Would you buy a replica of your favorite designer?

Guest post by Julie F.

real vs knockoffLet’s face it: not everyone has the wallet to afford designer furniture. Stark, Eames, Corbusier, Jacobsen… These names sounds like a sweet melody to my ears but every time I daydream about (i.e. surf the internet for) the “perfect” egg chair, my heart ends up broken by the price tag. Every. Time.

Well, not exactly every time. Not since I discovered the very interesting world of copies. Shhh, don’t say it too loud. It’s not allowed. It’s bad, very bad. But is it, really? You shouldn’t buy copies of films and CDs. That one is deeply encrusted into my brain. What about furniture? What does it really mean to buy a “replica”?

Is it a crime?

No. Well, legally, no. Buying furniture copies is perfectly legal. The seller on the other hand could get a fine if he does not identify the piece as a copy.

Does it hurt the designer/market?

Yes. It’s the basic law of demand and supply. Designers will not get any cut from your copy. Now I believe a couple of things must be taken into account:

  1. An original is like art. For a designer to produce one piece that will sell, he has to make a hundred of them. That’s why painting/sculpture/designer furniture is expensive. They have to be to support the many hours the artist will work to perfect his style and technique.
  2. On the other hand, it’s a luxury market the vast majority of us cannot afford. I really don’t cry for the designer when I find a copy of the last Dior collection in my local store. I say “Score!” and I buy it.

This really is a question of buying ethics, and everyone has different opinions on what is ok and what’s not depending on the product, the designer, the retailer, the materials, etc. [Editor’s note: we’ve discussed these ethics on Offbeat Bride]

How do I know it’s a replica?

They will usually use the terms “inspired by,” “this style” or “reproduction” in the name of the product. It’s honestly quite confusing at first. Usually, if the full designer name is not in the name tag and the price seems reasonable, it’s a copy.

What are you giving up when you buy a replica?

Quality and details. Originals will be made from real leather, their structure are one continuous piece of metal (there will be no soldered joints), plastics are sturdier and finishes will never fade due to sunlight exposure. Overall, originals will last longer and look much better in 10 years from now. Some people also believe buying an original is like making an investment because they do not lose value over time — that is if you take real good care of your furniture… Which is unfortunately not the case of my cats.

So why the frack would you buy a copy?

You save money. A lot of money. As an example, Eames Lounge and Ottoman original will be retailed for over $4,500 while its copy can be bought for $900 only. That’s five time cheaper. Yeah, I know, hard to resist. Apart from “the look for less” there really is no other advantages to buying a replica.

So really, would you buy copies of your favourite designer furniture? Or save up for the real thing? I haven’t made up my mind yet, so I’d love to hear Homies’ thoughts on the subject!

Comments on Would you buy a replica of your favorite designer?

  1. This has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but aw, my parents had one of those chairs when I was little. It was my dad’s chair from when he was in college/grad school, and there are tons of pictures of him asleep in it with one of us kids pillowed on top of him. It finally died when my brothers tried to be ninjas and tipped it over backwards. Lasted quite a while though!

  2. I just bought a copy of the classic Eames lounge chair. It was $40 at a garage sale, and was an absolute steal. If the real thing had been in my budget, I would buy the real thing. I try to buy things that are original, but sometimes it’s just not possible with a smaller budget. I also firmly believe that design should only live in the homes of those who can afford it. A lot of the high end pieces have borrowed elements from previous pieces as well.

  3. Hmm, this one is a bit tricky. If I could afford the outrageous prices, then I would buy an original. But, being that I’m a fairly recent college grad with student loan debt up to here, it doesn’t look like I would be able to afford it any time soon.

    Usually, I scour Goodwill or flea markets (or sometimes dumpster diving) for furniture pieces. Most are really sturdy pieces that just require a little TLC. The money goes to a local person or organization, its low cost and it saves a piece of furniture from being tossed away. =)

    Another place to check for furniture is an artist market like Etsy.com. There, you can buy original furniture, support a local (usually not famous) artist and not pay a small fortune for something. Just keep an eye out for the shipping costs.

