It’s no secret that knockoffs run rampant in the design industry: A quick Google search for “Navy chair” or “Tulip table” will yield dozens of results, not only for their originals by Emeco and Eero Saarinen, but also a slew of nonoriginals whose results are pulled via “inspired by” or “in the style of” references.
Sometimes search results are even pulled from hidden names in a page’s metadata, not even visible to the reader (Peter Pap of Peter Pap Oriental Rugs goes so far as to call online dealing “the Wild West”). One online source for vintage furniture and decor is looking to abolish this phenomenon. Decaso has exclusively revealed to AD PRO its plans for a new Authenticity Policy. Taking effect September 1, the policy will provide guidelines on language and references in an attempt to ban knockoffs from its site and clarify provenance to its customers.
“We launched Decaso with the goal of becoming the most trusted source for original furniture and art,” CEO Gregg Brockway tells AD PRO. “We’ve been happy to see it grow, but, along with the growth of online as a sourcing vehicle, we’ve seen that the market has become increasingly blurry around words like ‘authentic’ and ‘original’ and ‘inspired by.’ At the end of the day, if someone is looking for a Royère or a Ponti, there’s a huge difference between the real thing and a knockoff. We want to bring clarity to that, full stop.”
The decision comes at a time when the internet has made it easier than ever to sell knockoffs or otherwise falsely advertised goods with no repercussions. The competition for search value makes it tempting to use popular terms and names to sell products that have virtually nothing to do with those phrases.
“There’s more and more pressure for people to use language that increases visibility, and so they’re pushed into a gray area,” Brockway points out. “An object associated with a famous designer’s name is going to show up in search results more than an unbranded object, and that drives the folks who are in the business of selling authentic goods crazy. Because then you have an authentic piece next to a reproduction and it becomes hard for shoppers to understand why one is $25,000 and one is $2,500.”
A Navy chair by Emeco, right, a frequently copied item.
So, Decaso is advocating for clear-cut lines, beginning at home. The site will no longer allow its dealers to use certain terms – including ‘in the style of’ or ‘in the manner of’ – to reference a specific designer, only a style or an era. In addition, it will provide strict guidelines around when dealers can use the terms “original” or “authentic” in their listings and will requite proof of provenance for these items.
So far, the move has proven a hit among designers and dealers alike: “In this day and age, particularly when so much is sourced online, it’s very important that items are authenticated so you can trust what you are seeing and what you are getting,” says designer Robert Stilin. “Reputation is everything, and we work with very demanding and sophisticated clients who are trusting us with their money. It gives us and our clients peace of mind knowing that it has been authenticated and will be exactly as it is described and shown.”
It’s also important for buyers looking at furniture and decor as investments, points out desigenr Sasha Bikoff: “Authenticity and provenance have historically been very important in the fine arts, and now that has trickled down to the decorative arts as people are starting to view design as investments,” she says. “It’s important that the industry remains truthful to past artisans and furnituremakers and that clients know exactly what they are buying.”
As Weinberg Modern’s Larry Weinberg sees it, Decaso is righting a wrong that can be blamed as much on dealers as on e-commerce companies. “Decaso is to be commended in addressing an increasingly thorny issue in the 20th-century design market: the proliferation of knock-offs and unauthorized reproductions, along with lax attributions on the part of gallerists,” he says.
Interestingly, Weinberg isn’t necessarily completely anticopy; he simply insists on the clear identification of both real and imitation. “While there is a place for inexpensive copies, made both now and in the day, it ought not to be directly alongside well-documented and restored originals,” the dealer says. “Anything that confuses or conflates these categories undermines trust and confidence on the part of the buyer; policies that try to make real differences fully transparent, and categories distinct, can only help advance connoisseurship and a better understanding about the criteria of value.”
Indeed, though Brockway is quick to admit the transition might be tough (“I’m worried I may have just ruined my whole summer,” he quips), he’s adamant about setting Decaso apart from those who sell imitation goods. “We think if your business is focused on the best of the best, you need to have the highest standards,” he says.
Though Decaso’s move is one drop in a giant ocean of e-commerce, it’s a step in the right direction – and sets an interesting precedent for its competitors. We’re hoping the move inspires other companies to be more aware of actively eliminating knockoffs – or at the very least sparks a conversation for how designers and vendors can better educate buyers.