Gentle reader, I am going to be somewhat vulgar. I recently discovered a site, Modani.com, which shamelessly pedals unlicensed reproductions (fakes, knock-offs, counterfeits…) of well-known modern furniture designs. While this is nothing new, this particular site goes farther in its efforts to confuse and mislead consumers, attempting to pass off its fakes as the real thing. No one really expects to get an real Prada bag for $50 from some guy on the street, no matter how many times he says “real Prada,” but it can be more difficult for online consumers to distinguish between reputable dealers of legitimate products, and the lying, thieving rats who operate sites like Modani. We’re used to seeing the “Madrid” chair (a popular Barelona knock-off) on shabby, amateur-looking websites, but Modani.com actually looks relatively credible. However, if you bother to read the text, or pay close attention to the product images, you will begin to detect the unmistakable stench of wretched vermin.
In many cases, Modani uses the actual names of the original design or designer. Fake Barcelona chairs are actually called Barcelona chairs! And, even worse, Modani actually uses photographs of the real product, stolen from the license-holding manufacturer! These images are easily identifiable as exact matches for images on the websites of manufacturers like Knoll, Herman Miller, Vitra, Flos, Foscarini, and B&B Italia. Sometimes, as with Eames and Noguchi designs from Vitra, dimensioned line-drawings are taken straight from the manufacturer’s literature! In a few cases, the authentic product is shown in the primary image, with secondary images apparently depicting the product Modani is actually selling, which is, of course, visibly different and inferior.
Now, here is something really upsetting. I was aware of this hideous, Chinese knock-off of Tufty Time, and I had come to terms with it, but seeing these assholes misrepresent it with stolen photography of the real thing was really shocking. How dare they try to undermine my sofa! At times like these, it would be very convenient to believe in hell; I would really enjoy watching these people burn. The image clearly belongs to B&B Italia, and even includes a B&B pillow designed by Marcel Wanders. Modani’s secondary image, on the same product page, shows something entirely different: the ugly, disproportionate, and cheap-looking impostor!
A colleague of mine called Modani’s 800-number today to ask why the sofa looked so different in the two pictures. The person who answered the phone insisted, in broken English, that the only differences were camera angle and lighting. Modani calls its fake Tufty the “Sorento” sofa. I had never heard that name before, but the Tufty knock-off I was previously aware of appears to be a perfect match, and my eyes don’t mistake these things. It can be seen at www.made-in-china.com. On this site, we learn that this piece of $#!% is made with a wood frame (B&B Italia uses welded steel) by an entity called Shenzhen M&F Furniture Co., Ltd. (try finding them at the Milan Fair!), and that it can be purchased ex-factory in quantities of 20 or more. And, brace yourself, they actually refer to their shameless knock-off as Tufty Time! They even identify the designer, Patricia Urquiola, and the license-holding manufacturer, B&B. Blood-sucking parasites! At least Modani has the decency to give it a different name, though I could be confusing decency with cowardice.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re already familiar with the usual arguments against knock-offs. Intellectual property, integrity, and all of those things. But there’s another angle: the environment. B&B Italia products are made to last a lifetime, to be used and handed down, and auctioned and reused. These knock-offs are garbage; they are literally pollution. No matter what Modani says, the quality of these pieces is so poor that they’re not likely to outlast your next laptop computer, but they require a lot more landfill space.
The operators of Modani are misleading and unethical, if not outright dishonest. At least, though, they also seem to be rather stupid, and they think that we are too. Here is an excerpt from Modani’s poorly written, obviously contrived f.a.q. page:Why is the price so affordable? The difference with other on-line or brick-and-mortar stores is that we are wholesalers and sell some exclusive lines of products in the US. That’s why we provide very affordable prices. This is very affordable so I guess the quality must not be that good…? We have a very high quality standard for our materials. You may sometimes find the same leather sofas or dining tables from 2 to 3 times our price. Our strategy is to sell at or close to wholesale prices to customers and grow our share of the modern furniture market by increasing volume of transactions at the cheapest prices around. Where is it manufactured? We have selected the best providers for each product. Some come from Europe, Scandinavia, Italy and the US. Modani’s expertise in modern furniture allowed us to develop innovative state-of-the-art sourcing solutions involving the latest industrial technologies. This enables us to provide prices 50% – 80% guaranteed under similar style products’ market prices.
With awkward and excessive repetition, as though fearing you won’t believe them, they imply that the only reason their prices are so low is that they are a wholesaler. Obviously, they are not strictly a wholesaler, and even if they were, that simply could not account for the enormous difference between the prices of their products and the “similar style” products by B&B Italia, Flos, and other leading Italian manufacturers. Also, note the wording in the last item. They only say that some products come from Europe and the US, they don’t deny that others (probably the vast majority) come from Asia. Innovative sourcing solutions? Hah! It’s a euphemism, and it’s outrageous, but at least it is relatively honest. I have another name for the activity to which they’re referring: theft.