Corcoran Gallery of Art Exhibited and Sold Fake Rietveld Chairs

The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington had an exhibit called "Modernism – Designing a New World 1914—1939". Believe it or not, most of the Rietveld chairs in the exhibit were knock-offs!

Cassina S.p.A. holds a registered trademark on use of the Rietveld name in the United States, and the worldwide exclusive rights to manufacture his furniture designs. Any "Rietveld" chair not made by Cassina is a fake.

In conjunction with the exhibit they are also selling the knock-offs in the gallery store. The Corcoran operates a design school and ought to know better. What a terrible example to set for their students!

The Corcoran has now removed the fake Rietveld chairs from their website and store in response to pressure from Cassina, and Genuine Design. These counterfeit products were in direct violation of Cassina's trademark.

M2L Announces Winning Essays For Inaugural
“Genuine Design Scholarship”

Read the winning essay here >>

(New York - April 2009)
M2L, a NY-based furniture importer and distributor specializing in modern design, is pleased to announce the winners of its first-ever Genuine Design Scholarship. Furthering the company’s mission of promoting authenticity, M2L developed this scholarship in conjunction with Ruth Lynford, founder of NY Eleven, to educate students about knockoffs and their harmful impact on the design industry. The scholarship was open to students at the twelve prestigious NY colleges that offer four-year programs in interior design. After reviewing responses from the participating schools, four students, including the top winner from Cornell University, were selected for their insightful and well-written essays.

To kick off the competition, M2L hosted and recorded a panel discussion at their showroom between moderator Fred Bernstein, M2L Founder Michael Manes, and designers Jeff Miller, Carlos Salgado and Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz to explore the subject of design and intellectual property. Students were asked to view the forum online or in their classroom and submit an essay on one of three possible questions relating to their understanding of design integrity.

Faculty members from the respective schools reviewed all of the students’ submissions and selected their top three choices. The finalists’ essays were then reviewed by a jury of top design journalists including: Paul Makovsky, editorial director, Metropolis; Annie Block, senior editor, Interior Design; Jana Schiowitz, senior editor, Hospitality Design; and Katie Weeks, senior editor, Contract. The judges based their decisions on both the academic and communication skills of the contestants.

First-prize winner Melanie Gowen, a design student at Cornell University, created a scenario of conversations and field trips meant to inform the client, who appreciated high-end design but was faced with a budget restraint. In the process, she beautifully illustrated how an ethically responsible designer would employ equal amounts of knowledge and tact in educating a client about the humanistic side of design philosophy. As an undergraduate design research assistant and student of Sheila Danko, professor of Design and Environmental Analysis, Gowen is keenly aware of the necessary interplay of creative, commercial and social aspects in the design world, and her discussion focused on ethics, integrity and sustainability. She particularly impressed the panel of judges with her command of the topic, both intellectually and practically.

Second-prize winner Kayne Rourke, enrolled in the Graduate Program of Interior Design at Pratt Institute under the care of Anita Cooney, Chair of the Interior Design Department, chose to write on the same topic. Rourke’s multi-faceted approach also involved a sequence of tutorials, exploratory missions and helpful graphics meant to educate the client about the issues surrounding genuine design. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her client couldn’t help but be both convinced by her argument and entranced by her strong examples. Mentioning that auctioned originals very often cost less than knockoffs, Rourke expands the ability to purchase original design to cost-conscious buyers.

Lawrence Chabra, studying at the NY School of Interior Design under the guidance of Associate Dean Ellen Fisher, won third prize for his well-written letter to Senator Charles Schumer. As instructed in this essay option, Chabra wrote a persuasive letter asking the Senator to consider amending the Design Piracy Prohibition Act to include furniture designers. His intellect and creativity were displayed in this detailed discussion of the legislation and suggestions for extending protection to furniture designers. The jury felt that Chabra was well versed and demonstrated a profound understanding of the material at hand.

Fourth prize recipient, Laine Blumenkopf, another pupil of Ellen Fisher at the NY School of Interior Design, also wrote to Senator Schumer. Her strong research and writing skills were evident in her letter to the New York State Senator. Her convincing argument included heartbreaking examples of furniture designers whose creations have been knocked off while those who cheated them were free to copy to their hearts’ content. She clearly showed why our country’s lawmakers should be addressing this particular example of intellectual piracy.

The four winners receive scholarships in the amount of $3500, $2500, $1500 and $1000, respectively.