  4. I personally save for originals, it’s sort of that sweet amazing reward after a long wait. I would rather wait and get “the real thing” than buy a bunch of copies that would clutter my space. It makes me more aware of the items I am putting in my space and how much room (and money) stuff really takes up.

    I’ve been eyeing up a Corbusier Chaise for years, and haven’t had the money to buy one…so I continue to wait. And when I finally have the cash in hand, it will be so worth it and I know I will have the perfect space for it in my life and my house.

    I did get super super lucky this last Christmas when my inlaws happened on a molded fiberglass Eame’s Rocker from the 70s that someone was selling on Kijiji for a decent price. It was my first real “designer” piece, and it has rocked my daughter to sleep many a night and through many a storybook. A copy would have been sufficient, and done the job, yes..but I guess in a way now I own a piece of history and it makes me happy.

    • I’d agree, except sometimes you can’t wait. You need a couch and, well, you need a couch.

      But in that case you probably weren’t going to buy a copy, anyway. You’d just buy something cheap that wasn’t a copy.

      • Lol exactly, and that’s exactly where I stand right now. I have a couple of love seats from The Brick and a couple of kijiji chairs, it works and I’m happy with it. When I have the money I’ll probably upgrade, lol. 😉 Even copies of originals are too expensive for me right now to fork out the money, especially for something I know is a replica.

        I wouldn’t really feel like I was paying for quality, but rather for an image… I guess in some ways copies to me feel more snobby to me than originals, you get quality with an original, you get image with a copy….

  5. There are few things where I wouldn’t consider actually making something similar myself. I might not get around to it, but then if I don’t that kind of shows that I didn’t want it enough to spend a huge amount on it in the first place.

    The other thing I do if I see a piece of clothing/shoes/furniture/whatever that really takes my fancy but which I can’t afford is to figure out exactly what it is about it I like so much and try to look for alternatives based around that.

    I would say that it’s perfectly reasonable to ask yourself if you will ever actually have the money for the original piece you want or if it’s a pipe dream. If the latter is the case then I don’t see the problem with buying a replica or “inspired by” item, since the original designer/manufacturer was never going to get your cash anyway.

  6. If someone wants to show me where I can buy knockoffs of anything in the Restoration Hardware catalog, I will send you an autographed picture of me setting my buying ethics on fire.

    • Try looking at those discount-y furniture places that buy lots of furniture from all sorts of places and sells it. My brother-in-law’s girlfriend works for The Dump and whenever they come over, she picks up my Restoration Hardware catalog and leafs through it saying “We’ve got that. And that. Yep, we’ve got that.”

  7. This article has perfect timing as I was just looking at a Wassily chair replica this morning. I would absolutely buy a replica, as long as it was a replica of high quality. I would love nothing more than to display an original in my house, but the price tags are nowhere near within range of my budget. In fact, the originals would far outshine the quality of my entire house. Unless I had the right type of home to display originals in as a piece of artwork, and I’m talking “Rum Diary” beach house living, I couldn’t justify purchasing them.

  8. It depends on the copy, honestly. I would never buy a reproduction of an Eames lounge chair (unless it was second hand) because- let’s face it- $900 is a lot of money to spend on something that won’t last. I know $4500 is a LOT of money, but you’re paying for quality. If you want to save money with that chair, go vintage.

    I did have a reproduction on an Eames molded plastic eiffel chair at one point, though. I only paid $75 for it- I could have bought a chair from IKEA for the same price! It wasn’t great quality, but I knew that it was a temporary purchase. Sure enough, I sold the chair when I left that apartment.

  9. I haven’t really faced this with furniture as all our stuff is second hand crap. But in general (most often with clothing) my rule is….

    1. Nothing with fake logos, or logos that aren’t quite fake but are still meant to vaguely resemble a designer’s logo

    2. If I could realistically afford the designer’s work (especially if it’s a small designer and not, like, an international fashion house with stuff made in China) then I will opt for the real thing. If we’re talking a $20,000 Chanel top vs a $50 knock-off… well, I won’t buy either, because I ain’t paying $50 for a shirt. But you get the jist. Most of the time I probably buy knock offs without even knowing that they are knock offs because I don’t spend much time perusing stuff I can’t afford even in my wildest dreams.

