What To Do When Your Client Wants Replica Designs

August 13, 2019

“There’s an old saying,” says Los Angeles–based interior designer Oliver Furth. “‘Buy the best and you only cry once.’” He tells clients he’s a believer in investing in furniture of quality, that “those pieces will last and can come with you to another home or another chapter in your life.”

At the same time, Furth points out that his clients know he’s all about a high/low mix, which may make his devotion to certain originals mean more. If they can’t afford a costly piece, he tells them he would much rather they use a flea market find than a knockoff. Huisraad Modern, Vamp Furniture and even the Milnerton Flea Market are good places to look in Cape Town.

But don’t just lay down the law; use the opportunity to educate. As Richard Petit, principal at Los Angeles design collaborative The Archers, puts it, “There are many ways to define ‘originals’ and just as many ways to convince a client to invest in them. Rattling off a list of designer names during your presentation—no matter how sophisticated your client is – will most likely leave them feeling alienated.”

Fake IC Pendant vs Real IC Pendant

The differences are mostly in the construction and longevity, and sometimes they can be hard to spot to an untrained eye.

Instead, focus on explaining how original pieces are made with long-lasting materials and a quality of craftsmanship—and that there’s a limited supply to meet the demand. “No client wants to buy something that will fall apart in a few years,” says Petit, who might take clients on a factory tour to experience the process of creating licensed editions. “A company like Gubi, for example, will walk you and your client through the painstaking assembly of a 1949-designed Greta Grossman Modern Line sofa. By the time the tour is over, your client will wonder how Gubi makes any money at all.”

Modern Line Sofa

The Modern Line Sofa

Los Angeles–based Kerry Joyce, principal of Kerry Joyce Associates, finds that comparing collecting furniture to collecting art usually helps clients understand. “I’ll point out that certain vintage pieces are collectible and gain value as time goes by,” he says. “Many of my clients collect art and this makes perfect sense once it’s explained to them.” Petit will compare the purchase to buying a car. “I often couch ‘meaningless design’ using the very understandable analogy of the new car that loses value the minute you drive it off the lot,” he says. “Conversely, I sold an electroplated Luigi Caccia Dominioni ‘Pipistrello’ desk by describing it as ‘a Porsche 356A for your study.”

That is, learn to speak their language. Chicago interior designer Summer Thornton suggests creating a “preposterous” analogy in the client’s line of work. “If he’s a surgeon, ask him if he would feel comfortable having a nurse perform the surgeries instead, simply because they look similar in scrubs and have both been in the surgery room before,” she says. “Look-alikes are not the same thing.” Point out that favoring originals could even be an issue of safety: Knockoff lighting, says Thornton, could have poor wiring; knockoff tables and chairs may be unstable.

Melt Fake vs Melt Real

A fake Melt next to a genuine Tom Dixon Melt. The difference in quality is obvious (this time)

“And certainly playing to their ego may work,” she says. “Ask them if they carry a fake Gucci bag and wear fake sunglasses, and if they saw them on a friend what they would think.”

It’s important to keep a few things in mind when buying replicas. Firstly and most obviously, this will not be the last time the item is purchased. Replicas have less longevity than original designs from companies producing their own designs. Replicas are made to look like something else – not to last or be sturdy. Secondly, replicas have the opposite effect to an original design. Whilst an authentically produced design will uplift the look of the area around it, a replica will drag down the overall quality of the aesthetic. Lastly, replica products are mass produced in factory conditions. They’re essentially the fast fashion of the interior world – terrible for the environment and a dime a dozen.

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