Inside the Delirious Rise of ‘Superfake’ Handbags - The New York Times

Can you tell the difference between a $10,000 Chanel bag and a $200 knockoff? Almost nobody can, and it’s turning luxury fashion upside down.

Credit... Grant Cornett for The New York Times. Set designer: JoJo Li. Wholesale Cute Tote Bags

Inside the Delirious Rise of ‘Superfake’ Handbags - The New York Times

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Once upon a time, the legend goes, Theseus slew the Minotaur and sailed triumphantly home to Athens on a wooden ship. The vessel was preserved by Athenian citizens, who continually replaced its rotting planks with strong, fresh timber so a pilgrimage to Delos could be made each year in their hero’s name. Fascinated by this mythical tale, the philosopher Plutarch found it to embody a “logical question of things that grow”: After Theseus’s ship had been stripped of all its original material, could it still be considered the same ship? His question has caromed through centuries of Western thought. What if, Thomas Hobbes wondered, someone rustled up a second boat out of the discarded planks; would you now have two original vessels? And what about our own era of machine-made duplication — does replication strip away the soul of creation?

Not long ago, I found myself wandering through Paris with a fake Celine handbag slung over my shoulder. In France, a country that prides itself on originating so much of the world’s fashion, punishments for counterfeiting are severe, to the point that I technically risked three years in prison just by carrying my little knockoff around. But the bag’s fraudulence was undetectable to human eyes. I was toting around a delicious, maddening secret: Like a ship remade with identical wood, the bag on my arm had been built on the same plan, with seemingly the same gleaming materials, as the “original.” Yet it was considered inauthentic, a trick, a cheat.

My plunge into the world of fantastically realistic counterfeit purses — known as “superfakes” to vexed fashion houses and I.P. lawyers, or “unclockable reps” to their enthusiastic buyers — began a couple of years earlier, in what I might characterize as a spontaneous fit of lunacy. It was early 2021 when, thrown into sensory overload by grisly pandemic headlines, I found my gaze drifting guiltily to an advertisement in the right margin of a news site, where the model Kaia Gerber arched her arms lovingly around a Celine Triomphe — a plain, itty-bitty rectangular prism that in no universe could possibly be worth, as further research informed me, $2,200.

I shut the tab, horrified. Having grown up a first-generation immigrant whose family’s idea of splurging was a monthly dinner at Pizza Hut, I refused to be the type of person who lusted over luxury handbags. I had always understood that these artifacts were not for me, in the way debutante balls or chartered Gulfstreams were not for me. But, days later and still mired in the quicksand of quarantine, I found myself cracking my laptop and Googling “buy Celine Triomphe cheap.” This led me to a Reddit community of replica enthusiasts, who traded details about “trusted sellers” capable of delivering a Chanel 2.55 or Loewe Puzzle or Hermès Birkin that promised to be indistinguishable from the original, and priced at a mere 5 percent or so of the M.S.R.P.

Which Chanel is real? Click your guess:

Where did these sensational counterfeits come from? Fake goods, as anyone who has ever strolled past the plasticky buffets on the Las Vegas Strip or Manhattan’s Canal Street can tell you, are nothing new or rare. But in the past decade or so, a new breed of knockoff purses has come onto the scene from China — boasting shockingly good quality and slipping through customs gates like sand through a sieve. And, as many an angry resale buyer can attest, they’re able to fool even the most well-trained eye. “It’s a pervasive, tremendous problem,” Bob Barchiesi, president of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, told me. Hunter Thompson, who oversees the authentication process at the luxury consignment site the RealReal, elaborated: “It’s gotten to the point that you can see something in season replicated within that season.”

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Inside the Delirious Rise of ‘Superfake’ Handbags - The New York Times

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