  10. My dear aunt, a very snob university teacher, had a copy of a Corbusier chair in her living room. She forgot one little detail: the people that will enter her house exclaiming ”Oh dear, a Corbusier chair!” are exactly the same people that are going to be able to tell if it’s an original or a cheaper replica. Sorry aunty, that was an epic fail. 🙂

    That brings an honest question though, if you know can make the difference between a replica and a copy, should you feel like cheating when buying fakes? ”I’m buying the copy and hope no one notice it!!”
    Or are you just being honest about the thing: ”I know my mid-century modern designers, I love their design but I just can’t afford it!”
    And there’s always the clueless one who’s actually the more honest of all: ”I didn’t knew what I was buying, but I effing love it!!”

    • I this hits the nail on the head. If you want “oh, a designer chair” then you need to save up. If you’re thinking “Hey that looks cool – HOLY CRAP MULTIPLE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS!” then just buy something that looks similar.

      Expecting everyone who likes a designer’s look to buy the original is like expecting every fantasy fan to like Tolkien. Some people just wanna read DragonLance.

  11. In memory, I’ve never coveted an item enough to consider purchasing a knock-off. And oh, I have coveted. But I honestly wouldn’t even be able to be myself around a $4,500 chair. “Oh God, I’m holding a glass of water! *panic*”
    As far as my own personal stance on replicas, though… I’ve come across replica goods that were copies of pieces I wasn’t familiar with. So naturally, I thought THEY were the original. And I think that would probably be my experience if I were looking for any piece of furniture I needed to add. I’d go looking in my price range.
    If I ran across a piece I knew to me a replica, I probably wouldn’t buy it unless it was EXACTLY the thing I wanted. Most of the designer pieces I covet most aren’t quite in line with my actual decor.

  12. Can someone please explain… If a chair design was invented 60+ years ago, and there have been 100,000 (or more) chairs sold, and the designer himself is long dead, how can they really justify charging so much? There is no way it really costs that much for the molded plastic or plywood to manufacture. I think it’s just marketing exclusivity and snobbery. Makes me lean towards buying a copy, which could still be high quality at 1/5th the price.

    • Most of the “original” designer items are produced only in small quantities with the original quality materials, generally very high quality materials. One of the few that is no longer like the original is actually the Eames Rocker which is now molded plastic (the original is molded fiberglass). It’s about preserving quality, and preservation of quality becomes hard when you drop the cost. Material costs increase over the years (leather, steel, etc), designer prices will rise with inflation in order to cover costs and have some mark up for profit.

      Mass produced products where quality tends to be “normal” or “so-so” manufacturer’s pull from the factory that gives them the cheapest product possible and they mark it up to garner the best profit they can. Most mass produced products can garner up to a 200% profit, because production costs are so low. Designer items profit margins are much lower, usually around 30-50%.

      It really isn’t about marketing exclusivity or snobbery (or maybe I just feel that way as a designer, who knows?), its about preserving a legacy and creating a quality product that will stand up to any of the originals.

      • I actually saw one of the original “original” Corbusier Lounge in Firminy, and it looked in remarkable good shape for a chair that was 80 years old. Obviously the leather was worn, and the stainless steel had its rust spots, but never the less it was in total working order.

        Intriguingly very little of Corb’s architecture is in the same shape 😉

  13. I have that lounge chair in the photo; mine is blue, and I scored it at my local Sally for 20 bucks. I bought it because it was old, sturdy, leather, and cheap, and because I needed to replace my old man’s nasty recliner with something that did not belong in a toxic waste dump. I knew who Eames was, at the time, but was not familiar with that particular chair. My best friend saw it and started losing her mind over it, so we checked the manufacturer’s label and discovered that it was made by a local furniture company at the same time Eames was making his lounge chair. It is an exact copy, including all the little details that you find listed to help you usually determine whether yours is an original or a copy. It’s teak, heavily put together, sturdy, and was obviously expensive originally. Some of the buttons are missing, so I doubt I could sell it for 900 bucks, though I have seen the same chair, same manufacturer, worse condition offered online for 700 so you never know. Bottom line, it is still a perfectly functional, well built chair that we love and use and can probably keep using for a really long time because it was a quality piece to begin with. And, if it breaks, I’m out twenty bucks. Until then, it looks pretty classy in the living room next to my dumpster dived couch and all my weird junk.

