How to Spot a Fake Designer Bag

Photo: Ed Cohen

The words discount and luxury tend to be mutually exclusive. Rarely seen in company together, luxury prefers to rub shoulders with a select few protecting her exclusive reputation with a hefty price tag – especially when it comes to designer handbags.

Recently though, crafty con artists have been sneaking behind the velvet rope, copying mannerisms and convincing others of their pedigree, all the while making a few (billion) bucks off someone else’s name. Although most designer brands have their own authentication processes, there are certain criteria that apply when buying serious arm candy. Here’s how not to fall foul of the phonies.

Use the front door

Everyone loves a bargain but, often if the price is too good to be true (€3,500 marked down to €350), that’s generally because it is. The time spent on scouring the internet for deals could be better spent buying from the designer or a reputable department store. In doubt?  Always revert to the company’s official website for a list of official vendors. Also, bear in mind that certain fashion houses like like Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton never discount. So if it’s hot, you’ll most definitely get burned.

Dodgy accents

Hardware like zippers, closures and clasps are a dead giveaway. First off, they should all have the same colour and finish (with the exception of Chloé). More exclusive brands prefer precious metals which are heavier to the touch. If the metal accents look light, flimsy or likely to tarnish – you’ve got a dud on your hands. Likewise, zippers should always open and close seamlessly without bumps or snags. Some labels also use embossed styles or ones that are set up to lock and hold. It’s these nuances that make certain bags styles trickier to copy.

A stitch in time

Shabby stitching is the true hallmark of a huckster. This is not to be confused with hand-stitching, which although not perfectly straight, is frequently used on high-end bags. The difference? Stitches shouldn’t be frayed, misshapen or sloppy. As for seams – these are rarely glued. Would you put glue near exotic leather? Exactly.

Look inside

Counterfeit bags can trick the eye from the outside but open it up and you’ll discover a few tell-tale signs. Cheaply attached lining, crooked inside labels, and bogus authenticity cards give the game away.  Fraudsters have even mimicked date codes, serial tags and hologram stickers so don’t be fooled. Always do your research.


Ah, the fresh smell of glue, rubber, chemicals (delete as appropriate)! Doesn’t have quite the same olfactory audacity as leather, eh? If it claims to be real leather then it should smell and feel accordingly. Rub your hand across the bag – is the texture soft but dry? Good, then you’ve got the real deal. Anything that feels a bit sticky or oily is plastic in disguise. If it looks a bit shiny after a few wears (especially the handles which should start to soften) then congrats, you’ve got yourself a clanger.

The devil is in the d-etail

Bent on a bargain? Always look to legitimate e-tailers like The Outnet, The Real Deal, Yoox, Blue Fly and Gilt; end-of-season sales at respected retailers or consignment stores with a reputation for authentication. Unfamiliar websites offering discounted limited stock merchandise and sham sites bearing names similar to that of a designer are red flags. Conversely, any site selling multiples of exclusive bag styles are most definitely bogus. And don’t be fooled by a ‘Made in Italy’ or ‘Based in London’ reassurance. Rogue traders often set up a shell company to facilitate the distribution and sale of goods made elsewhere – often in China. If the ‘Contact Us’ section only offers an email address or a country code 86 (China), you’ve got your answer.