Monday, 26 September 2011

Replica: nicer word for fake?

Well, it seems like the debate regarding replica furniture is about to rear its ugly designer head again in Australia.

According to today's Sydney Morning Herald, American firm Herman Miller is taking Australian replica furniture supplier Matt Blatt to court over the use of the Eames name.

You can read the article in full here.

For me the assertion that Matt Blatt owner, Adam Drexler, sees himself as the Robin Hood of designer furniture makes me cringe. He believes good design should be made more accessible and not for those with high incomes. His words are very honourable however, he can say this while reportedly hooning around in his real Porsche 911.

You'd think he'd at least walk the talk and get his Chinese manufacturers to build him a replica, wouldn't you?

I've touched on this subject before in my posts about Design Vigilantism here and here. It really is a topic that divides people, especially when the price differential between original and replica is quite substantial.

Finn Juhl Model 137 image from here

For the record, I don't own any current replica furniture. Just a 30 year old vintage knock-off - a Brisbane made DQF Viking chair which looks alarmingly similar to a Danish chair designed by Finn Juhl Model 137 (1953).

Does it still count as a fake if it's vintage? Does it even matter 30 years down the track?

DQF Viking chair (photo from 2009)

What do you think about the issue? Do you think Herman Miller is being unreasonably heavy-handed? Surely, everyone knows an Eames chair from Matt Blatt is a replica?


  1. I think Herman Miller's reaction would be reasonable had Matt Blatt truly tried to pass off the furniture as licensed Eames. However, the Matt Blatt site has always made very clear what is a replica and what is licensed. I don't think they've deceived anyone at all.

    And keep in mind also that Herman Miller is suing about the use of the name, not the use of the design. This is because (as I think I mentioned on one of your previous posts) the design is out of copyright. ANYONE can reproduce it. These aren't illegal knock-offs, because the copyright has expired. ;)

  2. I read that article in The Age with great interest and the comments that it generated too. Personally I wouldn't feel right with a replica piece of furniture in my home, I'd feel like a phony...I would rather go without if I can't have the real Mc Coy. Quality is also an issue here that I consider to be important. BUT this is just me and I would never pass judgement on someone who decides to buy a replica. That's their business and perogative (and of course people know the M.B. stuff is fake btw)

    Actually I find it surprising that Matt Blanc and the like have got away with it for so long. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    Lastly, for the life of me I do NOT get the Robin Hood comparison at all.

    p.s. have you read Australian Modern's posts on this?

  3. I think there are 2 ways of looking at this - the moral high ground of 'real' vs 'fake', & the legal issue of expired copyright = fair game & therefor no breach. We own 8 navy emeco reproduction chairs, purchased from matt blatt, & we are really happy with them. The quality is excellent, & we love the design. I am (obviously :)egalitarian enough to have no issue with a copy, & I don't try to pass them off as the real deal, neither does matt blatt. I guess that there will always be people who feel that a copy just isn't good enough. The Robin Hood thing is a bit tacky, though..

  4. What frustrates me no end is that Herman Miller charge so much for products that were designed with mass production in mind. Why are we paying a premium price and suffering ridiculous lead times for something that was originally intended by the designers to be affordable and accessible to the consumer?

    I also don't believe that replica's are inferior in quality. SOME replicas may be but expensive does not equal quality or longevity. What it usually equals is a 'no argument' attitude when it comes to warranty claims etc. Of course, I'm speaking generally. I believe that any piece of furniture selected carefully for its use and treated with respect can last the distance.

    I have a replica Eames rocker and DSW side chairs and I don't feel like a phoney. I feel like a person who hasn't spent hundreds of dollars on bog standard PLASTIC chairs. And in the case of the rocker I feel like a person that has a superior fibreglass rocker rather than an 'authentic' plastic version from HM.

    For what it's worth I also have genuine designer furniture and home wares (some new, some vintage) co-existing quite happily with my fakes.

    One last thing. A while ago in Freedom there were knock off Iittala Savoy vases. They most certainly didn't come with the disclaimer "This is a Freedom replica of the original design". Matt Blatt has NEVER tried to pass their product off as anything other than a copy so I think they deserve credit for that.