    Modern copies, though, I don’t know. When I was 20 I was thrilled to death to find a lady selling knock-off Vuitton bags on the side of the road. I paid a hefty 40 dollars for one and thought I was hot shit because honestly I’d never even SEEN a real Vuitton bag, much less lived anywhere near a place where you could purchase one. It lasted three months before it started falling apart, and I felt like an idiot spending that much money on something so poorly made just because it was supposed to look like something fancy. Obviously, had anyone in the general vicinity owned a real Vuitton bag, they would have been able to tell from 100 yards that mine was a Fooey Vuitton.

    If I’m going to spend that much money on something, I want it to last. If it looks like a designer piece but falls apart in a month I would have been better off spending less money on something better made instead of worrying about how it looks. If it’s something that I love, that is well made and also a knock-off of a designer piece, I have no real qualms at all about buying it.

  14. I honestly had no idea there was such a world as designer/knock-off furniture.

    I learn toward, if you were never ever going to buy the original, then you’re not actually a lost sale — you were never a sale. No harm, unless you count supporting the faker as harm. (And you might.)

    (And there is no way in hell I could personally justify $4500 on a chair — though I understand that everyone has different priorities & wants. We once spent $3000 to build a kick-ass computer, and I know that would make some people just shit.)

  15. No, but not because I care that much (to be honest, I don’t), but because I don’t follow design. I don’t buy clothing knockoffs because I don’t care about clothing enough to know what the latest fashions are. Same with furniture.

    If I did care, I wouldn’t buy a direct knockoff, especially if it were a new design by a still-living designer. It’d feel icky to me to actively take away from their livelihood. For older designs, and dead/retired designers, I don’t have the same moral qualms: I don’t feel the need to put money in the pockets of a company that owns the rights to a design when the designer him/herself is not involved. I care about awarding good artistry to the artists. I do not care about the profits of someone who buys the rights to a design.

    If I did care I’d feel OK buying “inspired by” items (like H&M but with furniture). Such a huge part of art is inspiration that it’s not fair to say that no design that even LOOKS like yours may be sold. If no “inspired by” pieces exist, only cheap copies or expensive originals, I wouldn’t buy at all, even if I cared, because I choose not to spend my income on designer furniture.

    I feel similarly about media, by the way. I care about awarding artists for their work, but I do not care one whit about record labels or even publishing houses. My job is not to make them money, my job as a consumer is to award an artist for their work. I do not accept DRM. I pay for my music, but I remove DRM once I get it, because in my view, I paid for it, so I own it, and nobody gets to attach their electronic fingers to it and retain some rights over something I purchased. In good faith, I don’t rampantly spread illegal copies on file sharing sites. I will give copies to friends, but people have been doing that since tape recorders existed and record labels were OK with it then, so they can deal with it now.

  16. Umm…I can’t even afford the knock-offs. I can’t afford new furniture from the store, even if they aren’t high design. I buy used and fix it up the best I can, and ignore what is in fashion because otherwise I’ll just be upset about what I can’t have.

  17. I guess, also, when I look at most designer furniture…eh. It’s nice and all, but generally not special or unique enough to be worth several thousand dollars to me. The pieces in the photo are good examples. Sure, I can see the difference, but even though I don’t dispute the far higher quality and better look of the designer original, it’s not unique or special. It looks like some typical, forgettable furniture. Why would I spend thousands of dollars on something that is not remarkable-looking or memorable (to me)?

    But, well, I don’t buy knockoffs because they’re even more unremarkable.

