By Kenza van Lerberghe for IROCO Design.
In fine arts, the terms ‘original’ and ‘copy’ are straight forward. In design however, these terms take on a different dimension.
Firstly, reproduction is an inherent aspect which follows design. Some will argue that the term ‘original’ comes from the designation from those manufactured during the earliest years of a design’s production. Following this logic, a 1928 Corbusier armchair or an Eames Plywood Chair produced in 1946 would be originals, while the same models by Le Corbusier or Charles and Ray Eames from current production would be copies, regardless of the manufacturer . This thinking argues that ‘originals’ are models from the earliest periods of production now found in museums and private collections, but not the present products which could be categorized as ‘copies’ manufactured by the licensed producers.
The counter argument will state that the above is misleading and faulty: early examples of a design from the initial production phase are vintage objects, having become collectibles as they represent the first expression of a new idea. The products designed by Le Corbusier or the Eames produced today by their legitimate manufacturers can however also be considered as originals.
Models from the early production phase represent an initial solution. For the duration of their career, Charles and Ray Eames continued to perfect their designs; when better solutions were found the dimensions and materials of a product, together with the individual parts, were changed. The term ‘original’ could therefore receive a broader meaning: the status of an original could be further extended by the relationship between the designer and the manufacturer of the designer’s products, based on shared ideals and consented collaboration, besides the legal component of the relationship.
For any product to be assigned ‘original’ status, the originator of the design must have given the manufacturer the legal authorization to produce it.