"Beware of imitations"– Charles Eames

Curiously in this day and age of modern-design mania when a Barcelona chair or a Gerrit Rietveld chair is as identifiable as a Bayer aspirin, there is something disturbing about credible museums and institutions exhibiting and selling unauthorized reproductions of 20th-century furniture designs while touting academic excellence and design authenticity. “Authentic furniture design is about extraordinary detail just like in architecture,” says Hilary Lewis, who is The Philip Johnson Scholar at The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. “We should respect the value of the artistic properties of design, and we should understand designers’ principles not merely copy them,” adds Lewis. 

Nearly a decade ago Herman Miller engaged in a rather complicated battle. Palazzetti, a chain of U.S. retail stores, was selling Italian-made copies of everything from Eames chairs to Eileen Gray tables to Gerrit Rietveld chairs. These unauthorized reproductions hid behind the terms “public domain” and “modern classics.” That is until Herman Miller decided to get proactive. In 2003 Herman Miller sued Palazzetti and obtained trademark protection from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the 1956 Eames wood and leather lounge chair and Isamu Noguchi’s glass and wood table of 1944. While Palazzetti still manages to sell imitation “modern classics” on the Internet and by phone it no longer sells Charles and Ray Eames designs.

Since 1992 M2L has been importing only authorized, licensed European furnishings featuring the work of Josef Hoffmann, Eileen Gray, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Pierre Paulin, Norman Foster and many rising talents of tomorrow. Founder Michael Manes has been captivated with modern design and architecture since the 60s, and it is apparent with his inventive showroom aesthetics and a highly satisfied clientele. “M2L is not about rotating furniture or showing the latest fads. We anticipate what will be the timeless designs of tomorrow,” according to Manes whose passion for lasting design is both keen and contagious. Manes’ ability to spot talent and new directions in the industry has enabled M2L’s product line to evolve and stand out as a leader in the industry. The company’s success combines both well-known and obscure designs of the past century while also exploring new directions and solutions for 21st-century living and workspaces.

Earlier this spring the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. hosted the acclaimed exhibition organized at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939, which has run from March through July 2007. According to the Corcoran’s new director and president, Paul Greenhalgh, the show “takes a comprehensive look at Modernism featuring everything from teacups to buildings with no gaps in between.” However, there is one enormous gaff if few gaps: Unauthorized Gerrit Rietveld chairs were not only featured in the show but sold through Corcoran’s museum store. It is dubious whether these fakes deliberately or ignorantly made their way into the esteemed institution’s show and store, but they clearly are in violation of the Cassina trademark which granted Cassina exclusive worldwide rights in 1972 by the Rietveld estate to produce and market the architect’s authenticated designs. Worse, the museum not only has violated legal standards, but professional and ethical standards as well.  Michael Manes contacted the director of the Corcoran Museum on behalf of Cassina and M2L reiterating both Cassina’s and M2L’s commitment to providing genuine design to both the design community and the public as a whole. “Do you not think the American public has an expectation of authenticity when purchasing these pieces from a museum?” asked Manes of The Corcoran Gallery director Mr. Greenhalgh in a recent letter.

“The buyers of fakes ultimately fool themselves and I wonder if the Corcoran gallery realizes exactly what this transgression will have on its reputation and the standards of the museum. Mr. Greenhalgh deserves credit for bringing the V&A to Washington, D.C., but he also deserves to be held accountable for choosing look over authenticity in an important exhibit.  Like any other buyer or seller of counterfeit furniture, Mr. Greenhalgh asked for a lot and did not want to pay a little.  I think he will ultimately find out he made a bad choice.”


The Importance of Integrity:
Be Knowledgeable.
Be Genuine.
by Lloyd Jackson

Michael Manes has been presenting modern design to the American architectural and design community for 35 years, and for 20 years he has been a strong advocate of the legal, professional, and ethical recognition of authenticity in modern design.

