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My friend went shopping in New York recently armed only with an address.

When she knocked at the door, she was taken by a stranger up some stairs into a small, dirty office. There, bags were brought out from a back room for her inspection. She looked over Louis Vuitton satchels, Valentino totes, and a Yves Saint Laurent bowler bag before finally settling on an exquisitely made Chanel shoulder bag.

The price? Fifty dollars.

Yes, it was a knockoff, but one so expertly made that there was no distinguishing it from the real thing. And while my friend's experience sounds more than a bit sketchy, she's just one of many women I know who've gone to extremes to infiltrate New York's black market bag industry.

And I have to admit, I was tempted to try my luck as well.

"I heard that if you're well dressed on Canal Street and carrying a nice bag, they'll find you," one of my friends told me last week while I was in New York. "They'll approach you on the street and take you to their back room. My friends say it's a little weird, but to not be scared when they take you inside a building, because it's totally safe."

I probably would have tried my luck while I was there if I could have found the time, more for the experience of doing it than anything else. I mean, the whole thing sounds like something straight out of a spy novel.

Yet when my Chanel-toting friend recounted her story to a group of women a few weeks ago, the opinions were mixed.

"Designer bags are like diamonds," one woman said. "Sure you can get a fake, but it's only special if it's the real thing."

"Besides, when you buy those bags, you're funding sweatshops and child labor and horrible working conditions in general," said another.

You could also be rewarding outright burglary. My friend noted with dismay that when she was perusing the backroom bags, while some Hermes Birkins were under a hundred dollars, others were priced in the low thousands. Obviously, those bags were real -- and stolen.

Despite these legitimate concerns, it's hard for many of us to say no to the knockoff. I'm pretty sure that the temptation I feel to buy one is shared by many of you, because while I can afford the fake, I'd never be able to justify spending thousands on the real thing. Either I go the knockoff route or live with the knowledge that I'll never know what it feels like to sling a Prada bag over my shoulder -- and admittedly, once you have a great knockoff, it's hard to go back to lower-priced "real" bags.

Several years ago, for example, a friend brought me a highly prized and impossible to find knockoff Takashi Murakami Louis Vuitton bag from New York. The bag was so expertly faked that it even included a serial number and certificate of authenticity. I was a new mom at the time and didn't realize what I had, but when I carried it to LA to visit my in-laws, I was stopped on the street numerous times by people demanding to know how I'd gotten my bag. They'd been told they'd have to remain on Louis Vuitton's waiting list for that bag for at least six months.

Oh la la.

Admittedly, my closet is full of knockoffs, almost all of which were gifted to me -- but I can't help but feel a gnawing sense of guilt over their origins.

What about you? Do you have a knockoff bag? Why or why not?

 

Image via Nerissa's Ring/Flickr