Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Villager photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Shoppers peruse the merchandise on Canal St.

Canal St. shoppers have designs on counterfeit bags

By Mingxia Xu

Crowds of young women streamed into tiny stores along New York’s Canal St. in Chinatown on the hunt.

They all wanted the same thing: copies of trendy and expensive designer bags and other goods by Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton and Coach. Chinese women accosted passersby with black plastic bags full of look-alikes.

“I’m amazed at the price,” said Becki, 22, from Ohio, clutching her finds. “It’s so cheap. I like it.”

She spent less than $100 for what to all appearances were a Coach bag, a Burberry wallet, a Burberry bucket hat and a Kate Spade bag. Retail, they would have been more than $1,000. Welcome to Canal St., the bazaar for the young and fashionable to shop for cheap and affordable fake brand-name designer bags.

They are usually sold at a tiny fraction of the price of the real thing, which cost hundreds of dollars at specialty stores. For example, the original Louis Vuitton multi-color monogram canvas bag sold at $1,150 in a specialty store could be bargained to $30-$40 on Canal St.

“I like this backpack purse. It’s cute,” said Courtney, 31, from Florida. “But I’m not a big purse person. So I’m not gonna pay $1,000 for it” She bought a fake LV backpack purse for $35 on Canal St. The real bag costs $750 in the stores.

Courtney decided she wanted to buy a fake Louis Vuitton earlier this year after her friend came back from New York.

“I was walking on the streets in Florida and I saw somebody wearing this. I thought that was so cute. So here I am and I saw it. I said O.K., I’ll take that,” said Courtney, who was traveling and visiting friends in New York.

For many, the fake bags looked so much like the real thing that it was difficult to tell the difference to untrained eyes.

But more sophisticated customers like Courtney look for signs that what they’re getting is at least close to the real thing.

“You are looking for things to make sure that none of the LVs are cut off. They never cut off the LVs on the real ones. For the real one, the trim color is a lot paler. It’s a lot like the color of butter on a real bag,” said Courtney.

“The materials are different,” acknowledged one handbag seller on Canal St. Police periodically conduct raids on the street, arresting merchants who sell counterfeit goods.

The popularity of fake Louis Vuitton bags in New York even cause some customers like Sherry Zhang to return the real one and buy a counterfeit.

“When I carried a real Louis Vuitton and walked down Canal St. every day from work, everybody would think it was a fake one,” said Zhang who bought a classic brown Louis Vuitton bag for $1,100 last May.

When she saw a knockoff version of the more fashionable multicolor monogram Louis Vuitton bag with white background and colorful flowers on Canal St. later, Zhang returned the real Louis Vuitton and got herself a fake.

“The fake one has pink flowers, while it is red on the real thing,” said Zhang. “I’ve been using it for more than a year and haven’t had any problems with its quality. It’s real leather inside and out.”

Executives with Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade refused to answer questions about the counterfeit Canal St. bags.

“I’m not worried about the quality,” said Sherri Chan, 23, a New Yorker. “I think it’s like a $900 bag in the store that you get it here for $20. So I think it’s fine.”

For people like Chan, fake designer bags have become ideal gifts for friends in other states.

“If you live in New York, everyone has a fake Louis Vuitton. But if you sent it out to L.A. or whatever, I think it’s a good idea,” said Chan, who was shopping for a $20-$40 traditional LV bag as a gift for her friend in Los Angeles. “They don’t have as many fake bags as in L.A.…. Their knockoffs aren’t as good.”

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