He has also been an early advocate, supporting Beverly Russell, former editor of Interiors magazine, of the importance of interior design as a licensed profession. 30 years ago there was no distinction between a decorator and a designer: Today the word decorator is hardly a part of the American vocabulary, and design is synonymous with modernity and purity. There would be little modern in America without the A&D community educating millions of Americans to this philosophy.  

In this age of highly evolved technology there are masterful counterfeits in nearly every industry. The notion of phony iPods, Mercedes or illegitimate works of art posing as the real thing is undeniably vulgar, but for some reason unauthorized knockoffs of 20th-century furniture are still commonplace and continue to elude many intelligent consumers and even the occasional design buff. The situation becomes shocking and deplorable, however, when a reputable museum manages to include knockoffs of Gerrit Rietveld chairs in a recent exhibition and sell fakes in its museum store. Buying fully licensed modern furniture is the only way to ensure that an item is manufactured with unyielding craftsmanship and the precise specifications and standards of its designer, ultimately guaranteeing its lifelong quality and value.      


Early History: Credit Where It Is Due

Modern furniture design made its way to America via Europe in the early 20th century. One of the leading pioneers of modern American design was Hans Knoll, the son of a German furniture manufacturer who moved to New York in 1938 with a mission to bring new ideas in design, based on the reductive teachings of the Bauhaus, to the American marketplace. With his wife, Florence Schust Knoll, the trailblazing team formed Knoll Associates in 1946 commissioning friends and colleagues such as Harry Bertoia, Jens Risom and Eero Saarinen to design elegant, utilitarian furnishings for the home and workplace. One of their principles of good business was to credit and pay royalties to each designer for their inventiveness and hard work in the development and engineering of truly timeless design: Their élan for good design and Florence Knoll’s relationship with her teacher and mentor ultimately resulted in the firm’s acquisition of the rights to produce Mies van der Rohe’s highly popular Barcelona collection. 

Following in the footsteps of Knoll International, Herman Miller's D.J. De Pree and son Max founded the Star Furniture Company in Zeeland, Michigan, and began mass-producing contemporary furniture and attained the license to manufacture the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Alexander Girard and Isamu Noguchi. The company’s commitment to quality and ingenuity garnered the company worldwide acclaim for its collection of contemporary furniture in the early 1950s. Today Herman Miller designs continue to grace the finest museums, offices and residences around the world.

The groundbreaking furniture of Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier was widely celebrated in much of Europe but in 1966 it remained virtually unknown in mid-century America. The designs, manufactured by the revered Italian company Cassina, had virtually no distribution in the U.S. until a Cornell architecture graduate accidentally discovered the first Cassina catalogue in the Skidmore Owings and Merrill design library. Architect Jim Rappaport ordered two LC2s, famous as Petit Confort chairs, and Stephen Kiviat joined with his friend in ordering 44 more chairs for colleagues and friends. “We were amazed by the sheer beauty and construction of the chairs, so we began importing Le Corbusier’s furniture,” according to Kiviat. Other pioneers were soon to follow: Charles Stendig began importing B&B Italia and Wittmann, bringing the elegant designs of Josef Hoffmann to the U.S., while Sam Friedman of ICF introduced icons by such greats as Paol Kjaerholm, Arne Jacobsen and Alvar Aalto to America with Fritz Hansen and Artek. George Beylerian’s precocious grasp of the importance of plastics in interior design also showed exceptional vision with the now ubiquitous Italian line, Kartell.      


”Why should a licensed signed Rietveld be any different than a signed, authorized Warhol lithograph? –Michael Manes.”
It was the mid-1960s and a youthful Franco Cassina looked concerned when he saw the young man wanting to distribute his family’s furniture. The Italian translator quickly came to the rescue remarking, “Since Jack Kennedy, anyone who is doing anything meaningful in this country today is young.”   
“We should respect the value of the artistic properties of design, and we should understand designers’ principles not merely copy them”

-The importance of integrity

-History of design distribution

-Beware of imitations





  Got an opinion? Visit the Genuine Design Blog and post your comments.