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October 1, 2011

Designer deceit

The blog post which started the whole ‘Equal Rights for Design” campaign


I was extremely disconcerted, and hugely irritated, when I read recently that Samantha Cameron had bought a knock-off Arco lamp, (the classic swooping 60s design by the Castiglioni brothers) — that’s all we need, I thought, the endorsement of faux-furniture by the Prime Minister’s wife!

“Samantha Cameron is bringing a taste of Italy to 10 Downing Street with a reproduction of the Arco Floor lamp” trilled the Evening Standard’s Homes Gossip page (Wednesday 21 September), continuing “Savvy SamCam bagged her version for £250 from Iconic Lights”, an online retailer based in Manchester. As Samantha is a creative consultant (formerly Creative Director) to luxury leather label Smythson, I was appalled, surely she should know better? After all, the fashion industry is constantly bleating about the damage done to its brands by counterfeit goods?

Nevertheless, the sale of replica designer furniture is legal in the UK, but at the end of the day, whether to purchase it or not, I believe, is a moral issue. Would you knowingly support a business that makes its profit by stealing other people’s ideas? And it would be difficult for Madame Cameron to argue that she didn’t realise the light was a phoney, as the company clearly credits its lights as replicas. Oh, and the managing director, David Gutfreund, gushed in a subsequent press release that she had called them personally to place the order, adding, “She is certainly our most famous customer to date.”

To my mind, buying fake furniture classics implies knowledge of the original, perhaps even admiration, and yet exposes an utter disrespect for the legacy of the original designer exercised as a disinclination to invest the money equal to the time and expertise employed by the manufacturer to create the piece in question. Classic pieces are priced according to the provenance and authenticity of their components and the skill required to construct them. Cheap reproductions are not about accessibility, as is sometimes argued, they are the perpetration of inferior goods masquerading as “design”. Not being able to afford an original does not legitimise the acquisition of a copy. Would Madame Cameron stick a photocopy of a Caravaggio next to her “Arco” to complete her discount designer look? I think not.

I wonder then if this was another misguided attempt by Camp Cameron to be seen to be austerity-conscious? In which case she’d have been better off buying nothing. Whether we like it or not, part of the reason we buy certain goods is because of the message it sends to other people about our taste and status. Food for thought: UK Prime Minister’s wife revealed to be cheap, hypocritical and fake?


Endnote: The Arco lamp, designed by brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1962, was a ground-breaking design, composed as it is of an architectural swoop of square-profiled steel within which the cable is concealed, ending in an adjustable, almost spherical, shade that throws exquisite patterns on the ceiling, the whole anchored by a single block of Carrera marble. Inspired by street lamps, it was conceived to enable easy illumination over the centre of a dining table without the need for overhead wiring. It even has a hole in the base, designed such that one might pass a broom handle through it to aid lifting. They normally retail at around £1,600. And the only authorised licensee is Flos.

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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.