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May 29, 2012

Anything but a phony…

Am I a snob if I prefer things of quality? Or elitist if I encourage the appreciation of authenticity? Is ELLE Decoration undemocratic if it argues for integrity? I don’t think so, but the fake furniture debate has prompted plenty of comment, with some saying, I, if not the magazine, are all of the above. These detractors claim that cheap reproductions allow those less well off to buy into the designer dream. I say, don’t be so patronising. Those who want, or need, to spend less money on their furniture can do a lot better than knock-offs, and significantly, be more original while they’re at it.

You’d think there were only ten or twelve pieces of furniture in the universe to give this argument any serious credence. It’s ridiculous. Instead there are hundreds of wonderful chairs, lights and tables of all styles and price-points to be found in shops and boutiques, from high-end to high street, fleamarkets, discount outlets to online and on our travels. To use the argument of price alone is to confuse cost with value.

I’ve always believed that any product is worth only as much as you’re prepared to pay for it, nevertheless I also regularly counsel, buy the best you can afford, as it’s generally a truism that you get what you pay for, whether that’s heritage, materials, longevity or even resale value. This also puts the responsibility back to you, the consumer. I don’t force people to buy things, and neither would I remotely wish to, the ELLE Decoration mantra has always been buy want you like. But I can share my enthusiasms for the purchase of certain items, and/or reasons for the rejection of others.

As such ELLE Decoration showcases a broad range of “best buys”. Our aim is to showcase the full gamut of design, from top end dream pieces to cheap and cheerful style-for-less items. Sure certain designs achieve iconic status over time either because they captured a design moment, or superbly solved a design problem in a way that has been deemed aesthetically perfect. But that doesn’t stop you seeking out fresh, more personal icons. That’s the excitement, if not brilliance of design, and it certainly doesn’t make those choices any less worthy.

But if you ache to own an Eames chair (fab video of one being made in this link), and don’t have a spare 5K+ to buy one, and honestly how many of us do, is the solution really to buy an inferior Eames-esque facsimile? And inferior it will be as something major has to give to bring the costs down to the price levels of the fakes. Ask yourself, do you really want to sit on something that’s superficially got the look but that inevitably won’t capture any of the aspects of the original that made that look so iconic in the first place — the quality and texture of the leather, the proportions, the wood finish, the smooth reclining mechanism? Plus, are you absolutely sure you want to own a chair that trumpets a statement of intellectual property theft not possible in most other civilised countries?! Not to mention that it’s money down the drain, as unlike the authentic licensed models which will hold their value, that knock-off is already worthless.

The solution surely is simply to buy something else. And as a magazine I recognise it is our responsibility to proffer those alternatives, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

To draw a analogy with cars, on Twitter I was asked, I believe in all seriousness, that if Skoda bought a license to copy the look of an Aston Martin, would I consider that to be unethical? Where to begin…! 1/ Aston Martin would never ever sell the licence for their look, it is their lifeblood, their heritage, their essence and their future. 2/ Skoda have a look already. It’s aimed at a different demographic but no doubt has an equal level of pride, accomplishment and achievement behind it. 3/ Crucially here, a look is not how something works. Let’s say in this fantastical world that Skoda do indeed start making cars that look like Aston Martins, but with a Skoda engine beneath the bonnet, it’s certainly not going to feel, drive, respond or sound like an Aston. So you’ll always know it’s really only a Skoda. So why not pick a Volkswagen? Or a Renault, or an Audi, or how about a BMW, or a 1976 Karmann Ghia Coupé? You get the idea.

And finally, no matter what we’d like to believe, everyone makes judgements, fair or otherwise, on everyone else by virtue of their choices, whether it’s what they wear or select to sit on. That’s life. So if you buy a fake just remember, you’re a champion for unlicensed profiteering off the back of another’s originality. And this doesn’t just affect classics, it’s young designers work as well. I cite the recent case of cult British jeweller Tatty Devine clearly ripped off by high street chain Claire’s Accessories. It’s all one and the same. Simply put, originality undermined for a quick buck. Sad, considering any of these manufacturers could put their valuable resources towards either collaboration or innovation. So do you really want to be on the side of the phonies? I’d rather be a snob.


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Writer, Author, Brand Consultant & TV Presenter

Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.