The exhibition demonstrates the destructive influence of copycats on the design industry

Given its craft, the design industry is often associated with form and beauty—but there’s a dark side to the trade as well. For most professionals in the space, the bane of their existence comes in the form of cheap, near-identical knockoffs, which litter streets around the world spelling a bad image for the respective brand or designer, and subsequently cutting into their profits. To protest the rise of copycats and brand theft—which has not only been linked to dwindling sales, but poor psychological impact as well—26 Australian designers have recently come out with a collection of ‘brutalized’ Hal chairs (a famous molded plastic side chair by British designer Jasper Morrison for Vitra) in an exhibition which showcase their frustration with the inauthenticity of conmen within industry.

Because of complexities and certain grey areas in the Hal’s intellectual property rights and trademark law in Australia, anyone is allowed to replicate the chair themselves and take it to market. And while many individuals before these designers have certainly taken advantage of these fuzzy laws, using this oddity to highlight an inhibiting practice within the space deepens our understanding of why its so harmful for the rest of the design world.

Taking creative liberties to spell this out for us, the various assortment of chairs is branded with a healthy dose of irony and the underlying message in mind. Matt Woods covered a Hal chair in clay and glitter and named it You Can Polish a Turd – emphasizing a replica’s erroneous choice to solely focus on aesthetic and disregard with substance. Subarban Adelaide-based Studio Gram drew comparison between the damaging effects of knockoffs and the tobacco industry by melting one of the chairs.

Classic Chair

Yet, another Sydyney-based studio, daast, carved a letter into their Hal chair to express its frustration with the Australian government’s lax IP laws. An accompanying ‘hypothetical note’ addressed to Morrison by the Australian government reads:

“We allow ‘replica’ furniture to be produced and profited from without the consent of the designer. Nevertheless, we’ve decided to send you some ‘replica’ royalties as a token of appreciation.”

Ultimately the work is intended as a comment on the ugly side of the industry, arguing that reproducing furniture, artwork, clothing or any other branded content for that matter should be considered theft, not a democratization of the respective designer’s work. To that end, Morrison (who gave the exhibition his blessing) comments:

“Designs that are only concerned with aesthetics usually fail in the everyday, long-term sense. They are not much more than food for the endless exchange of creative ego and selling magazines.”

Vitra | Melbourne Design Week |  Friends & Associates | National Gallery of Victoria


Photos: Daniel Herrmann-Zoll

Top photo credit: Designed by  Dale Hardiman

Given its craft, the design industry is often associated with form and beauty—but there’s a dark side to the trade as well. For most professionals in the space, the bane of their existence comes in the form of cheap, near-identical knockoffs, which litter streets around the world spelling a bad image for the respective brand or designer, and subsequently cutting into their profits. To protest the rise of copycats and brand theft—which has not only been linked to dwindling sales, but poor psychological impact as well—26 Australian designers have recently come out with a collection of ‘brutalized’ Hal chairs (a famous molded plastic side chair by British designer Jasper Morrison for Vitra) in an exhibition which showcase their frustration with the inauthenticity of conmen within industry.