Counterfeit designer goods are a thorn in the fashion industry's side, touching everyone from the luxury companies that find their brands diluted to the consignment shops that find themselves faced with inauthentic stock. Just last year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized about $1.26 billion of counterfeit goods from overseas.
The stats are staggering enough to give fashion lovers pause. Plenty of women want the latest Celine bag or Louboutin shoes, but they want them at a good price. So how can you tell if your shiny new purchase is the real thing?
Laura Fluhr and Tammy Fluhr-Gates of Michael's, a longtime consignment shop on New York's Upper East Side, walked us through what we need to know. "The fakes have gotten so good," Fluhr-Gates told us. But there are some tips you can know.
There are certain brands and items that are counterfeited the most.
"The ones that fetch the most in the first market, in retail, are going to make the most sense for the counterfeiters to manufacture," said Fluhr-Gates. That includes Christian Louboutin shoes, Chanel bags, Hermès bags, Louis Vuitton bags, Alexander McQueen scarves, Hermès scarves and Herve Leger bandage dresses.
There are some telltale signs an item is fake.
"Sometimes it's glaringly obvious," said Fluhr. Things to look for:
- Metal hardware with a rough, low-quality finish.
- Low-quality leather without that supple feeling.
- Uneven stitching, with stitches of various sizes and alignments.
And when you can't find any of those telltale signs, an expert can help.
There are certain idiosyncratic markings, noted Fluhr-Gates, that only an expert whose seen hundreds of bags would know. These include:
- The number of stitches. "Certain bags have certain numbers of stitching between one element and another element," said Fluhr-Gates, "so you count the stitching."
- A unique serial number. Different brands use serial numbers differently, so it can get complicated knowing what to look for. "Bottega Veneta, for example, has a certain way of applying their label with a little tag that goes along on the inside with a little serial number," Fluhr-Gates told us.
- Where the "blind stamp" is located. Most designer bags have a colorless stamp of authenticity located somewhere in the bag, pressed into the leather. But they vary between bags. "Even within Hermès, the blind stamping is done different places, different handbags, different years," said Fluhr. So you would have to know the exact stamp of the bag you bought, based on the year and style.
When you're buying resale (i.e. from a consignment shop or eBay), the biggest sign of counterfeiting is who is selling you the bag.
"I think the biggest telltale sign isn't about the item specifically but about who you're dealing with," said Fluhr-Gates. "You have to know you're buying from someone who knows their stuff and has a 100 percent guaranteed backup to whatever they're selling you." That means taking several precautions:
- Checking out the seller on eBay: "You look at their feedback, you look at how long they've been doing this."
- Ask for more photos. "If there are photos of the goods and they look great, call the seller and say, 'This bag looks great, but can you give me another three pictures?' Because what happens unfortunately on a lot of these sites is that they'e swiping pictures that are real, but they don’t actually have the product, or they have a much less real-looking product that they’re trying to get to you."
- See what else the seller is peddling. "If they have hundreds of Birkins for sale, you can be pretty sure that's not real," said Fluhr. Added Fluhr-Gates, "Or those 'order your own Birkin in the size and color you want and we’ll have it to you in four days' deals." Yeah, life isn't that good.
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