Conceptualised by Vitra and currently residing in The Conran Shop Marylebone, the engaging exhibition ‘The Original. About the Power of Good Design’ is on tour from the Vitra showroom and has made our London store its first stop. Highlighting both its classic and contemporary products, the exhibition seeks to reaffirm the importance of buying skilfully crafted original products of the upmost quality and durability.
In celebration of the occasion, Vitra enlightens us as to what a Vitra Original truly is.
What exactly is a Vitra Original?
An original cannot be called an original until it has been authorised by the designer. To ensure authenticity, Vitra works in close quarters with the designer or their heirs to ensure it complies to their standards. Therefore, a Vitra product is still considered an original if it was produced recently, years ago, in great numbers or as part of a limited collection.
As a result, an Eames Lounge Chair crafted in 1956 and an Eames Lounge Chair crafted today are both originals to the same extent.
What is a counterfeit?
The manufacturers of counterfeits aim to copy the appearance of an original to give the impression that it is a true classic. Sold at much lower prices, counterfeits are made using less expensive materials, with low labour costs and offering little in the way of a warranty.
Costs are also cut by investing little money in development and marketing, adapting the piece for less skilled manufacturers and ignoring the designer in the counterfeit’s economic success.
What distinguishes a Vitra Original from a copy?
First of all, collaboration with the designers and their families. For decades Vitra has worked closely with the world’s most renowned designers and their descendants. These collaborations have led to the updating of various furniture design classics.
Cultural heritage and intellectual property still play a part as well. From the moment of their conception, classics have opened new avenues for design thanks to their innovative shapes and production methods. Having carved out a place in the design hall of fame, they are protected by copyright laws thanks to their truly unique style. Collaborating with designers’ descendants allows us to preserve the cultural heritage of these creations to share with future generations.
Good design has the power to detach itself from short-lived trends and unnecessary details, while ensuring it is crafted with excellent longevity. Durable enough to last for generations, each chair is guaranteed by Vitra. Vitra develops and crafts timeless pieces that can be passed down through the generations and fit seamlessly into any collection. This is also true for contemporary designs that have the potential to become the classics of tomorrow.
Finally, investment in innovation is an integral part of Vitra’s philosophy. The combination of skilled craftmanship and the creativity of leading designers helps to push the limits of the creative process.
What is a design classic?
Classics are designs that have been established for many years and continue to retain their popularity. These designs have always been ahead of their time, owing their enduring popularity to their innovative character and a certain aura that counterfeits lack.
Designs such as the Panton Chair and the Eames Aluminium Group broke the existing mould with their revolutionary materials, construction and innovative shapes. This has transformed them into symbols of their era that continue to influence the field of design and as a result have become true icons that contribute to our culture.
Why does Vitra continue to craft these classics?
Any classic must be maintained, so they are continuously updated in close collaboration with designers and their descendants. Even the classics can be gently adapted to guarantee their functionality, without putting the design’s authenticity into question.
A recent example of this would be the revision of the height and colour palette of the Eames Plastic Chair. As Eames Demetrios, the grandson of the iconic Eames duo, declared, “the chair that Charles and Ray Eames designed is the chair that Vitra makes today”.
What is the difference between an older design and one that Vitra crafts today?
They are both originals, the only distinction between the two is the date they were made. Unlike the Vitra products created and perfected today according to the designers’ guidelines, older models originate from the initial development phases.
Since designers and manufacturers work continuously on product development, eliminating defects and improving environmental and safety standards, older models may display some slight variations from the later, more refined versions of the classic. This makes them particularly interesting and coveted among collectors and cultural institutions such as the Vitra Design Museum.
What would you say to someone looking to buy a cheap counterfeit rather than an original?
Only an original can give you the assurance that you have purchased an authentic design classic. An original will not lose its value - on the contrary, it can even increase in value over the years thanks to the unique patina it will develop. A counterfeit will always remain a cheap copy and a stolen idea, whose quality is drastically unlike that of the original. Furthermore, all the designers or their descendants participate in the success of their products.
Charles and Ray Eames wanted to bring “the best to the greatest number of people for the least”, but not everyone can afford an original Eames.
The Eames duo created both expensive products and more affordable ones, for example the Eames Plastic Chair is an excellent example of quality and value. On the other hand, the Eames Lounge Chair has always been an exclusive product that is no more expensive now than when it was designed in 1956. Even in their heyday, Charles and Ray Eames were beginning to fight against cheap and mediocre copies of their creations.
The exhibition ‘The Original. About the Power of Good Design’ will be showcased in The Conran Shop Marylebone from the 1st August until the 31st August 2018. Discover our selection of Vitra Originals here.