I founded the Genuine Design website 10 years ago as a vehicle to promote genuine design in the modern furniture profession. We felt that not only do consumers need to be educated on the importance of buying genuine design, but also architects and interior designers, who are instrumental in getting the message across.

Over the years we have become much more assertive in our approach since the practice of selling fakes has become more commonplace among designers, public companies and even museums. We began to name these organizations and post specific "consumer alerts" to put pressure on stopping these illegal and deceptive practices. After much public discredit, we started to see results.

Now we encounter Target - a company who trumpets design and creativity and who fiercely protects their own intellectual property and is actively selling counterfeit Le Corbusier designs on their website. This double standard must stop! We are calling on Target to do the right thing. We are giving them the benefit of the doubt that it was an oversight and that somebody made a bad decision in a very large organization.

Michael Manes






Go the Genuine Way

M2L was established on a philosophy
of genuine design.

“What I call the “the MoMA standard” for product review and certification. I have no doubt today that the professional architect and designer also accept the MoMA standard for what is genuine design and what is fake. The fact is, if you go onto the web, there is only one original and twenty companies are producing the fakes. It is not just about professional or legal standards, but an issue of product development and design integrity.

I like to say, there are two buyers of fakes; one who thinks he is getting off cheap only to find out later they fooled themselves and the ones who were deceived by the seller and thought they were purchasing genuine. There is only one type of sellers of counterfeit, and their only interest is profit. Design, product development, and creativity do not exist in their vocabulary. Educate the buyer, and the seller will find out it is no longer profitable to make money on others’ creativity. The fact is, the market ultimately decides which direction to go and I have no doubt, culturally, America is going the genuine way. For example, in the distribution end of the industry, two of the largest distributors of counterfeit product in the last 10 years have gone in opposite directions: Palazzetti closed all of its U.S. retail stores and DWR, as of 2006, has stated they will only sell authorized and licensed designs. Obviously as a major public company, they thought it was necessary for a good business. Selling real Herman Miller and Knoll with knockoff Le Corbusier was not only deceiving but unethical.” 

“The fact is modern design deserves the same protection for its intellectual property as art.  And this brings us to the Corcoran. How can a major museum that is presenting a modern perspective on loan from the prestigious V&A museum of London, not only present fake Rietveld, but actually sell the fake Rietveld out of their museum store? I have no doubt, had the museum featured 17 fake Warhol lithographs, the public would have been aghast.  So why would the Corcoran show not only disrespect, but indifference and indignity for this meaningful, historical presentation?  We are still waiting for an answer from the Corcoran.”

Michael Manes

Click here to read the correspondence

Scholarship winners announced - Click to see the winning videos

Target selling counterfeit brands

Selling fakes that look just like the real thing, under somebody else’s trademarked brand name, is called counterfeiting. A short time ago Target was accused of selling counterfeit Coach bags.

Now America’s number two retailer, which aligns itself with famous designers like Todd Oldham, Michael Graves, and Marcel Wanders, is blatantly selling fake “Le Corbusier” chairs and sofas.

Only Cassina, the world famous Milan furniture manufacturer, makes authentic Le Corbusier® furniture. Cassina’s production of Le Corbusier designs is protected by an exclusive, worldwide rights license drawn up in 1964, granted by the Fondation Le Corbusier and the co-authors. According to the Fondation Le Corbusier “all pieces of furniture which do not bear the logotype Cassina, the signature of Le Corbusier and the production number are counterfeits”.

The furniture being sold by Target is not made or licensed by Cassina, and is not authorized by the designer’s estate.

Target seems to think only their own trademarks count

Let’s be clear about the name: “Le Corbusier” is not a person’s real name (not that it would matter), it is pseudonym invented by Swiss architect Charles Jeanneret. Today it is a registered trademark owned by Fondation Le Corbusier and licensed exclusively to Cassina for the production of “furniture, including armchairs, chairs, sofas, desks, ottomans, cabinets, footstools, tables, [ metallic or ] non-metallic filing cabinets, bookcases”.

In other words it is illegal for anyone to sell furniture under the name “Le Corbusier” in the United States unless that furniture is made or sub-licensed by Cassina. Knowingly copying another’s trademark is considered counterfeiting and is a felony punishable by fines and imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 2320.

Hey Target, this is part of the public record. Aren’t you supposed to have people who look for things like this?


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