  5. I say, 'Take him to court', but that's me. I love seeing how the law is interpreted. I'll watch this one, and tell the kids.

    He's clearly profiteering from the design genius of others, and making a lot of money from it. That Eames' lounge chair is now so ubiquitous that I can't stand looking at it any more.

    I can see the argument for having cheaper replica chairs, but I generally take the high-ground on this issue. I would like to think that I'd only ever buy an authorised reproduction ... though I don't have the money to do so.

    The name 'Eames' is abused by thousands of people trying to sell what they perceive as Mid-Century items on ebay and etsy. It's become a label that people think consumers will fall for.

    Having said that, I have 'prints' on my walls of art gallery-housed paintings ... so in that respect I have cheap replicas of art, so why shouldn't that extrapolate out to replicas of furniture?

  6. It seems to me that Herman Miller is trying to make some money off Matt Blatt just as he has made it off Herman Miller. I don't think it's fake if it's a chair and it functions well. That's a real chair, right. In this century it's about time we got over names and labels a bit. I'm with Catherine who pointed out that these pieces were very affordable and made for the general public not an elite few. They're mark-up must be quite substantial if they are using the same materials. I have friends with fake and real and I think no differently of them. None of them, like Matt Blatt, pretends to have the real deal if they don.t. Maybe if they hold onto them long enough making them vintage will absolve them of the sin of economy. Those that can afford the over priced 'real' chairs will still buy them and those that can't wouldn't have bought them anyway. I've said it before but it's just a thing to park your high end on. There are people
    in North Africa that would be happy sitting on any dining chair with food in front of it.

  7. Hi there - such an interesting topic. I have bought a light from Matt Blatt and was unimpressed with the quality. Having said that I have also bought replicas from the other (much much better in my opinion) sites like Life Interiors or Click On Furniture. The quality is excellent, and I plan to have them for a long time, so the argument about cheap Chinese knockoffs becoming landfill does not resonate with me.

    I draw a distinction between new design, which is usually the creator of a younger designer and should be protected, and the much older mid Century designs which legally, are no longer subject to protection because the design protection only lasts for 10 or 15 years.

    I genuinely don't think a copy Eames chair is that different to a copy of a Dior new look dress from the 1950s. Or buying a print of a Monet and hanging it on your wall. We wouldn't say you can't do that unless you can buy the original painting would we?

    There are a lot of elitists out there. And I totally get that some people say it is the original for me or nothing at all, and that is fine, but I don't think they should stop others enjoying legally created clearly declared copies.


  8. I totally agree with Jane on this point:

    I draw a distinction between new design, which is usually the creator of a younger designer and should be protected, and the much older mid Century designs which legally, are no longer subject to protection because the design protection only lasts for 10 or 15 years.

  9. A copy is a copy. Neither Blatt nor his manufacturer took any risk designing, developing or manufacturing something new and unique. This failing applies to so many other products such as records, software, clothing etc. I am a product designer/manufacturer and we expend considerable energy, funds and time when developing new product and it makes me mad as hell when people copy our products. Legalities aside, there is a moral principle at risk and those who buy copies are perpetuating the fraud and are not kidding anyone with their fakes. If you can't afford the original buy something else that will do the job.


  10. Wow such interesting and valid points on both sides of this argument. I have to agree with Edward (above) when he says that 'neither Blatt nor his manufacturer took any risk designing, developing or manufacturing something new and unique', and yes a copy is a copy, but it does get tricky when a design is out of copyright, and therefore fair game when it comes to manufacturing a replica. Although I may not be able to afford a genuine Eames lounge chair, nor would I buy a replica.
    I think almost more than the out of copyright replicas, what I really hate are those ripoffs that change the design just enough to cheapen it and get by the copyright issues. These are almost more blatant than the Matt Blatt replicas which at least proclaim with a degree of honesty, what they are.

