Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Counterfeiting is estimated to be 7-10% of global business. In 2010, online counterfeit businesses alone generated almost 120 million in profit. France, a center for luxury and fashion, has aggressive anti-counterfeiting laws. Above in Paris, The Musée de la Contrafaçon displays counterfeits that have been confiscated. Below the anti-counterfeiting campaign is aimed at consumers who run the risk of being fined.

While counterfeiting seems like a contemporary concern it actually goes back to Roman culture when emperor Cicero's extravagant citron wood table was copied by regular citizens. The wood, also called Thyine, can be copied by appearance only because the original has a scent that stays with the wood after it is cut.

What's real? Below left the artisan aspect of luxury handmade goods used to be the trait of authenticity. Now in a world of mass production, authenticity is understood as a guarantee provided by the brand and packaging that mark the good.

What's not real? There are 3 general guidelines used on a global level.
1-Unauthorized use of a trademark, partial or complete imitation of a trademark owned by others
2-Product substitution - Unauthorized reproduction of a trademark on a product not manufactured by the brand owning that particular trademark
3-Illegal reproduction, as in digital copies that are sold as original
Any of these products can be bought by both knowing and unknowing consumers and they are not they same as products simply "inspired" by originals, which remain a legal grey area.

Above a fake Chanel briefcase displaying real Chanel goods

Counterfeit goods include not only luxury and fashion but pharmaceuticals, electronics, cosmetics and more, some of which put consumers lives at risk.

The counterfeit problem is the global network of organized crime. Below Louis Vuitton averages 20 raids each day with anti-counterfeit offices in major trade ports.

On the map above and in the images below Guangzhou, known as "factory of the world." The city is a major problem area for both counterfeiting and pollution. Below right the city confiscates motorbikes as contributing to pollution but continues to build factories.

China was at first resistant to counterfeit laws on the communist premise that individuals could not own ideas but over time laws have increased. Below a major Chinese sting on counterfeit cigarettes.

The counterfeit goods are shipped to black markets around the world. Below Canal Street NYC, Santee Alley LA, Istanbul and Marrakech.

Global customs are the major site of confiscation. Many counterfeiters send goods through "cleansing ports," other less suspect cities before arriving in US or Europe. Below counterfeit Burberry. See more at The Guardian.

Online counterfeiting is also policed. Below a website that offered replica Louis Vuitton items was shut down. It posted the court proceedings on its website but along with a link to its new website offering the same replica bags.

Below are the official marks used by the US Homeland Security when it intervenes with an online counterfeit business.

Studies have revealed that despite the global problems, consumers do not mind buying or wearing fakes and fakes may simply lead them to buy the real thing later on. In observing others, consumers consider something real if the person looks like they could afford it. Below the Martin Parr image shows the conspicuous consumption of luxury which emphasizes the display of goods and encourages the desire for luxury brands.

The presentation of luxury goods in fashion media associates them with use and on human forms, rather than the object alone. This aspect of seeing the good in use seems to give consumers a higher overall value to the product. Below an editorial on luxury goods by Inez & Vinoodh for W.

By contrast counterfeit goods are displayed behind closed doors, on the ground or sold from trash bags with no presentation. Below a miss-spelled counterfeit vendor from the Facebook page "Darling I can tell by the rest of your outfit your Louis Vuitton is fake."

A larger question about counterfeits are the values they represent. In the odd ad above the false bag is rejected though fake conversation is accepted. Mark Ritson explained in a study women wearing fake Chloe sunglasses were more likely to lie on a test while those wearing the real thing were more likely to be honest. There is an idea of holistic authenticity, that true self expression is from inner values through honesty in every aspect of life.

Superficial values are promoted by the fashion industry and counterfeit goods with false values are accepted by consumers but authenticity can still be communicated in luxury and fashion through natural simplicity. Above the Before & After photo series for V Magazine by Inez & Vinoodh shows models sans makeup and after styling, communicating the value of raw authenticity. Below the Spring 2010 ad campaign for Missoni featured the actual Missoni family in a gesture of genuine authenticity.

There is also a possibility to make good use of the illegal counterfeits. In some cases safe counterfeits have been donated to those in need. Above and below artist Sarah Kissell re-cycles counterfeit scraps for art work.