This is a thing that happened.
Months ago Jaime Gillin contacted me about an article she was researching for Dwell concerning designer knockoffs after hearing that I lived with both authentic and knockoff versions of various mid century pieces. During our chat I spewed out some vague ramblings and then promptly forgot about our conversation until a bunch of emails popped up alerting me to my new super elite design insider status on the Dwell Blog. Obviously, ‘design insider’ pretty much sums me up, particularly when wandering around the super elite thrift stores of Hemet (aka the CUTTING EDGE of design).
But hey, it’s true. The owning knockoffs part.
Yes, I somehow live harmoniously with both authentic and knockoff pieces. I mean, I even paired these authentic Eames wire chairs with knockoff dowel bases from Modern Conscience like some sort of design heathen. So anyways, I wasn’t surprised when the articles quoted actual design insiders like Antoine Roset – Ligne Roset, Lindsay Adelman, Benjamin Cherner – Cherner Chair Company, Eames Demetrios – Eames Office director and John Edelman, CEO, DWR who all heavily championed the side of knockoffs = evil! Authentic licensed design = good!
*For clarity’s sake, I might mention that the ‘knockoffs vs. authentic’ debate feels a bit tiredly didactic and generally hits me square in the boring bone.
**Also worth mentioning, surprise surprise, I’m not a cultural or economic critic with a vast expertise or objectivity, but I agree there are merits and failings on both sides of this debate. My experience reflects being a pretty standard consumer and not a museum collection or company that sells designer furniture to the retail public…so…ya.
Anyone notice the one HUGE thing these design insiders have in common? You know, the thing were they all have HUGE financial or personal stakes invested in selling ‘authentic licensed’ design to consumers. So, no one is truly shocked that they’re all against knockoffs (aka those horrible devils of poorly constructed evil which ruin lives and hate puppies or something). It’s almost like asking oil companies if going electric is good. No one actually expects to hear a balanced point of view, right?
Just a few quick thoughts:
+ It’s hard for me to seriously listen to someone in a vastly different tax bracket with obvious conflicts of interest tell everyone ‘to just save up’ and buy a licensed $7,000 Knoll credenza or accept not owning any design pieces they like. At all.
+ I always prefer and recommend buying vintage instead of new production ‘licensed’ designs. Vintage is usually cheaper and built better with better materials.
+ New production ‘licensed’ pieces can tend to be poorly constructed with crappy materials just like many knockoffs. For example, many times I’ve seen licensed Saarinen tulip dining tables with wood tops smashed to reveal their inner Ikea-style cardboard construction at the DWR outlet. Plus, any Eames chair made of molded plastic is bullshit.
+ Mass produced iconic designs originally made to be affordable functional pieces for mid-range consumers now being sold at exorbitant fetish style prices after their designers are long deceased seems disingenuous.
+ New designers being ripped off, I feel you. That is unforgivable. You can’t compete. But BDDW and others of that ilk must get that almost nobody can afford a $50,000 coffee table, plus I’m pretty sure their specific high end buyer niche isn’t destroyed by knockoffs like designers with more moderate pricing.
I’m just as biased and self serving as the rest, but it felt a bit exclusionary and classist to promote the idea that anyone who can’t afford the ‘real licensed thing’ from a few select companies should just give up and only buy furniture from designated stores, you know, for the poor folks. It’s hard to believe that anyone buying knockoffs fools themselves into thinking it will be super valuable in the future or last forever or even cares about those things, but hey, my own knockoffs have held up very well and are just as functional and great to live with as my vintage pieces. Seriously, the few knockoff pieces around the house – like my Womb chair – are much easier to live with than the fancier (aka technically more valuable) vintage pieces. There’s exactly zero anxiety about potential damage or day to day wear screwing those things up, but get some kids or a couple drunks around the few really rare and valuable vintage things I own and the stress becomes truly unbearable. It’s no fun living in a museum.
Can’t anyone at any income level appreciate and aspire to live with designs they enjoy – even if that means supplementing their homes with a few affordable knockoffs? We all need a place to sit, but what do you think about living with or buying knockoffs?