  11. An interesting argument! I have to pull the 'I'm a libran and therefore can't make a decision' card on this one. I see valid arguments for both sides. I just don't knowcwgere I stand. I don't believe in copyright infringement but it's a diff story when it's out of copyright.
    It's a tricky one!!

  12. Thanks everyone for your great comments. The court case will be thoroughly interesting, don't you think?

    I'd hate for anyone to take credit or copy my work - especially if they became rich & successful like Drexler. It would be disheartening to be a designer and to know that within your lifetime, your work will be copied quite legally in this country.

    But eventually good design becomes commonplace like, say, a Louis XIV chair. Reproduction 'antiques' don't seem to stir up the same kind of emotions. xx

  13. There are replicas or rip offs in every industry & I think as long as they are not trying to market them it doesnt really matter. I mean how often do you go to the markets & see rip off designer hand bags or surf brand clothes. Life is generally ruled by finance & its sometimes nice if there is an affordable copy of something you dream of owning.
    This is certainly an intersting debate & evryone has some great points to make for both sides of the story, I have really enjoyed reading them!!

  14. It's much like the fake watches and bags, it's obviously an image thing, you know yourself it's fake. But as for the Matt Blatt furniture, it's cheap furniture even compared to Ikea so people will buy it even if the're not a try hard. Very interesting topic!
    Sar x

  15. Not everyone knows their Eames from their Aarne Jacobsens. It's quite possible a large part of Matt Blatt's customer base is just buying the item based on its appearance rather than because they're trying to 'kid' someone into thinking they have an expensive designer item.

    Have you seen Real Living these days? They often show a clearly expensive, well curated interior and on the "get the look" page they point the reader to Matt Blatt and its ilk as the source of the furniture (despite the fact it's more than likely authentic designer).

    Can you really accuse someone of 'fraud' if they simply bought a chair online that they liked the look of in a magazine?

  16. Facinating reading! I'm with Catherine though:
    "What frustrates me no end is that Herman Miller charge so much for products that were designed with mass production in mind. Why are we paying a premium price and suffering ridiculous lead times for something that was originally intended by the designers to be affordable and accessible to the consumer?"
    If you can afford to; buy original but if you can't then an honestly represented replica of an lawfully unprotected design, with due reference, is the way to go. Matt Blatt makes a fortune from this because there are more design savy individuals than cashed up eletists. Mr Eames and co would be proud that so many can enjoy his designs as was intended.

  17. Excellent topic.

    I think it's lovely that those who can't afford the Real Deal can get their mitts on something less 'spensive. I'm all for accessibilty.

    A few years ago Diane Von Furstenberg successfully sued some designer who ripped off her frock. You see copies all the time in the fashion world. I once saw a Tibi frock I owned replicated exactly at Forever New for a 1/5 of the Tibi price.

    I don't think nice clothes or serious furniture should be for the rich alone.

    I can't afford a real Louis Quinze chair because I am not a hedge funder but I do have a very nice replica upstairs in the baby's nursery.


  18. I'm all for intellectual property but once a copyright has expired then let us all enjoy it, I say.

    Surely it's ok when it's clearly labeled a replica, although I do agree Robin Hood he is not, lol.

    Where do we all stand on ironic homage? I assume everyone's cool with 're-working' a design, for instance the Louis ghost chair?

  19. It is a terrific topic. I guess everyone has an opinion about it one way or the other.

    Ironic homage is another Pandora's box, isn't it? I didn't like the ghost chairs when they first came out...they irked me. Now I like them.

  20. well time for my two cents worth ... imitation is a form of flattery .... i think people with the money or design knowledge will always prefer the re mccoy as it partly defines them .... where as us lower socio-economic types or just like it cause we like it types won't care how genuine the article is .... just either cost or asthetics as a defining factor - horses for courses I say ... as long as a six year old in an asian sweat shop is not making them I say long live the big R :) le xox

    ps is this like those of us who have pure bred dogs Vrs mixed scapie from the lost dogs home ..

    or faux leather vrs real

    or cover bands Vrs the big name

    or the target Vrs high street labels ...

    hee hee le xox


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