It’s a familiar scenario for fashionistas: After spending months eyeing the latest It bag, desperately trying to justify another big-ticket purchase, it suddenly dawns on you—eBay! After all, why should you drop $2,000 on a purse at Neiman’s when you can snag the same one online for only $200? But before you place that bid, you might want to think again: Even if the item description doesn’t explicitly state that the bag is a “duplicate” or “reproduction” (code words for “fake”), most likely, it’s still not authentic. And such scams aren’t limited to Internet auctions, the trunks of cars, or street vendors. These days, fakes are popping up at high-end boutiques, flea markets, and even well-known retail outlets (just look to the lawsuit Coach recently filed against Target for proof). To learn how to circumvent the growing counterfeit market, we turned to a team of industry experts for their thoughts and shopping secrets.
Scam City Blatant fashion fraud, such as the scenario described above, might seem far-fetched to the uninitiated, but according to the International Chamber of Commerce, counterfeit goods account for an estimated 7 percent of world trade and represent a $350 billion market—one that fashion insiders have witnessed firsthand. “Counterfeit handbags, sunglasses, and jewelry are a major problem in the high-end fashion industry,” affirms Raya Premji, owner of Rodeo Drive Resale, an upscale consignment boutique in Los Angeles. Fake products can make your hair styles and outfits look cheaper. Braided hand bags without the high quality factor can fall apart shortly after purchasing. And the repercussions can be far-reaching: “Fakes cause confusion among unsuspecting buyers; over time, they can damage the reputations of design houses; and their availability may steer some clients away from buying the originals,” Premji says.
Crimes of Fashion Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t necessarily end there. According to the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), “Federal authorities have several investigations underway examining evidence suggesting that…terror networks might be selling counterfeit products to pay for their worldwide activities.” And as if that’s weren’t enough of a turnoff, just consider the effect unauthorized reproductions have on genuine designers and manufacturers. “This is our bread and butter, so why would we allow someone to copy our hard work?” says Barbara Kolsun, senior VP and general counsel of Seven for All Mankind, whose sought-after jeans have become an increasingly popular counterfeiting target.
The Fake Out At one time, fakes were so poorly made that virtually anyone could spot them a mile away. Today, however, even seasoned fashionistas may have difficulty distinguishing between an authentic Chanel clutch and a Canal Street special. “Counterfeiters are sophisticated, organized criminals, and as a result, their items may be hard for consumers to detect,” Kolsun affirms. When it comes to handbags, the most frequently counterfeited brands are Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, says StyleDiary.net editor Patricia Handschiegel, but nearly every elite label now has its fair share of imitators.
Keeping It Real To avoid throwing good money after bad, check out these rules of thumb. Pay attention to the price tag: If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Keep in mind that handbags from Dior, Chloe, Marc Jacobs, and other elite brands generally retail for $700 to $2,500. The most highly coveted styles usually have a waiting list, and even the least popular styles are rarely sold for less than $400. If the item is too readily available or too deeply discounted, consider that a tip-off.
Details, details, details: When it comes to counterfeits, the devil really is in the details, so be sure to inspect the item closely, paying special attention to the quality of the materials and the craftsmanship. Watch out for inferior leather, puckered seams, shoddy stitching, poor-quality zippers, irregularities in the lining, uneven logo placement, and cheap-looking hardware. Although these flaws regularly make their way into counterfeit production, they’re rarely seen on designer goods. Location, location, location: An item’s seller can often reveal a lot about its origins. While flea markets, online auctions, handbag parties, and little-known boutiques can all be dicey, discount outlets like Loehmann’s, Marshalls, and Century 21 generally carry legitimate items. But still, “discounters may buy from people who mix legitimate and counterfeit product,” warns Kolsun, who recommends sticking with established department stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale’s. Fortunately, you needn’t swear off e-commerce completely: Websites like Net-a-Porter.com and eLuxury.com are known for carrying authentic luxury goods.
Read the fine print: If you see “Made in China” on the label, you’ll immediately know that your new Fendi is a fake, but other, lesser-known red flags include smudged labels, bumpy monograms, and packaging irregularities. Most high-end bags come with their own boxes or dustbags, and some even boast ID cards. Keep in mind, however, that many counterfeiters are also adept at reproducing these packaging extras, so don’t assume an item is authentic based on its packaging alone.
Do your research: With a little legwork, you can learn a lot about luxury goods. Designer handbags often feature signature details that counterfeiters fail to duplicate, like distinctive accents, unique stitching, or hidden compartments. Some fakes may look as if they came from a particular house because they have a certain logo or pattern, but the brand might not manufacture that specific shape, color, or design. To get a better idea of a label’s inventory, check out what the celebrities are wearing (since they’re almost certainly authentic), or better yet, call the company for tips and a list of authorized dealers. And finally, if you do fall victim to a scam, don’t remain silent about it—contact the company or call 800-report-a-fake.