When I first moved to New York City, I used to love going down to Canal Street and perusing the "designer" handbags. Once I became a seasoned veteran and learned the "secret code," I'd find myself being ushered in through hidden doorways, surrounded by the treasured goods. It's all very James Bond-like.
Of course, 90% of these designer bags were knock-offs, created in sweatshops, most likely by small children. But my little fashionista eyes were too blinded by the Louis Vuittons and Chanels to believe that mine was a fake. Oh no, my purse was the real thing.
Of course, I am much more educated on the matter than I used to be and know that the few that are the real deal cost much more than the $50 I managed to haggle the guy down to, not to mention they were likely stolen. Therefore, the only purses that now grace my closet are ones that I bought from H&M.
What makes true designer handbags so dang expensive is the detailing that's put into them. And that's the biggest difference between the real and the fakes. Let's go over the three most commonly replicated designers: Coach, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel:
A true Coach bag will have the Cs perfectly lined up in the exact pattern as above, the two Cs next to each other in doubles, every time. This is the easiest, yet most overlooked detail to spot.
Now take a peek inside. Most knock-offs still have a serial number, but a true Coach will have the number start with "No", followed by a series of four numbers and letters, then a hyphen followed by four numbers. Usually fakes have just three numbers after the dash. It should also be neatly stitched on an authentic tag, not stamped on.
Coach often has logo tags attached to their handbags -- this is another red flag to look out for. They're always made of metal, never hard plastic, attached with a beaded chain and boast the word COACH in raised lettering, not imprinted.
First off, if your bag is wrapped in plastic anywhere, then it's a fake. Louis Vuitton uses oxidizing natural cowhide leather that turns a dark golden honey color over time. Plastic is never used. Secondly, look at the monogram logo -- the LV should be perfectly lined up, not tilted. The zippers should also have LV neatly imprinted.
Knock-offs often use hard plastic for the hardware (easier to mass produce) but a true Louis will have brass or gold.
These bags are designed well, so check the bag over for stray stitching, and make sure it sits upright without slouching. Also, the majority of Louis Vuitton bags will not have rounded edges ... even the curved bags are usually pointed ever-so-slightly at the corners.
Chanel always uses calfskin for their bags, so quizzically ask the dealer what it's made of -- he'll more than likely say lambskin, and that's how you'll know it's a fake.
Look closely at the double C logo -- the top part of the C on the right should overlap the top part of the C on the left, not vice-versa. Also, the color of the hardware should be consistent throughout.
Now peek inside, and you should find a hologram sticker (unless the bag was made pre-1984). The sticker itself should be difficult to take off. On a fake, it'll slip right off, if you do manage to take a sticker off of a real one, it'll come off in pieces (and you probably just ruined the bag, so be careful!). The sticker number should match the authenticity card that came with the bag. Really well done fakes usually will have authenticity cards, so don't be fooled just yet. Chanel has used the same specs for their cards for over 25 years -- gold with black trim and lettering.
If authenticity doesn't matter to you, then by all means, haggle down your fake Louis, sling it over your shoulder, and add a little swagger in your step -- its true origin will be your little secret. But if do want the real deal, keep these tips in mind ... it'll keep you paying a whole lot for an impostor.