If you wanted to buy a designer handbag, could you tell the difference between real and fake? These days luxury brands are readily available for purchase at department stores, specialty shops and online. The second hand market is also booming at consignment stores and on internet sites like Ebay and Facebook trading pages. But unless you buy a bag direct from a designer, how do you know the bag is authentic? We checked in with some local purse experts to help you buy smart.
Whether its high-end European luxury lines like Louis Vutton or Prada, or more accessible American brands like Kate Spade or Coach, counterfeiters love to knock off designer handbags. But the fashion companies work hard to specialize their products in order to outsmart the crooks.
Sarah Hanley of Helena has been buying designer handbags for seven years.
"You can definitely tell a designer bag as opposed to a knock off bag," says Hanley. "The weight, the feel, from the hardware, what connects the handles to the bag, all those things are going to have more weight to them, they're going to be more substantial."
Hanley's two favorite designers are Marc Jacobs and Prada and she really knows her stuff.
She spends time researching products online before she buys them. If you want to buy a bag and you've never seen it in person, Hanley suggests finding a store that sells it so you can see the bag before you buy it.
"Because feeling it and feeling the weight of it and the seams and all the details, that's something that you just can't see in a photo," Hanley says.
We showed her a few bags that we know are fakes. The brands that were knocked-off were Louis Vutton, Gucci and Kate Spade.
She says poor workmanship is a fake's first dead giveaway.
"This is not even real leather," Hanley laughs as she handles a bag labeled "Gucci."
"If you look a little closer at all the details and how the handles are fraying, that's another sign," she says.
The next bag we check out is a black, vinyl tote labeled "Kate Spade." Hanley immediately points to the label, which is fraying and appears to be glued on. She says an authentic bag would have a label sewn on or attached with quality hardware.
Beyond obvious workmanship, the devil is in the details.
Hanley says designer bags use specific linings, stamps on zippers and tags on the inside of pockets. These are all fine points that vary from brand to brand and why pre-buying research is so important. She likes to use online authentication services available through websites like purseblog.com when she's in doubt about a handbag.
Megan Larussa is a style consultant in Birmingham that helps clients select quality handbags for their wardrobe. She says she's seen fake bags that create a slight variation in the brand spelling to throw consumers off.
"A lot of times these counterfeit bag producers get away with it because they do 'Prado' instead of "Prada'," says Larussa.
In addition to checking obvious things like spelling, Larussa says consumers should feel a bag before they buy, because real leather doesn't lie. Counterfeit bags are often made with synthetic materials that may look like leather, but they're not.
"You want to make sure that the leather is not sticky, it's not super slippery. Leather should be dry, not oily," says Larussa.
When in doubt, the nose knows.
Sarah Hanley says you can smell a real leather bag immediately when you open the packaging. That's a rich smell that counterfeiters can't duplicate.
"It's easy to fake the authentication cards, it's easy to fake a receipt, it's easy to fake a dust bag, but you can't fake that smell," says Hanley.
The best rule of thumb? Use common sense. If you see a handbag for sale on the street, it's probably not real. If you buy a bag on Ebay, check feedback on the seller.
"All the old adages come into play," says Hanley. "If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. You are not going to get a Louis Vuitton bag for $200. It's just not going to be real."
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