    With the photo up top, honestly, I see the similarities, but I don’t feel that the similarities are enough to constitute artist’s right. The artist didn’t come up with the idea of an ottoman shaped like that or a black leather recliner in roughly that shape. They built on an existing idea. Others are free to take that existing idea and also build on it.

    That said, in good faith I don’t buy things that don’t pass the squint test – if it’s clearly a copy rather than a similar looking inspiration, I will pass it by. I won’t buy the original either, though.

    Not that I can even tell what’s designer and what’s not…

    It’s not quite the same as a painting, where the artists produces one, and if they sell it, they sell it. They may sell prints, or not, but there’s only one original painting. With furniture, they create the design and then manufacture thousands.

  18. Between the cats, a dog, and a baby, buying designer furniture would be a complete waste of my money. Any furniture I bring into my house will be covered in animal hair, scratches, and puke within a year.

  19. I would say I’m anti-replicas, for pretty much any kind of product, because I value authenticity and originality. Instead of buying a copy, I’d look for something in my price range that wasn’t a copy, that I could like and enjoy and value for its own properties, and not for imitating someone else’s ideas. This might be because I’m OCD, because I know I’d be locating and focusing on every little flaw that didn’t match up to the original.

  20. Inspiration vs immitation is the key for me. And specifically for furniture, comfort. If you’re trying to immitate down to the buttons and logos – I feel a little shady even considering it. But if you’re inspired by a designer piece, and turn out a similar product, that functions well, and is in my price range – I would definitely not have an issue.

  21. Absolutely I would buy a replica. If it’s a design and a price point I like, why wouldn’t I?

    Designer stuff is hot shit and earns it’s cache by either being first to the market with something innovative, or by enduring long after the replicas have self-destructed. It’s not unusual for a designer item, like an Eames chair, to achieve both of those things.

    To use the handbag example: I love the Hermes Birkin bag. But there is no way I will ever be able to justify spending that much on a purse. But I’ll buy a good quality bag that’s clearly inspired by the real thing. Something that imitates the clean lines and bright colors. Not a knockoff – something that is trying to pass itself off as a real Hermes. Knockoffs are cheaply made and not worth what you pay for them. Also, they don’t fool anybody.

    • My stepsister has a replica Birkin Bag, that looks very authentic, to a non-expert such as myself. The thing is, I know never in a million years could she afford one, much less get her hands on one – so it’s clearly not a real one.

  22. I am the one who would inadvertently buy a knock-off. I really don’t follow design or fashion, so unless it explicitly states it’s a reproduction or inspired by someone (and I mean in big, bold letters that are impossible to miss) I probably on’t have a clue. I do research products before buys, but generally only to look at reviews and check for chemicals.

  23. I know so very little about designers when it comes to furniture and home decor, that I haven’t come up against this problem. I think it would really depend. If it wasn’t absolutely ridiculously expensive (which is how I would classify a $4,500 chair), and I thought it was a good investment piece (something I will keep forever and will last, not only structurally but design-wise) then yes I would spend the money, but I am a bargain hunter at heart and if I can’t justify the price I would definitely just walk away. I don’t know that I would try to find a copy, though.

  24. There was a great Ted talk about copyright law in relation to fashion, that goes into knock-offs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL2FOrx41N0

    The combination of watching that, reading “Factory Girls”, being cheap, and lusting after a black market handbag in Chinatown,not buying it because it was a knock-of, then seeing Target have a version of it 6 months later made me feel not bad about shopping for a handbag in Chinatown, rather than buying one at say Macy’s.

    That said I don’t think I would ever spend $4,500 on an Eames chair. Even if I had that sort of cash. I might consider a high end computer chair since that is where my a$$ spends a good deal of time.

  25. I LOVE chairs. I mean LOVE LOVE LOVE them. As in if I were to get a tattoo it would probably be a Barcelona Chair. Then I’d get an Eames Rocker, and so on… but I am so beyond broke. The Boyfriend is in a similar position, but he has one of those things that pays weekly? Last Christmas he bought me a knock off Eames Rockers for $115 when the Herman Miller version costs $550. So, for us this is the right choice, but one day we will have us a 100% Barcelona Chair.

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