Thanks to new regulations, copyright on furniture has recently been extended from 25 years to 70 years after the death of a designer. While fans of knock-off, cheap replicas may not welcome the news, these updated laws will arguably bring about renewed interest in British craftsmanship and manufacture, not to mention a much-needed financial boost to the industry. For Vitra, Knoll and Case Furniture, who are the official licensees of iconic mid-century designs including the Eames Lounge Armchair, the Bertoia Side Chair and Robin Day’s 675 Chair respectively, these changes are particularly welcome.
Here, Robin Day’s daughter and Chair of The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation, Paula Day, explains why licensed reproductions are worth the investment, and why it is so important to respect designers’ legacies.
“As a writer I’m intrigued by the verbal tricks which are often used to justify the trade in design fakes. It was recently suggested that Eames would have wanted Aldi to sell cheap copies of his Eiffel chair.
Clever, that, voicing the imagined opinions of a celebrity designer who is no longer around to respond. I’ve been told a lot about what my father Robin Day would have thought if he were still alive – by a strange coincidence it seems that he would always have agreed with whoever is talking!
Presumably these spurious arguments are thought up because it’s so obvious that the trade in fakes cannot be defended logically. Of course copying famous designs damages the design industry. Of course it inhibits experimentation and investment. Why would anyone risk spending time and money on developing and marketing a new design or an authentic production of an historic design when another company can just come along and parasitise their work?
My perspective on the fakes issue is intensely personal. Because I grew up with two parents who spent their lives working with total dedication to design things that were as good as they could possibly make them. Hours, days, weeks, months, years, two lifetimes. They did it to make a living, but it was more than that – they were people who cared. They were people who had a quiet but passionate commitment to excellence in everything they undertook. Who held themselves to the highest most rigorous standards. Who would never cheat or try to ‘get by’ with anything less than the best they could possibly do.
And because of that, they produced consistently excellent work for decade after decade, and their designs, but most importantly their names became famous.
A famous name has magical powers. It adds value to anything it is attached to.
Let me tell you an unbelievable but true story. My father died in November 2010. Nine months later a certain company based in the North of England (and only incorporated in March 2010) tried to register the name Robin Day as their own trademark. This company hadn’t asked permission from my aged father. Nor did they ask his executors’ permission. Astonishingly, they are still managing to sell things using his name.
You might like to look at what they call Robin Day Club sofa and Robin Day Leo chair alongside the originals. You’d find major differences in construction and hence perceived quality. Yet presumably people will buy these objects simply because they have attached to them the words Robin Day. Magic!
Along comes someone who doesn’t know anything about Robin Day. They go away with the idea that this Robin Day chap designed cheap and nasty furniture. IP lawyers would explain how this begins to damage the value which my father created in his name, which in turn undermines our commercial interests as the licensors of his designs.
But my overwhelming reaction to this isn’t about money. My father’s name represents a lifetime of dedicated design practise. When a company appropriates his name they are actually stealing his working life.
One especially crass apologist for copyists says what‘s the problem? After all, most of the famous pieces being copied are by ‘dead designers’.
What kind of person steals from the dead?
The lifework of great creatives like my parents should be treasured as a heritage to humanity, not ripped off by anyone who can get their hands on it. That’s why I set up the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation in 2012 – we are the charity which cares for my parents’ work on behalf of the nation. One of our Objectives is ‘to further the education of the public by providing public access to the design legacies of Robin and Lucienne Day’.
This is why we archive and exhibit original productions of the designs in collaboration with Public Collections like the V&A. And this is also our main reason for licensing responsible companies to make new productions. We certainly don’t do it to make easy money – collaborating on an aesthetically authentic production of say, a 1950s Robin Day chair using 21st century materials and technology is a demanding and expensive process. We have developed a clear policy about what we can endorse as ‘authentic’ and only work with companies which respect this.
It’s a solemn responsibility and a lasting joy to bring my parents’ great designs back to life in all their integrity, to be used and loved by people today and to stimulate and inspire the future’s great designers.”
© Paula Day, August 2016
Paula Day is the Chair of The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation. In 2017, Caro Communications will be working with the Foundation once more on Lucienne Day’s Centenary.