Why smart girls love to fake it
The last time I went into Tod’s in London’s Sloane Street, I fell in love with a handbag. It was a subtle shade of green, small and just too cute for words.
I picked it up, hung it off my arm and did a twirl. It made my existing handbag (also designer) just seem cumbersome and old-fashioned.
Immediately, I gave myself a budget beyond which I simply wouldn’t venture: £250 was my limit.
A sales assistant looked me up and down as if to say: “Oh dear, did she get dressed in the dark?”
“How much is this bag?” I asked.
“It’s £385,” she replied.
“Oh,” I said, still gazing at it.
“Are you going to let it go?” she demanded after another minute, as though it was perfectly apparent that a style-free zone like me could never hope to own such a beautiful thing.
It was partly her attitude that made me do it, but also the bag made me do it. “No, I’ll have it,” I said and marched to the till.
Even as I handed over my credit card, I knew it was a daft thing to do. What was I doing spending a small fortune on something I would barely be able to fit my hairbrush into?
A year on, the bag is consigned to the back of the wardrobe. But in many ways, that little handbag was a wise investment that has proved its worth many times over. It was the moment I realised the luxury goods industry is a giant buying conspiracy.
Here is a business that spends billions trying to persuade us that their trinkets can transform our lives, when the simple truth is that they do no such thing.
So I was thrilled to read this week that two-thirds of us are proud to fake it. More than three million Britons bought fake luxury goods last year, an increase of 20 per cent on 2005.
Perhaps more significantly, we’re no longer ashamed to admit they’re not the real deal – a trend which the report describes as “a deeply concerning shift in consumer behaviour” and which the rest of us call “a reason to celebrate”.
Just last week a fashionable friend came back from a market with a T-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Gucci’.
“Is it real?” I gawped.
“Who cares?” she responded. And what’s good enough for her is certainly good enough for me.
It’s as if we have come full circle, with those who pay full whack for a designer item becoming the ones to be sneered at.
You have only to look at those who are happy to spend £1,000 on a handbag or ten times that sum on a watch: the footballers’ wives; oligarchs’ mistresses; the Saudi bling brigade; and City bonus boys.
Far from being trendsetters, this ultra-wealthy lot are seen in stylish circles as the very height of vulgarity: so much money, so little taste.
No, the smart ones are those who can sniff out a bargain: the Primark dress that looks just like that one from the Paris shows; the beautiful pendant that’s paste not diamond; the ‘snakeskin’ wallet that’s never been near a reptile; and the ‘Romford Rolex’ that could fool all but an expert eye.
Listen carefully at any fashionable gathering and you will hear the women competing with one another to reveal how little they paid for their outfit or accessories.
“Love those shoes, darling. Manolo Blahnik?”
“Don’t be silly, sweetie! £20 from eBay!”
“Oh, you are sooooo clever!”
For luxury goods firms, this is obviously a worry. The boom in fakes has hit their bottom line, so they are eager to point out there is a hidden price to pay. By buying on the black market, we could be supporting Algerian gangsters, Chinese Triad gangs and other unsavoury types.
True, no doubt. But if we’re on the subject of organised crime, is it not daylight robbery for designer labels to charge £800 for a pair of shoes that costs a fraction of that to manufacture?
Who’s the real rip-off merchant? The shop that’s charging £100 for a pair of jeans that cost a fiver to make or the dodgy geezer who’ll flog you a near identical pair for £15 from the back of his lorry?
Luxury brands who complain about cheap copies are like those celebrities who moan about all that horrible media intrusion while simultaneously trying to flog their wedding pictures in six-figure magazine deals. They want to generate hype when it suits them, yet cry foul when it doesn’t.
Well, now we consumers have become more savvy. In an age of internet shopping and mass travel, we know we don’t have to wait six months and fork out a month’s pay for the privilege of owning the must-have bag of the season when we can get something similar off the web or a foreign market stall for just £30.
“Outrageous!” say the designers. “Forget the price; think about the quality – there’s simply no comparison.”
Sorry, I’ve seen for myself that a designer label is no guarantee of endurance. My ‘Ralph Lauren’ T-shirt from a market stall in Beijing is going strong after ten years, while my husband bought the real deal four years ago and it’s falling to bits.
Besides, if designer brands really were a byword for craftsmanship and quality, it would be far harder for the fakers to get away with their ripoff versions.
But in an age when even that great British marque Burberry has moved its manufacturing base from Britain to China, it’s no wonder we’re unwilling to fork out for designer goods.
As far as we’re concerned, they are knocked off on a production line in the Far East and have only the final details applied in London to justify the label ‘Made in Britain’.
No, the main reason designer labels charge 20 times more than the fake equivalent is not because they are 20 times better made, it is to pay for all that glossy advertising and those super-chic shops with their oh-so-snooty staff to sneer at mere mortals who dare to venture inside.
Well I say: Enough! For too long, we have been victims of a fashion industry that takes itself far too seriously and has been laughing (behind our backs) all the way to the bank.
Who can really blame us if we take retail revenge and don’t ask too many questions about the provenance of that Chanel handbag or Louis Vuitton wallet we’ve been offered for £25.
Illegal? Most probably.
Immoral? Not in my book.
Though I draw the line at fake sunglasses (you can never be sure they’ll protect your eyes from UV rays), I’m willing to consider anything else.
When my husband asked me to marry him, I knew the engagement ring I wanted: gold with small diamonds around the band. Made by Tiffany, it cost around £2,300.
Did I get it? Did I heck. I had one made in Lewes, East Sussex, with bigger diamonds than the original for a quarter of the price.
No, it didn’t come in one of those pale blue boxes, but I got far more bauble for my bucks.
I am not arguing that designer goods aren’t lovely. I still get a little shiver of excitement about a sprinkle of genuine luxury in my life (expensive face creams are a particular weakness).
But what I – and millions like me – have realised is that as lovely as these luxuries may be, they are not going to change our lives in any significant way, except to make us poorer.
If that makes me a faker, I’m proud of it.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019