Even if It's Fake, Don't Fake It
Question: The fab new handbag you're about to buy for Spring 2006 is __________.
Answer: (a) true
Answer Key: Actually, it's up to you. (You knew it was a trick question, right?) If you want the genuine article, that's between you and the all-powerful salesperson in charge of the waiting list. If you make up your mind to buy a knockoff, most likely neither intellectual property laws nor social arguments can stop you. But whether you're going high or low, buying or selling, don't even try to pass the faux version off as the real deal -- faking it is a major Fashion Don't. (And the core of a legal don't as well.)
A couple of years ago, after I dropped a reference to counterfeits into a talk, a fashionable and smart colleague walked up to me and said, "You're so right! It's all about the handbags!" Professor X went on to tell me about the fake Burberry she'd just bought. "But," she added, "it's not about pretending. It's about showing everybody that it's fake, how you can tell, where you bought it, and what you paid for it." The same thing happened when I shared a cab in New York with another professor, and then again at another conference, and so on.
Translated into legalese, Professor X was referring to the fact that claims of trademark or trade dress infringement (see FAQs for details) are decided in large part on the basis of "consumer confusion." The core idea is that if consumers aren't confused about who really manufactured the product, there's no violation. Lies from an online seller are one thing; obvious counterfeits on Canal Street are another. (Of course, it gets a lot more complicated than that, and in court luxury companies produce a lot of evidence to show that replicas do cause confusion and related harms).
Among fab fashion editors and dedicated fashionisti, faking it seems to be equally taboo -- for different reasons. Last year a talented and thoughtful editor at a major magazine explained to me that despite all of the "Splurge or Steal?" and "The Look for Less"-type features, she and her colleagues almost never carry fakes or even inexpensive brand-name versions of the latest "it" bag. She added, "Well, there is one girl who carries a fake Birkin and acts like it's real, but everybody knows and talks about her."
The bottom line: Some adore the real deal, others revel in replicas. But faking it is definitely a Fashion Don't.
P.S. I can't think about FDs without mentioning the worst perennial Fashion Don't. Ever. Wear. Strappy sandals with sheer stockings. We've evolved past webbed toes by now.