a super left-leaning, outspoken politician tries to poke at the very people she’s mingling with at the uber-exclusive Met Gala, only to (inadvertently) steal from a single mom who works as a lunch lady and does street art on the side.
But that’s not really what the story feels like to The Velvet Bandit.
“A lot of the headlines are so cringy, ‘AOC ripped off a lunch lady …’ painting her in this bad light or saying I’m accusing her,” she said. “I hope they are not mad at me.”