Designer Bags...well Not Quite
Faux designer purse parties are hot, hot, hot.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell
My sister, my best friend and I arrive right on time, at 11am--and we''re always late to things. There''s already a crowd in the room. Most of us women are wearing sunglasses and sitting on our hands to hide our dilating pupils and sweaty palms. Brunch food and wine wait untouched on the dining room table. Once we get the cue to start shopping, we don''t want to be caught with our mouths full of mini-quiches and mimosas.
We''ve got business to attend to. Important business. All of us are eagerly waiting to spend lots of money--cash only--on designer handbags. Counterfeit designer bags, that is.
We''re at a "purse party," buying knockoffs. But these bodacious bags are nearly identical to the real thing--from the styles to the labels (Prada, not Prado) down to the lining and the stitching. These underground gatherings take place all over. They''re big at college campuses and private Malibu mansions. Sure, some women can afford to spend $1,400 on a bag. But why not pay $100 for a really good faux and buy eight other bags, too?
There may be some pesky legal implications--not for us, but the people making the bags. Designers have started to fight back in court, and are working with law enforcement to stop the import of fake designer purses. They say they''re tired of losing millions of dollars in business. I say stop charging thousands for a handbag.
According to Darren Pogoda, an attorney with the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition in Washington, D.C., the makers of the counterfeit bags have been connected to organized crime and terrorism.
But I think that so long as we''re not smoking pot at our purse parties--another underground activity that the feds claim is supporting international terrorism--we can spend away with a clean conscience.
My sister--let''s call her Betty--and my friend--umm, Wilma--and I pretend to chat politely, but really, we''re sizing up the competition. We''re deciding whose hair to pull or whose eyes to gouge out, should push come to shove over a hot little Kate Spade.
Purse parties only sound like an updated version of the Tupperware party. Really, they''re much more dangerous.
Finally the party host makes the call. "I think he''s ready for us," she says, gesturing to a small Vietnamese man named "Andy" in the garage. Her invitation doesn''t quite set off a stampede-- but it''s close.
We head down the stairs and into the garage, and collectively gasp. We''re staring at rows of faux designer handbags: JP Tods, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Gucci, Prada, Coach, Burberry. The bags come in all shapes and sizes: overnighters, large totes, mid-sized shoppers, tiny clutches and even a few wallets. For a moment, the handbag goddess smiles down on all of us.
Andy explains prices--about $40 for a small bag or wallet, $60 for a mid-sized one and $80 or so for a large bag. Louis will cost a bit more. Buy more bags, save more money.
"I want to make you happy, and I''m sure we can work something out," Andy says.
Timidly, one woman gently picks up a black nylon Kate Spade. Betty and Wilma reach for the same cognac-color leather Gucci (luckily for their friendship, Andy has a second one in the van). More rapidly now, women begin to dodge purses and each other while lunging for the Prada hobo or the Louis Vuitton bowling bag. One woman starts stockpiling Burberry over in a corner, inside a child''s wagon. Women grab as many bags as they can hang on their arms, which puts the two moms holding babies at a disadvantage. Chaos ensues.
I zero in on a large, red Tods tote. The leather''s high quality, the logo''s perfect, and the white stitching is immaculate. The real thing would cost me about $1,200. Instead, I pay $80 and even fool my friend who used to work in handbags at Neiman Marcus.
Another purse-partygoer points to the bag I''m holding and asks Andy if he has any others. He doesn''t. I scooped up the only one. I glare at her, and although she''s bigger than me, I''m scrappy. She doesn''t even try to nab it.
I walk away with a new Tods, a wallet and a Louis Vuitton accessories pouch. Betty scores two Guccis. Wilma buys a Tods and a Gucci. To this day, her boyfriend thinks she was "at breakfast" with Betty and me that morning, and he believes her handbags are authentic. In fact, she does own one real Ferragamo. But the others are knockoffs.
We tell ourselves that we''ve spent enough money and it''s time to go home. We''re happy with our bargain purchases. But not even an hour after the party, I make a frantic call to my sis.
"I need more bags," I tell her. "I should have bought an overnighter. And that nylon Prada."
Betty confesses to experiencing similar cravings. "I checked out my Gucci online, and it would have cost me $700," she says.
We each have a business card from Andy. It lists his first name only and a pager number, in a funky font. We''re junkies and he''s our dealer. We make the call. We can''t help ourselves.