The Times of India believes fakes are in fashion? Then it’s ‘time’ they adjust their priorities.

July 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

A recent headline in The Times of India encouraging readers to “Get fashionable on budget with ‘Fake’ fashion!’ touts an article detailing a new trend in Delhi where the alleged ‘ubër chic’ set is shunning authentic labels for fake alternatives. Seems like a perfect opportunity to slam the practice as cultural poison, right? Well sadly The Times took another route and the article that ran is a cavalier display of disregard.

Offering the same old flat rationale for shopping in the sham aisle – affordability – with a lighthearted tone, the article’s practically a piece of service journalism for those who covet artistry of actual labels but are unwilling to buy them. What gives Times of India? Certainly trend journalism should be exciting and revelatory, but to encourage an epidemic with so many unseen victims? To detail how to get those designer looks without the designer prices? Come on! We’re all for smart shopping, but that’s just appalling. The paper has forgotten its purpose: to give a dimensional and balanced portrait of significant cultural moments.

This particular piece is as lopsided as a one-eared bunny.

Disturbingly, the article’s tone has a certain giddiness to it, like a child who found a way out of doing chores. This tone couldn’t be father from the reality of the knockoff bane. It’s about children, certainly, but children forced into unspeakable conditions to produce the fraud frock of the moment. And speaking of “of-the-moment,” maybe it’s true for the purchaser, but where the lowest person on the production chain is considered, and we’re talking children who are disturbingly young and other unfortunates, the fake trade is about stolen moments, about lives destroyed.

Anyone who could get excited about this kind of foolish opportunity couldn’t possibly be aware of the human cost. It’s not as easy as reduced prices and fashionable looks. It’s not as easy as a cheap chance to shine in the hottest trends. It is about corruption and stolen lives. It is about terrorist financing and child labor.

The Times offers the perspective of a designer who work is oft ripped-off:

Designer Suneet Varma, a purported copy of whose work we found, says, “I feel that once the design is out there, it’s for the world to see. If the outfit is influenced – if it has a similar print, silhouette, length or cut – and that takes off as a trend, then it’s okay. But if we spot something completely similar, then I consider it as plagiarism and I have lawyers who take care of it.”

But frankly, this isn’t even close to the in-depth consideration the issue requires. It’s a gloss over, lukewarm legal consideration. There’s no talk of the true criminal enterprise at work. There needs to be more.

Every time you consider buying a knockoff to save a little money, think about the cost to others. Wearing a copycat item is just like unbalanced journalism: they’re both lazy and harmful.

Get fashionable with counterfeit fashion? Please. How does that make a shred of sense? Let’s cut through the headline’s enthusiasm and get to the heart of the piece: it’s nothing more than a call to get fake.

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Fake trading on an iconic Swiss emblem

July 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

When even a broken watch is right twice a day, at Fakes are Never in Fashion, we’ll take those two authentic minutes over 1,440 fake ticks each and every.

The Swiss emblem of a white cross over a red background has been a symbol of neutrality longer than it’s been associated with timepieces and utility knives, but when counterfeiters threaten the sanctity of the craftsmanship it represents, all things neutral be damned: nobody puts the Swiss in a corner.

At first glance, the concept of a ‘country brand’ can be slightly strange, but in the modern marketplace it’s nearly impossible to purchase an item without learning its origin through some external mark. You can understand the rationale behind branding a country: the little ‘made in’ mark is as simple as it is effective when it comes to advertising. Producers, having seen evidence of a certain country’s production capabilities, will be inclined to bring their businesses to the region and, in doing so, generate tax dollars.

Because we have associations with most images, which can provoke or be calming, encourage or dissuade, they are key components in any marketing campaign. In the case of the Swiss emblem, which is historically reassuring for those who love cocoa products and luxury goods, the counterfeiters prey on this. The irony of the whole affair is that their efforts to trade on the Swiss name/logo actually stand to harm its reputation and degrade the brand.

An Emma Thomasson article recently run in Reuters elaborates on the Swiss predicament. According to the piece, exports of Swiss watches have dropped 25 percent with “2.5 million fewer watches sold” while $1 billion worth of fake Swiss timepieces are sold every year. These painful numbers considered, the Swiss have decided to make a down economy move to protect their brand, insulating it by buffering the rules which govern the use of the “Swiss-made” label and the Swiss cross logo. To carry the country’s brand, a current proposal would require industrial goods to have at least 60 percent of production costs be Swiss. This means that 60 percent of all money spent to make any industrial item must be spent in Switzerland. Watchmakers have moved from 50 percent up to 80. It would seem that the watch is being wound tighter and that’s not a bad thing.

A quote in the Thomasson article from Sven Reinecke, a marketing professor at St. Gallen University, sums the situation up nicely: “It is difficult to defend the brand all over the world. You do not have a brand manager for Swissness so everybody can use it. But for a premium brand you need to show it is quality so it is necessary to define it.”

