Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fancy label or Knock-off?

I recently read the hysterical book Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello and it got me thinking about fancy labels and knock-offs. I admit, my salary doesn't allow for many expensive purchases, but even if it did, I really don't understand the concept of spending thousands of dollars on a single pair of jeans or hundreds on a pair of boxer shorts. And yes, there ARE boxers that expensive. In Tonello's memoir, the boxers in the Hermes store were $295. If you check Hermes' website today, they're $340. No joke. In the book, Tonello recalls his experience buying and re-selling all things Hermes on ebay, starting with scarves and eventually working his way to the mystical Birkin bag.

In my closet I have one real Coach handbag bought significantly reduced at a Coach outlet store and one real Michael Kors bag that was a very generous Christmas gift from a good friend. In addition to those, I own several knock-offs: a Prada, several Chanel, a Dolce & Gabbana and a Louis Vuitton. Buying those bags was actually a lot more fun than buying my Coach despite their "made in China" inside tags. A couple were picked out of a cardboard box down a side street in New York City, others were from the not-so-fabled "back rooms" of Canal Street, also in New York. If you've never bought a knock-off under questionable circumstances, you should try it- it's a lot of fun. There is NO knock-off Birkin back room in existence as far as I know- only the real thing, and I have to wonder why. Because I'll be honest, if I saw one in a cardboard box or in a sketchy backroom, I'd buy one. It would have to be a pretty color, though. In fact, I own a bag that is almost identical in shape and size to a Birkin. If the knock-off wasn't in good shape, and a color and size I liked, I'd pass on it without a second thought. And if money were no object, I'd probably still go for the fake over the real thing simply because I can't fathom the idea of spending thousands (and I'm not talking 3 or 4, more like 30 or 40) on a handbag. I can barely fathom spending $40,000 on a car at this point in my life. Even that seems excessive.

ebay store currently has three Birkins listed at $80,000! What is it about the Birkin that stirs women up into such a frenzy? I've never seen one in person, only pictures- do they have some mystical quality that inexplicably draws women to them, sort of like a handbag pheromone? I admit they are nice-looking bags, even when they're not made of some brightly tinted crocodile skin, and I'm sure the Hermes "waiting list" only adds to their allure. I suppose to some collectors, they are just another form of artwork and I get that, I really do, but if I was going to drop that kind of cash on artwork, I'm not sure it would be something that doesn't hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal. I agree that great fashion designers ARE artists and their designs SHOULD be compared to famous paintings and sculptures. I don't think that Birkin bags are so spectacularly beautiful that the people who purchase them would place them in the same league as the Mona Lisa or the David. I really do believe they are a coveted status symbol and not a whole lot more.

Hermes silk scarves, on the other hand, are very artistic and unlike the Birkin, there are hundreds of designs to choose from, making them very collectible. However, if I ever stumbled across a genuine Hermes scarf at a bargain price, it's unlikely I would buy it. While I can acknowledge the designs are beautiful, they just aren't my style. Something about the symmetry, or maybe it's the actual designs themselves, but they just don't speak to me. Even with my knock-off handbags that are currently tucked away in my closet, there is one thing I can say about all of them- I like how they look. Not a single one was bought purely because of it's label, but rather because I liked the shape, the "leather," the color, the hardware, the way it functioned. One or more of these qualities was what really led me to the purchase. And yes, it's fun to get the admiring looks as I walk down the street with one of them. My point is that as long as the style of the bag suits you, it doesn't matter whether its label is real or not. You should never buy anything simply for the label, but if you find a designer whose work really works for you and your bank account can handle the purchase, then it's up to you whether or not you think the price is worth it. If it is, buy it and make no apologies. After all, it's art, right?

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