Few among us haven't been tempted to buy a designer bag. But, one glance at that luxury price tag — and in some cases, the years-long waiting list — makes buying secondhand an equally tempting option. But, designer handbags are some of the world's most counterfeited items, so you definitely want to make sure you're getting the real deal. After all, your new purse should feel like buttah, not burlap.
To help you separate the faux from the whoa, we spoke with Graham Wetzbarger, The RealReal's senior director of authentication. An expert in the tiniest details of true luxury items, Wetzbarger shared plenty of dead giveaways that tell you whether the bag you want is real — or faker than a $40 bill. First up, one of the world's most coveted bags.
"The Hermès Birkin bag is the Holy Grail for handbag collectors. Thus, it's often counterfeited due to its rarity and exclusivity," says Wetzbarger. To make sure the one you're considering is the real deal, follow Wetzbarger's three-point plan, starting with the iconic turn-lock:
"The logo on the metal nameplate should be perfectly engraved, with a dash between Hermès and Paris. A fake bag will often show an underscore (_) vs. a dash (-).
"On the back of the bag, there should be a blind stamp with a date code and maker's mark. On fakes, these are usually large, obvious, and too heavily embossed.
"And, on an authentic Birkin, the spindle in front should turn smoothly, with even tension. On fakes, they are often grainy and stiff."
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Louis Vuitton Neverfull
"Louis Vuitton Neverfull is one of the most counterfeited items on the market," Wetzbarger says. Fortunately, there's one surefire way to figure out if the one you're considering is a fake — just get out your measuring tape.
"Fake versions can usually be quickly and easily identified by simply looking at the strap width. An authentic strap is only ⅜” but most fakes, made from inferior materials, have to be much wider (⅝” or more) to support the bag."
"The most iconic bag from the House of Chanel is the classic 2.55 double-flap bag, created in February 1955," Wetzbarger says. But, that long history means that "there are variances from era to era not common in other brands."
So, the key to checking these bags out is to go inside: "Any bag newer than 1985 will have a unique serial number sticker inside. You should always confirm that the serial number is there. Next, feel the leather. Counterfeit bags can’t fake the buttery softness of the lambskin lining."
Balenciaga City Bag
"Mixing bold hardware with functional design, the Balenciaga City bag is a fashionista staple," Wetzbarger says. That iconic hardware is also the key to determining a City Bag’s authenticity.
"First, look at the rivets, which attach the handle — they should have two rectangular notches in them. The O-rings on the zipper pulls must be soldered closed. The bales on the shoulder strap should have a smooth curve, defined crimp, and the edges should be filed down smooth. Lastly, look at the zipper mechanism, as Balenciaga uses exclusively Lampo brand (the YKK of high fashion)."
Louis Vuitton Multicolore Speedy
Trying to spot a fake Multicolore Speedy? Start counting:
"Multicolore Speedys are another easy one for the trained eye to spot. The authentic multicolore pattern developed by Takashi Murakami features 33 different colors, whereas fakes often have fewer than 10."
Wetzbarger also points out that "a real bag will never have bright-red LV initials...[and] the diamond shape to the upper right of an ‘LV’ will never be the same color."
The devil is in the details:
For readers coveting other kinds of luxury bags, here are some general tips from Wetzbarger on making sure yours is for real:
"When it comes to luxury goods, the devil is always in the details. Make sure to closely inspect the bag — a once-over glance won’t do the trick. Common on fakes, and rarely (if ever) seen on an authentic bag [are additions such as] hangtags, a plastic sleeve on the handle, and masking tape on the feet."
It pays to do your homework on your seller, too. "If a website or seller doesn’t guarantee authenticity, doesn’t have a customer-service phone number, or doesn’t have a return policy, it’s best to take your business elsewhere," Wetzbarger says. "On eBay, read the reviews and look at the history of the seller. If they’ve never sold designer goods before or have limited sales history, those are red flags."
Wetzbarger's all-important final advice for luxury-lovers:
"They say 'don’t believe everything you read,' and the same goes for handbags. There is a lot of outdated and unreliable information on the Internet regarding authenticity, [but] don’t become a handbag hypochondriac. Don’t be afraid to buy vintage. Real designer goods are beautifully crafted, made from the best materials, and hold their value over time."
In other words, the hunt for the real thing is definitely worth it in the end.
Learn more from Graham Wetzbarger on how to authenticate luxury bags here.