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Commentary: The Business

Eve Alfillé: Designer’s Dream

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Imitation may be a nice compliment, but there’s a limit to how much flattery one should have to take, says Eve Alfill?.

SO YOUR CUSTOMER WANTS you to replicate a Van Cleef and Arpels mother-of-pearl pendant? I believe that when customers ask for a copy of a well-known designer piece (usually because they do not want to pay the price of the original), that if I were to create this knock-off for them: 1. They would continue thinking it’s OK to rip off someone’s intellectual property; or 2. They would think of me as a jewelry bargain basement.  

I don’t like that!  

So when that happens, my conversation goes like this: 

ME: ?Why not buy it at Van Cleef and Arpels? Wouldn’t it be easier?? 

CUSTOMER: ?Oh, but they charge way-y-y too much!? 

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ME: ?Well, you may be right, but what if we created something unique for you, the same proportions, but totally special, and no one else would have one like you? It may not be that much cheaper, but you wouldn’t see yourself coming and going with something everyone had! We could even write a special message for you on the back, at no charge!? 

CUSTOMER: ?Would it have mother of pearl?? 

ME: ?Sure, it could, or else we could maybe find a wonderful cross-shaped pearl from Japan or China, and go from there.?  

CUSTOMER: ?Could I see what it might look like?? 

And there you start the design process. I’m sure you noticed that early on I suggested that the price would not be particularly low, but that, in return, they would have something unique. You can sell on exclusivity. Exclusivity is increasingly important when all the big brands are going down market, and when you can see them in every mall!  

Years ago, when I sold my work at art fairs, I remember a man perusing my booth who exhibited all the signs of being The Big Score of the weekend: expensive suit, an elegant ring and bracelet on his hand and that undefinable je ne sais quoi of extra attentiveness that set him off from the usual passers-by.  

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Suddenly, he left, and almost as suddenly, he was back, this time hovering behind a couple who had stopped by. As I turned to speak to the couple, he aimed a large camera at one of my best rings ? no greeting, no request for permission, nothing! 

Shocked, I excused myself from the other customers. ?What are you doing?? I asked. 

The reply, as he snapped the shutter: ?I am going to make this ring in my shop, and there is nothing you can do about it. ? 
That’s it. The end. Now you know why I feel so strongly about the subject. 

After the show, as I was discussing this with fellow artists, a potter gave me a piece of advice: ?There will always be someone who rips off your designs; you cannot afford to sue them. You don’t have the time, or the money. Your best defense is that you are prolific: By the time they copy your piece, you’ll be on to something else.?  

Added his neighbor, a glassmaker: ?And when they do copy it, it will never be the same, anyway; it will not ?sing.’? 

?Look at it as a compliment,? said a painter. 

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I now have a dream: One day soon, we will see an educated public, attentive to the fine details, the strong inspiration that marks an artist’s original work. A public who will abhor plagiarizing in any art form, any manufacture. A public knowledgeable enough not to accept, let alone condone or seek out, the vile theft of creative ideas by those who have no inspiration of their own.

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