A while back I came across an article where ten designers were sounding off on knockoffs of iconic design pieces, and I thought it was an interesting topic. I never really had any strong negative feelings about knockoffs, but reading this made me think about them in a different way. Unsurprisingly, the designers, for the most part, viewed them in a very negative light – as worthless, undermining the work that went into the original, and overall being damaging to the design industry.
While I totally understand everything those designers were saying, part of me feels like when it comes to decor, it shouldn’t be so serious, and people should have fun with it and go about it in a relaxed way. If you’re purchasing pieces for your forever home, or you know for a fact that you LOVE, for example, a Bertoia chair and will always love it, then by all means, buy an authentic version from Design Within Reach or another retailer (if you can). But otherwise, I agree with the designer in the article who said that knockoffs can function in a home the same way an original can – in fact, maybe better, because you won’t be so devastated if you spill grape juice on it or whatever. Sometimes it really just isn’t financially feasible to buy a $700 chair!
I myself am more rigid about knockoffs when it comes to fashion, rather than decor…not really sure why that is. I would never buy a knockoff designer handbag – it just doesn’t appeal to me at all and I think it’s tacky to have a fake Chanel. I would either splurge on the real deal or buy a lower priced, non-designer handbag from J. Crew or Everlane or something (but is that how we should behave with iconic design as well?).
By contrast, I bought a knockoff Bertoia chair when I was in my early 20’s, and I bought it with the specific intention of spray painting it pink. If I were to buy a real Bertoia chair, there’s no way in hell I would spray paint it pink! I guess it was a factor of being young and also knowing nothing about design at the time, but the thought of buying an original didn’t even cross my mind. I don’t recall if I actually even knew that the chair was a knockoff of an iconic piece.
I also bought a knockoff ghost chair after considering the possibility of purchasing a real one. To me, it just wasn’t worth it to spend 400 dollars on a plastic chair when the knockoff gets the job done, and I did a lot of research to make sure that the knockoff would be a good enough choice (plus I figured this way, when I get a scratch on it, I don’t have to freak out). Again though, I was really young at the time and not thinking much about longevity and quality (although to be honest, my “fake” ghost chair has held up perfectly).
As time has passed, I definitely think my opinion on knockoffs has broadened – I can see why it would really piss off designers and people in the design industry. They see the quality, creativity, and workmanship that goes into originals, and it must be incredibly frustrating to see people buying replicas. I can also understand how annoying it would be to the original designer or design house, to be copied. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I don’t think anyone who’s had the experience of being copied would agree with that!
I think part of my changing opinion on knockoffs has a lot to do with getting older and the fact that my tastes are changing a bit. As the years in my apartment have gone by, I’ve started feeling more attracted to spaces that feel a bit more adult and permanent – more like the tours I see on One Kings Lane, and less like the ones I see on sites that skew younger, like Glitter Guide. I have started to consider the possibility of buying more investment pieces (like custom curtains from a designer fabric), but so far I haven’t made any moves. I’ve also been fantasizing about buying a Loop chair, but it’s like, I’m clearly not going to buy the antique Frances Elkin version that costs ten grand or so. I would buy one of the reproductions that are out there…and I wonder how designers feel about that. That seems to be more of a replica of a piece that would be impossible to afford as an original and less of a “knockoff,”…is there a difference between the two, and is the former more acceptable?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Would you buy a knockoff, in decor or fashion? Do you see a difference between knockoffs in the two categories? Let me know what you think!
PS – The lead image is a clever poster available for purchase here.
images by Kate Ignatowski from my first home tour
Thanks for writing this, Jackie–such an interesting topic! I’m in the same boat as you are where I’ve been less bothered by designer knockoffs in decor vs. fashion. Thinking about it quickly, I mostly attribute it to being uninformed about a lot of designer decor pieces (vs. just being like “oooh, I like that” and not realizing who makes it) compared to fashion where you can identify a Chanel at a much younger age. I’m never tempted by designer knockoffs in fashion, but can totally see myself be with decor…I probably own something without even realizing, haha!
Totally agree! The fashion pieces are much more mainstream and recognizable from a young age…that might explain why I (and many, it seems) feel differently about them.
I love this discussion! I feel the same way. Quality is a huge factor for me, even though I’m in my early 20’s – I would so much rather have a piece I know is going to last me for a while. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a knock-off that hasn’t looked cheap. Loved your example about Chanel haha.
Though I have a huge interest in decor, my actual industry knowledge on it is not as strong as my knowledge in fashion. So I’d probably buy a knock-off without even knowing it! . I try to still go for quality so probably wouldn’t get a complete knock-off if I can help it, but would be way more tempted to do so here than with fashion. I also think that with home stuff, things aren’t quite as branded as they may be with fashion. Like, Forever 21 may make it very obvious that what you’re wearing is from their brand but not with a design brand, if that makes sense?
I’m also pretty stubborn so if there is a piece that I love, I wouldn’t buy a knock-off or replica unless I really, really loved it and thought it would be a suitable replacement.
It seems that the iconic design pieces are much more “insider-y” than the iconic fashion pieces…wondering now how many people have bought replicas without even realizing it was one! Probably a lot – I myself don’t know nearly enough about iconic design pieces…I’m looking forward to learning more :).
I see both sides of the equation — it is someone’s artistic work, so buying a reproduction in a sense is not giving their fair share? But also I agree that furniture/design seems different than say a handbag! I feel like knockoff handbags, too, have a seedier feel to them — you’re buying it from a guy on Canal Street, not on Amazon. I think as a young person living in the city it’s tough to really invest in furniture. A. Money/rent costs. B. Nothing seems THAT permanent — if you get a crazy rent hike one year you could be moving to a smaller place that doesn’t have the room to fit your beloved pieces. That said, I would love to buy original pieces and support the artist. I’m hopeful the day will come where I can buy a $400 chair and be okay with it and not get spending anxiety, haha. This was a really interesting post!
I literally agree with every point you made. Very well-said!
Hey! I feel as though an “inspired by” piece is different than a replica. In regards to fashion- there are “inspired by” pieces (example shown with jcrew blazer) which I would argue is inspired by Chanel, but isn’t exactly a knockoff. With furniture it’s different, since there aren’t exactly labels, tags, etc. that show the brand, make.etc. The quality/materials may differ than an original, but probably less so than with fashion.
Thanks for the good post!
True – inspired by is definitely different than a straight out knockoff. I think “inspired by,” in fashion, is totally acceptable – I would have no issue buying a tweed J. Crew that’s clearly a nod to Chanel. That doesn’t bother me, but the totally fake, counterfeit bags definitely do.
Interesting discussion. For me, it really depends on the item. So for example, if it’s a handbag, no way will I go for a knockoff, replica or reproduction. I want the real thing. But other items, well, it would really depend on the quality of the item and how close it comes looks-wise to the real thing, and of course price.
I was fortunate to acquire a reissue of the George Nelson platform bench, and a Jonathan Adler Dora Maar vase because I really wanted the real thing. But I did purchase a knockoff of the vertical bookcase, (the designer’s name escapes me at the moment) but that turned out to be a big mistake as there were flaws in the design execution – the darn thing kept falling over. So for me, it’s almost a crap shoot, but I keep thinking about that old saying “You get what you pay for.”
Well there ya go – I didn’t even know the vertical bookshelf was an iconic design piece! Thanks for that – just looked it up – Bruno Rainaldi. Here’s an article on the original design and the more affordable versions/replicas: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2011/01/dwr-cb2-vertical-bookcase.html
Hi Jacqueline I recently used some of your thoughts and mentioned you in a recent post. Take a look if you’re interested.