It remains to be seen whether the plan will reinforce the perceived quality of the brand and protect it from those who falsely claim the Swiss emblem as their own. There are certain risks you run. As measures are taken to reinforce a brand, making it more exclusive, if they are successful it becomes even more desirable to the sham artists. This might suggest it’s a zero sum game: as the brand is reinforced, its worth increased, the counterfeiters will try harder to exploit it. By doing so, they erode the newly earned worth and we’re back at square one. it would seem. But this is not the case. The more a brand does to protect itself, no matter the efforts of the counterfeiters, consumers and producers are better for it. So we think Swiss policy is right on the mark here. They’re not only fighting counterfeiters, they’re making their own brand more authentic. Unquestionable positive developments for everyone but the barons of all things ersatz.

And while it will be a difficult transition, these new proposals are the first part of what will be a larger, fruitful conversation. Improved authenticity and actively battling the counterfeiters? Well, that’s a clear win-win on our watch.

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US Court Rules in Tiffany vs eBay

July 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

In contrast to the recent July 2008 French high court ruling against online marketplace eBay for the sale of counterfeit LVMH goods on its website, a US federal court has ruled in eBay’s favor in a suit brought on by luxury jeweler Tiffany.

On July 14, 2008, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in New York found Tiffany responsible for policing its trademark on eBay.

“This ruling allows sellers of counterfeit goods on eBay to victimize consumers,” said Mark Aaron, a Tiffany vice president.

The lawsuit began in 2004 when Tiffany claimed that over 75 percent of Tiffany jewelry sold on eBay was counterfeit.

Nichola Sharp, an eBay spokeswoman countered, “The court ruling reaffirms we have been doing enough to keep counterfeits off the site.”

The new Wild West for forgers: Russian avant-garde art

July 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

The flood of fake paintings into the Russian avant-garde art market has been so overwhelming that some experts believe forgers have filled the marketplace with more sham canvases than authentic works. Often lacking a central authority to verify originals, the current conditions in that segment of the art world make Camus’ epigram about art being the product of a guilty conscience seem all the more appropriate. There was something else in his statement about ‘a guilty conscience need[ing] to confess’ as well, but anyone who expects a willing forger to emerge from the ethical wasteland of counterfeiting will be stuck sitting around waiting for the paint to dry.

When a piece of sham art is made with a level of craftsmanship so fine that it confuses those who have dedicated their lives to the genre, it is an impressive event. But in the grand scheme of things, the sweat and talent required to produce these faux pieces is wasted. In the end, it’s about as valuable as the spent paint tubes cluttering the corners of ateliers – they are symbols of what might have been, of wasted potential.

It’s really a sham shame.

A lengthy and exhaustively reported investigative piece in ARTnews provides a fantastic inventory of the current market for Russian avant-garde art – work produced during the late 19th century until the early 20th. And the findings are not encouraging.

“There are more fakes than genuine pictures,” said Alla Rosenfeld, curator of the Norton Dodge Collection of Soviet Noncomformist Art at Rutgers.

It’s a rare environment where, in certain cases, fakes can overtake their authentic progenitors. The combination of the forger’s impressive ability, the absence of most if any of the artists from the period to verify their own work, the sparseness of official documentation, and the universal suspicion of dealers and authorities for one another, makes it a target rich environment for the sham artists.

The authentication societies, even those centralized around certain artists, such as the Kandinsky Society based in Paris, are not without their own set of complaints from some who feel that their “assumption of absolute expertise” is unwarranted and they often exclude legitimate paintings from the canon as well. According to the article, in the case of a painting submitted for review by the Kandinsky Society, Jean Chauvelin, a Paris-based art dealer said that “if you don’t have a photograph of the painting in Kandinsky’s hands, it’s the end.”

This problem is an unfortunate byproduct of counterfeiting: the fakes cannibalize the very legitimacy they crave. By making it impossible for authentic paintings to receive accreditation, the very market they hope to take advantage of shrinks. It’s a bizarre set of circumstances at best, but it reaffirms one thing: the absolutely corrosive nature of fake goods.

Still, we’re more aware than before. We have more material to bring to the discussion. The frustration experienced by those interviewed for the article suggests that something is on the verge of happening to avoid falling into the counterfeit trap. Let’s hope these talks happen sooner than later.

A final quote from Camus: “Abstract art is a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.” We disagree with the first two entirely, for we don’t base the rule on exceptions, but more significantly, though the third can be true in certain cases, as often as it might be right, the good news is that it’s always avoidable.

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Fake anti-malarial medicine plucked from distribution in Ghana

July 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

The efforts of a lone citizen who identified a sham anti-malarial drug distributed in Ghana have resulted in a country-wide seizure of the bogus pills and will likely save thousands of lives. The drug sold as Novartis Coartem was revealed to be fake through testing at sites developed and maintained by the USAID-supported Drug Quality and Information program where it was shown to contain none of the active ingredient necessary to treat malaria. Since the drugs were identified as frauds, the Ghana Foods and Drug Board has begun to warn those potentially using the impostor medicine and initiated a sweeping seizure of the life-threatening pills from retailers and wholesalers.

