Lately the design press has been full of incredibly liveable eclectic spaces, none more so than this NYC apartment designed by formerly rising star – now arrived – Nick Olsen that was just featured in the August World Of Interiors. What caught my eye were the mass market bookshelves, the very same Ballard Designs Sonoma Bookcases I have in the TV room here at the shore.
Positioned on either side of the fireplace, they are beautifully arranged by color, but have a natural well-used character to them and not that overly styled look I am not a fan of.
I looked pretty closely at them because back when I got my Sonoma bookcase (on the left), I hadn’t realized that Mecox had their own version, the Provence Open Shelf Baker’s Rack (on the right) priced about 4 times higher – $499 versus $1995. Now ironically, the real Copy Cat Chic blog holds up the Ballard Designs Sonoma Bookcase as the expensive option, comparing it to lower priced similar versions from Overstock and the like. So it becomes a copy cat spiral from high to medium to low to lower.
I look back at this NY brownstone that Nate Berkus designed for Katie Lee, Billy Joel’s ex-wife, having assumed he used the Ballard Designs version, only to come to the conclusion that these look more like the Mecox Garden variety. So my question for you is whether this is such a classic vintage inspired shape, produced by many, or is it a copy of something original?
The bookcase has been on my mind because yesterday saw the installation of my long-awaited curtains in the TV room and I’ve been wondering if I should shift my bookcase over a bit.
As my long-term readers will know, I had been hemming and hawing over pulling the trigger and purchasing this Brigitte Singh Cream Hibiscus Branch fabric – choosing between it and its companion Hibiscus Flower Buta – until I almost missed out and was only able to get the final few meters available from Aleta Online last year. Luckily, my ingenious seamstress and I were able to come up with a plan to “stretch” the fabric, using a matching linen and framing the panels in such a way that I actually prefer it to just having used the one fabric.
Since buying my fabric over a year ago, I have become addicted to a fairly new online site called Jaypore, which is a bit like an Indian version of One Kings Lane and the other limited sales time sites. The prices are fabulous, many of the goods are really lovely and the shipping is free. One of the items that caught my eye was this bed sheet, which costs all of $35 and is 60″ x 90″, basically 3 meters long. That’s a lot of yardage for $35! In the right space you could line it to make very inexpensive curtains. I may cut it up to make Euro shams for my elder daughter’s new bedroom decor in Doha. Either way, it was a fabric bargain.
But the truth is that it is the Brigitte Singh Hibiscus Flower Buta pattern exactly – no bones about it – if you look below. Now what I don’t know and would love to, is whether these patterns are so traditional that they have entered into the cultural lexicon, or whether it is a unique design that has been copied, again a similar question to the one above. When I think back to the block print flower I used on the walls in my bathroom, I do know I have seen that particular flower pattern before and that there were multiples of the block available for purchase at the shop in Singapore. I think I’ll have to write to Aleta and ask her.
So how do you feel about copy cat chic? It’s a complex question as it addresses everything from income divides to intellectual property rights. I’d love to hear from you on the topic.
And there is so much of this rich teal and blue going around these days, that I may have to revisit it in yet another post!
Addendum added August 15, 2013
I heard from Aleta and wanted to share her personal thoughts with you.
I just snuck a peek over at your blog and read your post on the Jaypore site and the ‘copycat’ issue, and as it’s quite an emotive subject with Brigitte Singh, who is the creator of your Cream Hibiscus fabric, I thought I should share a little more information as well as my own personal view on this very hotly debated topic.
From the beginning, Brigitte has always worked with the ancient motifs and floral designs of Mughal India to create her textiles. In some cases, her prints are faithful reproductions of historic textiles, using the ancient and traditional method of block printing to produce them. I don’t think Brigitte herself would ever suggest that she should have the exclusive right to print Mughal designs, but that is often how her point of view is interpreted by critics. In fact, where a design is taken directly from an archive reference, it is already often produced, quite legitimately, by other manufacturers -the Cream Pise, for example, is also made by Bennison in England, and Green Antelope by Caravane in France. I myself reproduce Mughal designs quite independently of Brigitte when it’s appropriate to do so.
The general argument for ‘copying’ is that the designs belong in the public domain as Brigitte’s original inspirations were sourced from designs that belong to no one, but the situation is more complicated than that.
Some prints like the Poppy, Cypress, and your Hibiscus have also been derived from historic textile pieces, but over the years Brigitte has refined the lines, changed leaves, colours, and subtly ‘tweaked’ the designs. This is when the issue becomes quite a grey area: Brigitte’s own printing blocks in the past have been stolen, these in turn have been recarved and recarved, and several ‘generations’ of printing blocks on, what you see being produced by some block printers in India are not reproduction Mughal prints, but reproduction ‘Brigitte Singhs’. Her printing blocks have also been used by the printers, without permission, to print for other companies.
Brigitte has built her reputation on two things: first, the quality of her textiles is completely and utterly unrivalled. This includes the printing process itself, from the skill of the block carving, to the fineness, accuracy and complexity of the actual printing; it includes the quality of the cottons and hand woven khadi that she uses to print on; finally, it includes the haute couture tailoring and exquisite attention to detail in her soft furnishing pieces and garments.
Second, the way that she puts together the disparate parts of various ancient designs -combination of borders, the layout and scale of motifs, and in particular her amazing use of colour, has created a very distinctive and instantly recognisable trademark. This is very personal to her, it has come from her own unique heart and soul, and it cannot be created by anyone else.
I would have no qualms about seeing or even purchasing the same print as one of Brigitte’s if I know that the original source of inspiration came directly from a historic textile piece (the exception to this is the Poppy, but I am irrationally protective about it because it was her very first and is still hugely popular), however I am concerned when I see her very particular combination of designs and colours being reproduced, often randomly and of poor quality, regardless of where Brigitte’s own original sources came from.
My personal feeling is that buying any ‘copy’ is ultimately a false economy -it will never compare in quality, or have the same sophistication, and it certainly won’t have provenance, although I try not to judge too harshly as I think we’ve all been guilty (if that’s even the right word) of it at one time or another. I do believe that you should always buy the best that you can afford -and if you can’t afford it, buy something different that you can afford and doesn’t compromise on quality. It is far better, creative, and honest to forge your own individual look based on the budget and lifestyle you have, rather than try to emulate someone else’s, possibly unattainable, style. But I’m starting to stray into social discussions far deeper than copyright! I’ll leave it there, and I hope I’ve provided some insight and not just gone on a long ramble. :-)
A Television Solution From My Notting Hill and Ballard Designs
All Tied Up…Power Cord Bundling
So Long Summer…Vignettes and Views Around the House
Just in Time…Last Piece of Cream Hibiscus Branch From Aleta
On the Blind’s Side…Sudare and Curtains