Anybody who knows me knows that I am a huge bag fiend. I buy bags anywhere, anytime, and with absolutely no rhyme or reason. I do buy online so occasionally I doubt the authenticity of the bags I receive.
Elizabeth Bernstein, Senior Director of Handbags and Accessories at PORTERO, happens to be one of the leading industry experts in authentication in the secondary marketplace for luxury handbags, tells more about how she began her career and explains the authentication process.
When did you start authenticating bags?
I have always had a strong passion for luxury goods and accessories, since I was a child. I would say it came from my mother’s influence, as she was always dressed impeccably. I have been interested in authenticity and have been studying it independently since I was a teenager, but my expertise in understanding the counterfeit market grew when I was studying in Italy.
What is the counterfeit market like in Italy?
Italy has one of the most sophisticated counterfeit luxury marketplaces in the world, as they actually make bags and accessories with the same high quality materials stolen from the factories in cities outside of Florence. It is very hard to tell the difference between these fake and real items, as they are often sold in warehouses in Italy as authentic bags, and eventually circulate into the streets, shops and online. Anyone who says a luxury bag, scarf or belt is “directly from the manufacturer” is generally selling counterfeit merchandise, since it has not been created by the brand itself.
(Note: I have purchased this type of items before and yes, a boutique will recognize them as “counterfeit”. Even those that are staff purchases from (example) USA will be logged in as “fake” if you try to authenticate them in Singapore. You could show all your receipts and passport but they’ll still tell you its not real.)
Which bag is the most replicated in the luxury marketplace?
I would say the Louis Vuitton monogram canvas bags. This is because they are made from coated monogram canvas and small bits of leather. This makes the bags simple to replicate, and also cost effective, as these materials are not expensive. All leather bags are harder to replicate because they are pricier to make. From a cost perspective, this does not make as much sense to counterfeiters. Don’t be fooled though, some counterfeiters will replicate leather bags using plastic embossed to look like leather, and actual leather as well. Be careful!
Should you go to a store to authenticate items?
Sales associates who work directly in the luxury brand boutique are not allowed to authenticate product as per the brand. They do sometimes against policy; however, they do not generally have the knowledge base to authenticate all bags the brand has ever produced. That expertise takes a lot of time to develop and continue developing on a regular basis – trust me! That being said, if you want verification from the brand assuring that your bag is real, you can always take it in for a repair. The brand itself will not repair a counterfeit item and they will have it sent back to you with a letter stating the item is not authentic, if that is the case.
Is there a foolproof way to spot a fake?
The devil is in the details. All luxury brands use top quality finishings, stitching and hardware. If a bag has sloppy stitching, cheap hardware, bent handles that cannot be straightened out, an unusual color, cheap leather, etc., it is pretty safe to say that it is a fake. Also many brands have specific date codes, holograms, heat stamps, etc., that identify the authenticity of the product. These are generally not as easy to replicate and can be a good indicator if the bag is real or fake.
Does every designer bag have a serial number?
No, not every bag has a serial number. Some have date codes, heat stamps, holograms, scannable data chips, manufacturer’s numbers, etc. All brands mark their bags differently, so it is best to do some research to understand what type of stamp the bag you are buying generally has. Also, it is very important to note that many vintage bags do not have serial numbers of any sort.
Can you tell if a bag is fake from looking at a picture?
I can! But, if a small, random seller sends a buyer pictures of a bag, the pictures could be real, but the bag they ship you could be fake. This is why it is best to always purchase from a reputable source, so that you know you are not getting the wool pulled over your eyes. The “old switch-a-roo” so to speak!
Should you rely on manufacturing locations to determine whether or not a bag is real or fake?
Luxury brands produce their bags in multiple countries depending on the quality and type of work needed. For example, Chanel produces in France and Italy. They have factories in both places that do different kinds of work. Just because Chanel is a French brand, does not mean they only produce in France! Also, over the last eight years some luxury brands have been using China to make bags – and using more expensive materials in order to increase their profit margins.
Who should one consult with to authenticate handbags?
The best way to authenticate handbags is to buy from a credible source. If you buy from smaller unknown seller you are always risking purchasing a counterfeit item.