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Often imitated, never duplicated – designer Eero Aarnio still active 50 years on

Eero Aarnio is one of the world's most widely-copied furniture designers, but says he and his small family company are basically powerless to stop the fakes without an army of lawyers.

Eero Aarnion koti on täynnä hänen suunnittelemiaan esineitä. Yksi niistä on vihreä Pastilli-tuoli.
Aarnio relaxes at home in his Pastil chair. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

One of its main figures of Finnish design from the 1960s and '70s, Eero Aarnio, remains active today. A big retrospective of his career opened on Friday at Helsinki's Design Museum.

Aarnio, 83, still works nearly every day at his home studio in rural northern Kirkkonummi. He's best known for his Ball Chair, which was a hit when it was launched 50 years ago. The futuristic chair, with its built-in phone, became an icon of the swinging '60s, featured on countless magazine and album covers.

Today it remains a hotly-counterfeited product. Indeed, Aarnio is one of the world's most widely-copied furniture designers. His curvaceous Pastil, Bubble and Tomato chairs are mass-produced in cut-rate versions, especially in China.

"They're not just stealing from me, but from the whole Finnish production chain," he points out.

However Aarnio says that he and his small family company are basically powerless to stop this without an army of lawyers.

Instead Aarnio concentrates on new products for top design firms such as Alessi and Magis in Italy. In the past decade he's scored hits with kitchenware and stylised plastic animals for kids.

"My brain is my computer"

In the age of computer-aided design, he still sticks to his traditional tools of paper, pencils and markers, at his desk overlooking a lake, trying to keep one step ahead of the counterfeiters.

"My brain is my computer and my pencil is my printer," he says. "I always have them with me!"

An Eero Aarnio retrospective begins April 8 at the Design Museum in Helsinki. It is a comprehensive exhibition of the designer’s work in furniture, lamps, small objects and unique one-off pieces from the 1950s to the present. The exhibition will run until September 25.

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