In the design industry, nothing sparks as much flamming debate as to whether or not buying replicas is ok. Many are fervent defenders of copyrights, intellectual property, and ethics, and others are in favor of accessibility and affordability for the masses. While a low price point is surely tempting, I do believe that nothing is quite like the real deal and that durability and quality cannot be cheaply replicated.
With the increased popularity of the Tulip table by Eero Saarinen, the Wishbone chair by Wegner and the Beetle chair by GamFratesi, among others, we’ve seen the rise of websites and stores claiming to sell authentic design pieces. But how to tell if what you have in front of you is a fake or an original?
To help you, I’ve gathered a few tips on how to identify and recognize a genuine icon.
Note: I gathered these tips with mostly chairs in mind, but most of them can be applied to other types of furniture, lighting and home accessories.
Photos: Liljencrantz Design
Marks & labels:
One of the easiest ways to validate the authenticity of a design piece is quite straight forward: Find a sticker glued on the base, a tag attached to the fabric and/or a mark stamped on the leather.
It is important to know that the look of the labels changed over time. For example, an Egg chair made between 2006 and 2010 by Republic of Fritz Hansen has a red tag, whereas another one made after 2010 will have a brown tag. Moreover, those model also feature fire-retardant foam, so you are likely to find a fire label; copies don’t have one.
If you can’t find a mark or a label (it might have been removed or fallen off), look for a serial number, the company name and/or country of origin ex. “Made in Denmark” engraved into the metal or wood.
Materials and finishing touches
Obviously, a real iconic piece is all about craftsmanship. That is what makes it so durable, so timeless. Touch and feel the quality of materials, and pay attention to details.
The fabric or leather should be uniform, nicely tucked and smooth (with no excess material or creases), and it should be stitched evenly, usually by hand which creates a wave effect, adding to the distinctive beauty of the chair.
A paper cord seat should be tightly weaved and uniform. If a Wishbone chair seems to be made with nylon or other synthetic material, it is fake.
Wooden parts should have an even finish in color with no knots. An original design from a top Scandinavian manufacturer does not have visible joins.
High-quality fillers are always used for the cushions, ensuring they will keep their shape over time.
Base & feet
Replicas sometimes have more legs than the real deal, and the chair leg caps or disc are also different than how the original design was created.
Some design furniture have particularities relating to their mechanism. For instance, an Egg chair as a handle on the side to adjust the tension for reclining; most replicas don’t have this feature because it is quite an expensive mechanism to integrate. Note: Some models do not recline.
An original swivel chair also has a very smooth rotation at 360 degrees, which is often not the case with a fake.
Photo: Jesper Klintdrup Poulsen
Dimensions & proportions
Dimensions can easily be found on the manufacturers’ website, so don’t hesitate to get out your measuring tape when in doubt! If they don’t match, something’s up. The seat height of a replica is often off, too.
And notice the shape: Is it even or does it look poorly constructed?
You found an online store selling that amazing Wishbone chair we’ve been seeing everywhere lately and, oh surprise, it is on sale for “only” $300. Too good to be true? It surely is. The recommended retail price for Wegner’s iconic design is at least double that amount. Many original pieces require a considerable (and sometimes jaw-dropping) investment, but vintage originals are highly prized too and are well in demand. Some even prefer a used piece for the beautiful patina it developed over time.
For your reference, you can have a look at the manufacturer’s online shop or the website of a retailer reputed for selling the real deal, such as Design Within Reach or Nest.co.uk.
Photo: Line Klein
With a little bit of research about your chair and the manufacturing process, you can find out a few interesting facts about how your coveted piece of design is made, and you will be better equipped to identify a copy. For example, an Egg Chair is made with only two pieces of leather, one for the front and one for the back, so there is no seam down the middle compared to many knock-offs out there.
When in doubt, verify the list of authorized dealers on the brand’s website.
Am I forgetting anything? Do you have more tips on how to spot an authentic design piece? Let me know in the comment section below!
Update: A reader asked me to share where I shop for genuine vintage Scandinavian design. If you are wondering about that too, check out this post.
Photo at the top: Fritz Hansen
P.S Looking for the best gift ideas? Have a look at our 2019 guide for design lovers!