Going viral has long been a performance benchmark chased by social media-savvy retailers looking to move product. But increasingly, how a given item aligns with the prevailing “vibe” of the moment—whether on TikTok or Instagram—determines whether it or products like it will resonate among Gen-Z consumers, whose estimated $360 billion of buying power is shaping how products are developed and marketed.
To see what this looks like in practice, look no further than the present TikTok-fueled disco ball fever, reported on by Clever, Architectural Digest, and the New York Times in the past month alone, as well as Vogue and Surface within the past year. Quelle Fête, Kelly Wearstler’s 2021 collection of melted disco balls created in collaboration with Dutch creative collective Rotganzen, played a significant role in ushering the present, glamorous take on the trend into the zeitgeist of home decor.
But the appetite for disco ball decor is alive and well despite the fact that Wearstler’s collaboration with Rotganzen sold out shortly after its launch. The point of vibe-y decor isn’t exclusivity: “Vibes were made for the Internet not just because they’re audiovisual but because, like all memes, they are participatory,” explains The New Yorker. “Anyone can assemble her own version. They’re not scarce or limited-edition. Replication doesn’t cheapen them.” A feature in Pin-Up dives deeper into designer furniture that has achieved viral status on Instagram and TikTok and how it spawns trends in buying habits, ultimately resulting in a flux of posts that mimic the source content.
“That’s why we see Mario Bellini’s bubbly, oversized Camaleonda sofa all over Instagram, and endless streams of teens lounging on knock-offs of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair on TikTok,” says writer Taylore Scarabelli. “In a hyper-visual world, the most relevant trends are those that stand out on a small screen.”
With virality comes the inevitable loss of context and attribution to the original designers of such pieces. As the home decor equivalents of fast-fashion retailers have sought to keep up with the legions of young adults with whom pieces like the Ultrafragola mirror, Roly Poly chair, and Michel Ducaroy’s Togo sofa resonate, their product development teams turn to knockoffs, rather than working within the framework of authorized reproductions, as Design Within Reach does. Replication may not cheapen vibes—or motifs, like the ever-enduring disco ball—but what happens to the legacies of pioneering designers whose defining products circulate with no credit to their origins and their places in design history?