Would You Buy a Black Market Bag?


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

bags, bargains


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KaroG... KaroGreenly

Besides the fact that it's illegal and stealing, I think that it's just morally wrong. It's the same as buying bootleg movies...which is something that you'd probably say that you wouldn't do. I don't even carry a purse...they just get in the way. I couldn't imagine spending $50 on one, much less thousands. There are other things that I would rather have.

LoriA... LoriAnn87

Nope I would not too do that because I be afaird of getting caught and you never know if the cops are watching you. I will by knock off at target or walmart but not off the streets.

LoriA... LoriAnn87

I know someone who sells bootlegged movies and he see nothing wrong with what he is doing.

sstepph sstepph

Nope, no knock offs. I'd be scared too.. lol of getting caught!

Marianne Canada

Please do not support these criminals. Often there is a sweatshop next door to these "secret rooms" where people sew in what's akin to indentured slavery. There are also links to sex trafficking among these groups, and sometimes it's young children doing the work (and god knows what else).

If you want a nice bag for less money, consider buying secondhand (where I got all of my nice bags) or a service like Bag, Borrow, or Steal.

Carenann Carenann

I agree with the other ladies, I would not buy a knock off either. It's actually not illegal to buy the counterfeit merchandise however, only illegal to sell it. I just think it's tacky and I'd rather have a nice "real" bag that I can afford than a fake of a bag that I could never afford but that's just me. I really like the Tignanello brand and get compliments on them all the time, they remind me of Coach (which I know is also not one of the coveted brands out there) but they're high quality and last me a long time while costing about $25 at the QVC outlet so I'm a happy girl and I'm not supporting some criminals illegal business.

hotic... hoticedcoffee

Just to fill everyone in - it's not illegal to buy, have or carry a "fake", so by purchasing and owning one, you're not breaking any laws.  It's illegal to manufacture and sell them.

I have a few fakes, mostly Prada and one Coach.  I'm not someone who gets caught up in the handbag heirarchy, but the ones I have are nice and I bought them because I loved the style, not the designer name.  Those of you who have noticed fakes and think they're tacky, haven't seen a good fake - they are nearly impossible to discern from an authentic item.  Just like any other accessory item or piece of clothing - if it's not made well, it will look tacky.



mandy... mandyhornbuckle

I got a few Coach, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci bags while I was in China, and let me tell you, there's no backrooms there. They're EVERYWHERE. In Beijing, there's a HUGE building called silk street market where you can buy any and every brand - Tommy Bahama, Gucci, Hillfiger, Prada, you name it. And I love my real Coach way more, but honestly, you can't tell the difference. It doesn't look tacky or fake. As for buying them in the US, I'd be more concerned about my safety than anything else.

Linds... LindsayFerrier

The only time I've actually bought a knockoff was about ten years ago at a really nice boutique in Charleston- It was a Prada knockoff, but frankly, I just loved the bag itself, which was a really unusual design and only $70.

I still want to do the New York thing just to see what that experience is like and see those bags up close- The whole thing is fascinating to me, particularly since so many of my friends are doing it.

But yeah, I definitely feel the guilt thing when I see knockoff bags for sale now. There's a part of me that's drawn to them, but I never end up buying.

Kerry Kirmse Popovits

"Do the New York thing", LOL so cute Lindsay. Living here in NY buying knockoffs is so commonplace even my teenage daughters have been to the city to buy a particular coach pattern they love but can't afford. I've been to knockoff parties, Chinatown back rooms, and even street festivals with great knockoffs. I'm not trying to fool anyone, but happen to love the looks certain designers have but are way overpriced.

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