Flip through a Restoration Hardware catalog, for example, and you’ll discover the $1,395 Copenhagen chair, a replica of Arne Jacobsen’s 1958 Egg chair, described as "a fresh and exquisite reproduction of modern Danish design of the 1950s." Of course Fritz Hansen, who holds the exclusive official license to manufacture the "authentic" $4,500 chair, sees it differently. "It’s not a tribute to the original design; it’s spitting on it," says David Obel Rosenkvist, Fritz Hansen’s vice president of sales. "For sure it would make Jacobsen roll in his grave." Though it’s technically legal for Restoration Hardware to make a close copy of this chair, Fritz Hansen nevertheless issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company, demanding they stop using Arne Jacobsen’s design story to promote what Rosenkvist calls its "rough and clumsy knockoff."
To gain more perspective on Fritz Hansen’s take on knockoffs and authentic design, we asked Rosenkvist a few questions—such as: Are knockoffs really so bad? Judging by this interview and previous ones I’ve conducted (see what Herman Miller’s Marg Mojzak has to say on the subject here; read quotes about the concept of "authentic design" from 10 design insiders here; and check out the essay that kicked off the discussion here) it’s clear that most manufacturers see this as a very black and white issue. As well they might, considering everything they’ve invested in the pieces they produce and promote. No one likes a cheat, especially the companies that suffer losses both concrete (financial) and abstract (damage to their reputation for quality) when consumers opt for a knockoff.
Although there is no comparison between the finishing standard of an original piece and that of a copy, Fritz Hansen has introduced a number of initiatives to help customers identify a counterfeit product. For example, all products produced since 2006 by Fritz Hansen bear a "Republic of Fritz Hansen™" tag as a sign of authenticity. The tag also includes an invisible thread which helps Fritz Hansen identify counterfeit products. All products manufactured by Fritz Hansen also include a serial number which enables customers to check online whether the product is a genuine Republic of Fritz Hansen product.Can you give me some examples of how Fritz Hansen invests in original, authentic design?
Fritz Hansen has collaborated with some of the world’s most talented and renowned architects and designers of our time. This tradition continues to this day through collaborations with international design stars such as Kasper Salto, Cecilie Manz, Jaime Hayon, and Todd Bracher.Can you think of any instances or situations where you'd say knockoffs are not entirely evil? Any cases where they actually help the design industry? For example, I've heard people say they spur innovation, by provoking designers to keep creating new and exciting designs and moving things forward. And that since people who buy knockoffs often can't afford the "real thing," a knockoff isn't actually stealing a customer, since it's a different market. And that knockoffs create more demand for the real thing, and make it even more iconic, since more and more people are exposed to these examples of "great design"—like it cultivates their taste and when they have more money they're be more likely to splurge on the real thing. Any thoughts on any of these points, or anything to add?
We do not accept any company or individual that infringes our rights. Copies are an exploitation of the original design history and heritage which has been built up by Fritz Hansen over the last century. I've also heard people justify purchasing knockoffs with lines like "the designer is long dead anyway, so I don't feel guilty about depriving a huge business from my hard-earned money—it's not like the designer is benefiting from my purchase anyway." Any response to that idea? Of course the role of a deceased designer is integral to these designs; however, the role of the manufacturer cannot be overlooked in establishing these projects as design classics through their investment in product development and craftsmanship. The original design and its designer should always be respected. When buying an original Fritz Hansen design, you not only buy world class craftsmanship that will last for decades, you also buy a historical and sculptural piece that should be seen as a financial investment. Original design often only increases in value over time.
When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.