How to Know If a Discounted Designer Handbag Is Fake
Some designer knockoffs, be they "Goach" totes or fake-leather "Vottega" clutches, are so obvious that you could spot them from a mile away. But others, not so much.
"Every brand has different kinds of determinants that make a bag authentic or not," says Caitlin Donovan, head of sales for handbags and accessories at Christie's. Obviously cheap-looking logos and misspelled brand names are a dead giveaway, but tiny details — like stitching or the placement of hardware — are just as important when trying to separate the real from the fake.
"It’s actually pretty obvious for someone with a trained eye to spot a non-authentic bag," Donovan explains. If you're not a handbag expert or a full-time authenticator, verifying a bag's authenticity can actually be really confusing. "If it’s an Hermès bag, it can be anything from the way that the stamp looks or the year and the color the bag was produced (every bag is date-stamped and every color is very specific)," Donovan says. "A brand like Chanel, it could be the fact that the authenticity sticker doesn’t match the card on the inside." Those are great tells, but sometimes knockoff companies sneakily include counterfeit "authenticity cards" with replica bags.
Professional authenticators also pay attention to the way bags are constructed. "Hermès, which is probably 70 to 80 percent of what we sell here, is one of the most expensive because every bag is made by hand, and they’re constructed by wonderful craftsmen who’ve worked for years in the métier in order to qualify to make these pieces," says Donovan. "Everything is done in such a precise manner that it’s easy to spot when it’s not done to that standard."
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The stitching technique that Hermès craftsmen use is called a saddle stitch. It's a tricky skill to master by hand because two needles go through one hole in opposite directions. "So it’s not perfectly precise when done by hand," Donovan adds. "There’s a little bit of a beautiful, natural irregularity you see because it wasn’t done by a machine." When replica bags are created, they're typically manufactured in bulk on machines, meaning the stitch will look very rigid as opposed to the uniqueness of a handmade, authentic bag.
"I always say that one of the reasons to invest in this department is because you’re really buying one of these wearable works of art," says Donovan. "So just like an artist painting a beautiful painting, you see some inconsistencies because we’re using real alligator skin or it’s all handmade. While seeing an egregious flaw would suggest it was fake because Hermès's attention to detail is so precise and pristine, when you have real skin and real craftsmen working by hand it’s beautiful, special, and not totally unheard of to find a little bit of handmade human error, in a good way."
That's quite a lot to take in, right? The list of features that help authenticators identify replica designer handbags goes on and on. That's why Donovan's best — and most important — piece of advice is to leave it to the pros. "The one thing I tell clients is that you’re not expected to be an expert," she says. "Work with authentication experts so you can buy bags safely from Christie’s auction or really trusted secondary sites. I find that’s the only way to guarantee you’re buying an authentic bag — unless you’re buying it from the source."
Christie's consistently hosts sales that include some of the most rare and coveted handbags produced. Other places to shop gently used designer bags include Gilt, Rue La La, and Rebag. Even retailers like Shopbop and Farfetch have added vintage pieces to their stock.
"The secondary market is a really fun and exciting alternative than buying on the primary market," says Donovan. "Whether you’re buying bags you can’t get on the primary market because they don’t exist anymore or you’re buying bags at a lower price."