What would Arne Jacobsen say?

If Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) were alive today and shopping at a high-end mall in the US, the legendary Danish designer would be in for a big surprise. Because there, at a home design and furnishings store called Restoration Hardware, he would come face to face with his famous Egg chair.

Except it wouldn’t quite be his Egg chair. In fact, it would have a different name – the 1950s Copenhagen chair – and would deviate from his world-famous original in some significant ways.

Restoration Hardware daringly borrowed the Egg’s undulating curves, tilting mechanism, and 360-degree swivel base. Then, it made the chair a couple of inches taller. But the real giveaway is that unlike the original Egg, which features a single seam that gives the fabric a taut, clean look, the Copenhagen chair has a double tuck-and-roll seam that makes the fabric bunch up a bit. The essence of the exclusive, smooth original, it seems, is lost in translation.

Walking around the store, Mr. Jacobsen would find more proof of flattery-by-imitation. First, there is a mini-Egg-copy: a Copenhagen chair designed just for kids. And another Jacobsen classic, the Swan chair, has been transformed into what Restoration Hardware calls its Devon chair.

Of course, Restoration Hardware is not the only shop to fall for – and imitate – high-end Scandinavian design. A UK-based shop called Infurn, for example, makes no secret of the fact that its entire business model is based on creating “faithfully reproduced classics” based on the work of famous designers. It has a whole lineup of “Arne Jacobsen-inspired” products, from the Swan and Series 7 chairs to his lamps and tables. And when Fritz Hansen (the producer of Jacobsen’s chairs) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the iconic Egg with 999 limited editions, Infurn created its own version – minus the original’s premium hide upholstery and signature bronze base.

To Scandinavians who pride themselves on the region’s exceptional design and craftsmanship, and to all devout design lovers, this kind of mimicry might seem unthinkable. But while companies like Fritz Hansen’s take a strong stand against counterfeit products, the versions Restoration Hardware and Infurn create do not claim to be the “real deal.” Restoration Hardware (surprisingly) doesn’t mention Arne Jacobsen at all, referring instead to “the unbridled creativity of mid-century modern Danish design.” Infurn makes no mention of whether it pays royalties to the designers’ estates, but does say up-front that its products are reproductions.

And Arne Jacobsen? We can only guess whether he would be flattered or bothered by it all. If his design has such great appeal even without his name attached to it, he could, at the very least, feel certain that he tapped into a universal and timeless craving for simplicity and style.

But the copies also prove one more universal truth: in the end, you can’t beat the original. So it’s lucky that the original is widely available – and affordable.

Bid on original Arne Jacobsen here.

Anastasya Partan, a Boston-based freelance writer, is a guest blogger for Lauritz.com. She was born in Moscow, raised in the US, and has lived in New York, Washington, DC, London, Paris, and Copenhagen. With both a corporate and creative background, she writes for international brands and explores topics related to lifestyle, culture and the arts.

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