This is a compelling example of how an alert individual working with an agency can affect great change. It’s a call for further support: we need to champion these intersections of education and reliable infrastructure so they can continue to combat the presence of life threatening mock medicine and other counterfeit goods. We are inspired by all those involved in this life-saving confiscation and by the individuals and organizations who fight to deter the purveyors of fakes.

Read the full story.

It seems the counterfeiters will have a little cheese with their wine, but only to steal the labels off both authentic products

July 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

At some point you’ve likely come across the phrase ‘in vino veritas’ or maybe there was a time when you even spoke a little too much of the fermented ‘truth’ yourself. So what happens to this timeless phrase when the wine you’re dealing with is counterfeit?

It’s a given that counterfeits are utterly lacking any shred of truth, so when the original saying suggests ‘in wine, there is truth,’ an updated take on this adage might read, ‘in phony wine, there are only lies.’ It seems logical to us.

A recent piece in the Financial Times featured an enterprising vinter, who after finding a counterfeit version of his wine listed for sale at an auction, not only made sure the swill was taken off the market, but decided to use his resources in the industry to track down the owners of the ‘swinery’ that was making the knock-off spirits.

While the paper trail led Laurent Ponsot to a series of dead ends and dial tones, his resolve to find the culprits remains ever…ahem…full-bodied. It’s certainly not been easy for Ponsot and the article indicates that he hopes to turn his findings into the appropriate authorities, a development that is currently delayed by the need for additional money to fund his research. But where others might be disheartened and sense futility having set foot in the shadow world where these scam-artists and swindlers operate, there are two valuable lessons that the Times’ Jancis Robinson expertly took from her reporting:

i. There is a need to establish a central location to check the authenticity of secondary market wines, or even primary market wines that may require verification. This would require industry-wide effort and collaboration, as well as consumer education and vigilance.

ii. Those who buy wine at auctions, or in general, are responsible for their own ‘due diligence.’ This involves education and greater awareness of the counterfeit epidemic; both are developments that should frighten the scam artists.

Progress in constantly being made in security technology and one such company making waves in the authentication field is Prooftag, mentioned in the Times article as the company where Ponsot’s daughter works. And while all the related developments are encouraging, it was the story of Ponsot’s effort that inspired us most, as it showed how he grew from a vintner who was mildly amused by the counterfeiters to a full blown crusader against fakes. His is a familiar tale shared by many who come to counterfeiting, having previously felt it was a victimless crime. Motivated individuals make progress, but get a bunch of these motivated fighters together and they’ll make a change. Ponsot’s story is a rallying cry.

So remember, ‘in vino, veritas’ might be more likely to apply to those who drink it by the bottle than by the glass, but when it comes to sham wine, no matter how expertly or convincingly packaged the product is, the sludge behind the glass, even at its finest moment, is never more than a puddle of sour grapes.

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Beware the overzealous discounter

July 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

At some point in the Aeneid, Virgil reminds readers of the infamous horse that hamstrung Troy by cautioning us to ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts.’ Here at Fakes are Never in Fashion, ours might not be epic poetry, but we are fighting for what we believe is an epic cause and have a little advice for savvy shoppers that rings of the poet: ‘beware of websites bearing markdowns.’ Better still: ‘beware of sites bearing suspiciously generous markdowns with cuts north of 60% on luxury items.’ And while this might be a bit more literal than he would’ve written himself, we think Virgil would agree with the sentiment. After all, he saw exactly what happened to those careless Trojan shoppers.

Watch out for websites with enormous price cuts on luxury items. As a quick reference point, be concerned if you see a markdown on luxury products that would only be reasonable under a liquidation banner. Chances are, it’s a rip off.

When you consider the economy, it’s tough to get an idea of what a ‘reasonable sale’ might be. With the fashion industry getting hit by all the current struggle has to offer, the ordeals are felt on both sides of the sale, including abridged collections, price cuts and reduced spending power. We think it’s fair to say the landscape has changed. Diminished prices are the new status quo. And no one’s at fault here, it’s just the current reality.

Well, that’s not true. The counterfeiters are always at fault.

Still, whenever you come across an 80% discount sign, alarm bells ought to ring.

A fine article in The Daily News described a recent example involving a suspect website peddling Jimmy Choos and Louboutins at discounts of 64% and 80%, respectively. The shoes the customers eventually received in the mail were poorly sewn and smelled of toxic preservatives. They were clearly fakes.

We applaud The Daily News for considering the deeper, more dangerous implications of buying fake goods, including the human rights violations, job loss, and stolen tax revenue.

Harper’s Bazaar SVP and Publisher, Valerie Salembier was quoted in the piece:

“People assume it’s a victimless crime, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If the end user knew that their $50 knock-off handbag funds terrifying practices by organized criminals, they would think again about that supposed bargain. In France, customers risk imprisonment or heavy fines for purchasing or carrying fake goods.”

Our sentiments exactly.

We are inspired by Jane Ridley’s fine reporting and encourage The Daily News to keep up the solid work.

It seems that fakes have a lot in common with the Trojan Horse: they’re absolutely hollow and hide just as many destructive secrets.

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