Real or Fake? How to Tell if Your Handbag is Authentic

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Shopping for a used handbag online can be tricky. But luckily there are trusted websites like Portero.com where shoppers don’t have to second guess if the vintage Chanel bag of their dreams is authentic or not.

But what if you’re shopping on eBay or at a consignment shop? If you’re not a handbag authenticator like Elizabeth Bernstein, senior director of handbags and accessories at Portero, it’s easy to be duped by counterfeit products.

Recently, I stopped by Portero’s Madison Avenue office in New York City to pick Bernstein’s brain about Portero’s meticulous authentication process, ways to avoid fakes and her love for luxury handbags.

What’s the hardest brand to authenticate?
For most people in general? Louis Vuitton. Because they’re made out of monogrammed canvas, they have small bits of leather and there are very simple details in terms of putting the bag together. The counterfeit market for Louis Vuitton is huge. (Get more tips in Louis Vuitton Handbags: How to Tell if it’s Real or Fake)

Are you ever stumped?
I can tell by touching these things, smelling them and looking at a few details. I do question very frequently. Sometimes I even bring stuff right to Hermès. If I ever have a doubt about something, at least five other experts are going to look at it with me. You have to be extremely careful in this industry. There is so much counterfeit out there.

How can you tell if an Hermès Birkin bag is authentic?
The details— it’s in the hand stitching, the quality of the hardware, the turn of the toggle.

It’s the difference between a Rolls-Royce and an old beat up car. There’s absolutely no comparison. For me with the chevre leather, you can smell it. I may be one of the only people who say that. But it’s goat, it smells like a goat. I know that’s gross, but leather is leather. Hermès smells like an expensive new car. (Get more tips in Hermès Birkin Handbags: How to Tell if it’s Real or Fake)

So you’ve trained your nose over the years?
I can smell a fake bag. If I close my eyes and someone put a real one and a fake one, I would know which one was real. Unless someone came up with a good goat spray.

Are Chanel handbags easy to counterfeit?
It depends on what kind of Chanel it is. The more counterfeit Chanels that I see are tote bags with a big Chanel logo or Chanel written across it. Really not sophisticated Chanel. However, there is a sophisticated counterfeit Chanel market. This is really hard to do. Chanel makes quilted bags. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy to quilt a bag well. You don’t have many of these, but they’re easier to spot. (Get more tips in Chanel Handbags: How to Tell if it’s Real or Fake)

What if a shopper is browsing another handbag website and can only see photos of the handbag instead of seeing it in person?
A lot of the time I will say that I will not do authentication via pictures. I just don’t think it’s the best practice. I think it’s too dicey because of Photoshop. The other thing is, you can buy from a picture that’s a real picture taken of a real bag and then they send you a fake. I don’t recommend people buying bags on the fly from random places.

Any general tips when authenticating a bag?
We always say look at quality first. Every time you look at a luxury bag think, ‘would this have made it through quality control at this luxury brand?’ Generally, you’re going to be able to answer your question. If it’s a lower line like Marc by Marc Jacobs or Michael Kors, keep that in mind, too. If you’re looking at Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, there’s a reason why they charge the prices they charge. Because they are meticulous about quality control.

What about zippers?
Don’t be fooled by zippers and hardware because at this point you do have counterfeiters who are using zippers that a lot of the large brands use, like Lampo and RiRi. They’re using counterfeit ones or the actual ones, but generally they’re counterfeit. So if you look at a bag and say, ‘oh it has a Lampo zipper, it must be a Prada. I got so lucky it’s only $200’—it’s not enough to look at.

What bag are you carrying now?
I change mine so often. My tried and true is my Hermès 20 cm Rigid Kelly with gold hardware. I always have it refurbished and it keeps getting beat up. I wear it with jeans a lot. I go through Fendi Peekaboos and Prada Saffianos. I just got this amazing vintage blue crocodile tote bag. It’s Lambertson Truex, which is a brand that shut down and their designers went over to Tiffany & Co.

Why buy a pre-owned bag?
Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton all hike their prices every single year. It’s not getting any cheaper. If you’re looking for value, it’s always good to buy vintage. You just have to take care of it. It’s like, you take care of your grandparents, take care of your vintage. (laughs)

(laughs) That’s awesome!
Older people are a little more delicate. [Vintage handbags have] older leather, it’s a little more delicate. You want to be nice to it and treat it well.  

For more handbag authentication tips from Elizabeth Bernstein, visit:
Louis Vuitton Handbags: How to Tell if it’s Real or Fake
Chanel Handbags: How to Tell if it’s Real or Fake
Hermès Birkin Handbags: How to Tell if it’s Real or Fake

For more tips, watch authentication videos on Portero.com.

Keep up with the latest vintage clothing news on Twitter @trendyjenny, Facebook at Vintage Clothing at About.com, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram.
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