Purse Buster! Identifying Fake Designer Handbags

Heather McDonald makes sure you know the bag you buy is real

by Mary Kate Frank
designer bag image
This one's the real deal!: 1.) Stitching—The Louis Vuitton Alma bag has double-reinforced stiching. Fakes usually don't. 2.) Hardware—The Vuitton's hardware is high quality (on the fakes, hardware coating is often uneven). 3.) Handle Tabs—Tabs on the real LV bag are made in one piece; fakes may have a seam down the middle.
Photograph: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Heather McDonald will never forget the day she spied an acquaintance browsing through fake designer bags in New York City’s Chinatown. “She didn’t know what I do for a living,” McDonald recalls. “So she asked, ‘Are you down here shopping, too?’ ”

Far from it. McDonald, an anticounterfeiting attorney, was on the job, accompanying police who were raiding a shop that sold knockoffs.

In her 26-year career, McDonald has represented such luxury brands as Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton—and has also participated in more than 800 roundups, confiscating hundreds of thousands of phony designer handbags, watches and sunglasses.

“My friends say I’m the fashion police,” says McDonald, who in the early ’90s drafted some of the New York State legislation that forced counterfeit products off the streets and into secret locations.

Counterfeiting costs New York City alone roughly $1 billion yearly in tax revenue. The sale of these goods has also been linked to child labor and terrorism funding. Yet, McDonald says, “women tell me, ‘I had no idea buying counterfeits was wrong.’ ”

Angry vendors refer to McDonald simply as “the blonde lady.” During the early years of her crusade, one of them retaliated by slashing her tires; another broke her knuckles with a pipe. McDonald, now a partner at the New York law firm Baker Hostetler, refuses to stay safely ensconced in her office, insisting, “I need to see it with my own eyes.”

Being on the scene also allows her to spread her message to shoppers: “People ask, ‘How are you ever going to solve this problem?’ I say, ‘One woman at a time, if I have to.’ ”

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First published in the September 2012 issue

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Comments

liza darling09.27.2012

I find this whole fake bag thing to be completely stupid.
They say that fake bags are "taking money away from the real designer". I think that's false! Woman that buy fake bags never would be able to afford Hermes or Chanel or Louis Vuitton. These woman simply just want the look for less since they can't afford the real deal.

09.04.2012

Seems to me the real issue is not that there are so many bags out there that claim to be something they're not (let's stop calling them fake bags--they're bags, not garbage cans or bowling balls), but the fact that women are willing to pay so much for something with someone else's name on it. No wonder the counterfeiters do what they do: they're just following the demand. Stop the demand and the supply of counterfeits dries up.
For the record, I do not carry a purse. My laptop roller carries everything I need, including wallet and a full cosmetic bag. On weekends, I admit sometimes I carry a small tote. Without a designer's name on it.

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