Designer Chairs: Real or Fake?

Fake it until you make it, or something.

I THINK I first registered Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chair, a marvel of winning design and warm woven cane, when I saw it tucked away in the corner of an Instagram post. This was a few years ago; it was posted by a widely respected essayist, someone whose work I have put up on a pedestal. This writer has managed to straddle the literary and fashion worlds in a way that makes me realize how clumsy I can be when I try to do the very same thing. 

To oscillate between both genres is to be cunning and creative and also be cool and have great taste. It is regularly writing for T Magazine and not tripping over the pronunciation of Loewe. It sounds like a lot of work to be that smart and stylish. Who has the time? I have a soul-sucking day job in advertising and wearing big Issey Miyake pants seems tedious. Plus, I have depression and anxiety, and dealing with both of those keeps me plenty busy. 

It asks a lot of a chair to make someone a better writer and a more stylish person. But Breuer’s Cesca is no ordinary chair. 

Maybe I’d get one, I thought to myself.

"It's among the 10 most important chairs of the 20th century," the curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art told The New York Times in 1991. 

Initially designed in 1928 and then released under the name “B32,” the chair's unique tubular steel frame is inspired by that of a bicycle. It plays into one of the core Bauhaus principles: individual artistic vision with everyday function. The chair was eventually renamed after Breuer's daughter, Francesca. And in 1968, the design was purchased by the American design firm Knoll, and the rest is pretty much history. The Cesca exists in the canon of timeless chairs, alongside the Wassily and the Barcelona.

A few months ago, in the middle of my living room, I took my orange Exacto knife to the flimsy oversized cardboard box that had been delivered the day before. One of the sides had been crushed like someone had thrown the box from a roof. The brown tape that ran across the package was marked with the "Breuer Chair Company." I was confused. I ordered the chair — the "Meg" chair, to be exact — from AllModern for $208. Not Breuer Chair Company ($219) nor Scandinavian Designs Furniture ($129), nor Frances & Son ($365). There are nearly a dozen Internet-only companies whose sole purpose seems to be selling replicas of the famous chair design. Either way, after a week or two of haphazard "research," I deemed AllModern to be the best bet and went with it. Plus, it was considerably less than what Knoll charges for an original production ($968).

I wanted to buy the authentic Cesca, believe me. I'm fortunate enough to be at a point in my adult life where I'm mostly able to save for and purchase the type of furniture I want. (Within reason, of course, Pierre Paulin's "Dune" sofa will never be mine.) I did my research on Cescas, both real and fake. I read that even the authorized productions have issues with wear and tear over time. The woven cane breaks. It is beautiful to look at but also fragile. Spending nearly $1,000 on a chair that requires kid gloves is not in my lifestyle. So, I went with the one that costs $208.  

I was nervous about not buying the real deal. I had terrible luck with knockoffs before. When I was 26 and living in a tiny apartment with crooked walls in Manhattan's Two Bridges neighborhood, I got a cheap, fake Eames shell chair ($69). It sat underneath the Supreme skate deck I hung on my wall, a few feet from a LACK coffee table that I once watched a Columbia graduate student snort coke off of. It was only our second date. The knockoff Eames broke after a month, and the LACK table managed to hold firm until I was ready to move to Brooklyn. And then I just left it out on Henry Street.

My life is drastically different than when I had that knockoff Eames chair and the LACK table and went on dates with people who whipped out drugs with nonchalance. In some ways my life is also the same, it seems. I’d love to be the type of person who buys a real Cesca chair, but I’d love to be a lot of things. To be cunning and creative and also be cool and have great taste.

For the second half of last year, I felt slow and sluggish like the long-legged cellar spider I sometimes spy in my just-drained bathtub. I send little emails and write tiny articles. I don’t sleep enough, and then I sleep too much. I live alone, and the pandemic is isolating, still. Some women text me back, and others don’t. In the warm glow of summer, I watched my home state of California burn and burn. No single day ever felt quite right.

I am happy with my fake Cesca chair, for now. It sits in my kitchen, at the end of a wobbly wooden table that has been covered in a layer of white paint so thin you can see the delicate grain peeking through. The table feels real.

I’m not sure if that writer who posted that photo has an original Cesca chair. Maybe theirs is fake, too. ■

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Lead illustration by the talented Fanny Luor.