City Style: The Breakdown: Spotting a Counterfeit Bag

One of these is an authentic Louis Vuitton Speedy; the other, an imposter we picked up for 45 bucks in Chinatown. Can you tell the difference?

Handbag trends are costly to keep up with, especially when the latest Louis Vuitton or Chloé can run you close to $2,000. That’s why the counterfeit business is booming: Officials estimate we spend nearly $600 billion on fakes each year, fueling a trade rife with abysmal factory conditions, underage workers, and dangerous crime rings. But beyond the ethical implications, chances are that “perfect” look-alike you (or your label-conscious co-worker) scored from the back of a Kneeland Street five-and-dime isn’t quite as perfect as you might think. Here’s how to tell.

Monogram Speedy 30, $620, Louis Vuitton, Copley Place, Boston, 617-437-6519, Which one is it? See below for answer.

FABRIC: Counterfeiters keep costs down by using inexpensive materials. Nixon Peabody attorney Jason C. Kravitz, a specialist in counterfeit issues, says that simply touching a bag can be a tip-off. “The fake feels like cheap vinyl,” he says, “sort of like the inside of the car I owned in high school.”

HARDWARE: Check the zipper. Most high-end houses use high-end hardware, and craft their zippers from sturdy metals like brass and stainless steel. “Sometimes it’s difficult even for experts to tell the difference, but the devil’s in the details,” says Kravitz. Of our fake Speedy he observes, “This one’s easy—the zipper seems like it’s about to break.” If it feels flimsy or catches too often, it’s not the real thing.

HANDLES: The straps on our counterfeit are vastly different in size from the genuine article’s (though they did come individually wrapped in wax paper). Do a durability test, says Kravitz: If a handle feels so stiff it might snap or never wear in, chances are the bag’s a fake.

LOGOS AND LABELS: Fashion’s black market took a hit when logos went extra-large. Counterfeiting is illegal, and the misuse of logos makes it easier to nail an offender in court. And while the counterfeiters have become more and more sophisticated—the LVs on our fake bag look pretty good to us—perfectionism, including proper spelling, is often left by the wayside during cheap rush jobs. (We’re pretty sure we’re not the only ones to be nearly taken in by a “Kate Spate” tote or a “Prado” wallet.)

COLOR QUALITY: The fastest way to spot a bogus bag is to study its color. Irregular shifts in hue are a dead giveaway, especially when stacked against the rich, even tones of a genuine specimen. “I’ll wager this cost only a few dollars to make,” Kravitz says of our imposter. He points out that the faux tote also suffers from brassy, dark handles and slipshod stitching. “Counterfeiters are all about cutting corners,” he notes, “and often believe that close enough is good enough.”