Who are they?
Herman Miller is a high-end furniture company that owns the production licenses for timeless pieces including the Eames Lounge Chair (above), the Eiffel Chair and the Aeron Chair. Matt Blatt is a furniture company that specialises in replica designer furniture (it lists 437 individual replica items on its website) that are generally manufactured in China and significantly cheaper than the originals. A genuine Eames Lounge Chair costs around AU$5,400, while the Matt Blatt replica costs AU$1895.
Herman Miller recently announced it was taking legal action against Matt Blatt over copyright infringement of the Eames name. Despite Matt Blatt publicly undertaking in 2006 to “clearly identify the copies it markets of the iconic Charles and Ray Eames designed furniture as replicas”, it had failed to do so on a number of occasions. The matter was settled prior to appearing in court.
Though the terms of the settlement remain confidential, Jeremy Hocking, Vice President of Herman Miller Asia Pacific, confirmed that they are “satisfied with the radical changes to Matt Blatt’s website that were implemented immediately after legal proceedings commenced”. These changes include the following statement in bold on Matt Blatt’s homepage: “Matt Blatt’s replica products are not manufactured or approved by, or affiliated with, the original designers, manufacturers or distributors including Herman Miller, Charles or Ray Eames, Knoll, Fritz Hansen, Flos, Studio Italia, Giogali, Artemice Spa, Tolix or Xavier Pauchard“. Even with the word replica plastered all over its website, Matt Blatt does remain entitled to use the Eames name however.
What do we think?
The differences between original and replica furniture may be difficult for the casual observer to discern. A detail here, a material there are all that separates the two. It could be argued therefore that the original Eames Lounge Chair, at over 2.5 times the price of the replica, is a waste of money.
We beg to differ.
From a distance, under heavy fog or to the myopic, the differences between original and replica may be few, but for those who really care about good design, we argue that the money is merely a hurdle to surpass on the way to ownership of an original piece of designer furniture. It is likely the additional cost of an original offers the potential of increased resale value, however of more interest to us is the unquantifiable values it embodies. In buying original furniture, we are participating in the long and exciting history of design. We are purchasing an object that blossomed out of the minds of the world’s most celebrated designers. By recognising the importance of designer furniture that exists today, we are investing in the future of design and the untold number of classic pieces waiting to be created.
What should we learn?
We are lucky enough to own an original Eames Lounge Chair. It is a stunningly beautiful object, it is fantastically comfortable and it fills us with immeasurable joy knowing that it’s real, that it’s the Eames Chair. Herman Miller most likely spent a lot of money on the legal team responsible for the settlement with Matt Blatt. We’re glad they did. The originators of good design are too important to go unrecognised.
Herman Miller is a member of the Authentic Design Alliance, an organisation established to support the integrity of original, authentic design.
First seen on Australian Design Review, here.