(At left, clockwise from top: authentic Burberry, knockoff Gucci, knockoff Burberry, and authentic Kate Spade)
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How to know a real bag:
1. Smell it. Leather smells good. You should detect no chemical smell at all.
2. Check the details. Remember, the people who sew for Prada and others are good at it -- one assumes they are the best at it. Look in the corners, particularly, and see that the stitching is straight. Top-notch bags not only use excellent materials but pass a quality control test. Spot any flaw -- no matter how tiny -- and youll know you’ve got a phony.
3. More on stitching giveaways: Most fancy handbag makers don’t use nylon thread. Further, the stitching should not be really obvious. Look inside and check the lining. Is that bag as elegantly turned on the inside as it is outside? It ought to be. Put your fingers in the corners and push to see if the lining holds up and how well it sits in the purse. It should be flush to the corners.
4. Design and color. Do you recognize the purse? Is it similar to one that you like, but seems a little off? A few less pockets on the inside perhaps? Or wow, you’ve never seen a turquoise Chanel like this! How unusual!
5. Are there authentication papers with the bag? Ha! The presence of papers doesn’t really matter since those can be just as counterfeit as the purse.
6. If buying online, check the seller’s lot to make sure they don’t have a hundred or so of these “extremely rare!” purses. Check their return policy and also calculate shipping into the equation.
7. Piping: Follow the piping around the purse. Check that it is sewed evenly and that there are no overlaps. Try to find where the two piping ends meet. They should be sewn together. Lots of basic regular purses will use vinyl or plastic piping although the rest of the purse is leather.
8. What do your instincts tell you? Are you holding your first “Gucci” handbag and you’re a little disappointed? Chances are you’re holding a fake.
9. Oh, and also, if you got a $300 bag for $40 from a street vendor, chances are that it is FAKE!
Now, some of you are thinking that you have a knockoff and it passes muster on almost all of these tests except that it was a good deal. True, some knockoffs are almost "real." They are made from all real materials by the same people who make the actual brand-name bags. These bags are made at the same places -- after hours -- and sold out the back door. And there you have the downside of outsourcing.
Whether to buy fake or not is up to the individual. Consider that luxury items make up around one-third -- or $31.1 million -- of all counterfeit goods seized at the U.S. border. If you saunter into a Prada store in Italy carrying a knockoff Prada bag, the bag will be seized and you will be arrested. Plus, most of the people dealing in fakes are selling from an unscrupulous source, often with links to other types of crimes. Most fake handbags are shipped to the U.S. illegally, so there is no tax benefit for the country.
Lately, "purse parties" have risen in popularity -- like the Tupperware parties from days of yore. Purse parties often feature knockoffs for far less. It doesn’t really matter that a nice housewife sold the goods -- it is still illegal! A "ring" of purse-party-throwing sisters in Chelsea, Mass., were busted and charged with federal money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit goods after throwing more than 200 lucrative parties over about a year and a half (that's their seized storage locker above; read full story).
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