It's highly likely that, if you're a follower of fashion, you at one point or another had a bucket list of designer bags you'd hope to one day have in your wardrobe. Whether you're a Chanel 2.55 kind of person or more of a Céline trapeze devotee, there are a few luxury staples that have long been (and will continue to be) hot commodities on the market — some even climbing in value over the years, making the investment all the more tempting. The secondhand market has long been a nice entry point for shoppers looking to find their dream bag at a slight discount, or to track down an elusive, limited-release style that's been off shelves for seasons. Specialty sites like The Real Real, Vestiaire Collective, and Tradesy have made it all the easier to get your hands on gently-used luxury goods online. Still, when we find ourselves faced with a seemingly too-good-to-be-true deal, the fear sets in: Is this for real, or is it a knockoff? Over the years, we've all developed our tricks of the trade to avoid getting duped on designer handbags. especially since these purchase require a lot of penny-pinching and research. This week, Racked sat down with Graham Wetzbarger, director of authentication at The Real Real, to get a master class on spotting a fake designer bag. He focused on three particular styles that are historical favourites on the market: a Louis Vuitton monogram bag, a Chanel 2.55, and an Hermès Birkin. A lot of the authentication comes down to a few very minor but crucial manufacturing details that are unique to these fashion houses. There are four key features to pay attention to, according to Wetzbarger: materials, construction, hardware, brand-specific markings. For instance, Louis Vuitton leather goods come with a date code, which indicates when the piece was made; Hermès Birkins have similar craftsmanship markings, although they can be much more discreet. ("It's called a blind stamp because you might go blind looking for it," Wetzbarger says in the accompanying Facebook Live interview.) For Chanel bags, it can come down to those iconic crossed C's: Turns out, the way they're layered on each other is very much intentional — and you should always ensure "the right-facing C should cross over the left-facing C at the top, and under the left-facing C on the bottom," per Racked. Also, if the bag has that registered logo on it on a zipper or elsewhere? It's fake "100% of the time."
In the video, Wetzbarger jokes about the pervasiveness of fakes on the market: "Some designers even say that if you’re not counterfeited, you’re not relevant." However, it's a very real concern for shoppers, as he notes that some estimate that 70% of all Louis Vuitton bags on the market, for instance, are fakes — although, there's no real way to verify, since its an illegal operation. (Recent reports show that it's a trade that unfortunately is only growing.) The more obvious knockoffs will have some sloppy details: glued-on fixtures, uneven prints, misaligned stitching, plastic covering on hardware, and other general red flags that would be unusual for any upscale manufacturing product. If you don't want to get duped by a counterfeit carryall, it's important to be vigilant when shopping for a designer handbag outside of a brand's actual flagship store and understand some of the history behind some of the key features in the bag. Not only are these fun trivia tidbits (which, in some cases, they definitely are), but they're also good facts to keep in mind when inspecting a handbag. For example, the Chanel flap bag is loaded with references to Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's life, from the burgundy lining on the inside, which Wetzbarger says is a reference to the uniform she wore at the orphanage where she grew up, to the chain strap and the crossed C logo, which are said to have been inspired by the bells and the stonework at the nunnery and church at the aforementioned orphanage. Head on over to Racked to get the full, very fascinating scoop on these three styles, and why they're worth the investment (and, frankly, the extra manhandling).