Friday, December 10, 2010

Fake Purses

One thing I would have never dreamed that I would develop an interest in is fake (or for that matter, real) women's purses. Yet, I notice every Louis Vuitton purse that passes by, and I wonder if it's real or a replica. This interest goes back around seven years ago when we were first introduced to the replica merchandise trade in New York Chinatown. Having heard about this interesting sounding phenomenon on Canal Street, we found ourselves on the northeast corner of Canal and Broadway. A large, old building contained numerous small narrow storefronts on both Broadway and Canal, plus an indoor swap meet behind the storefronts. It is there we met Monique from Malaysia, who has been our "dealer" ever since. Back then Monique operated from in front of another merchant's counter inside the swap meet. But her stash, counterfeit Louis Vuitton purses was kept on a set of shelves. Now if that seemed brazen, it was and it wasn't. Because when a lookout gave the word that police were in the area, a metal rolldown door would quickly be pulled down to cover the merchandise. And it wasn't just Monique hiding her stuff. You could hear the metal doors coming down on the exterior shops on the street, all in unison creating a concert of sorts.

A few months after we returned to Los Angeles I happened to read an article about the crackdown on Canal St. counterfeit purses. Purses were no longer being sold out of the stores, but rather by women carrying black plastic bags full of purses, on Canal St. between Broadway and Lafayette. When the police was spotted they would run off and hide on the side streets. A couple of months later we travelled to Canal St. in search of these ladies, but alas none were to be found on Canal or any of the side streets, nor were any replica purses apparently being sold in the stores that had them the year before. But it wasn't that the merchandise wasn't there. Rather an entire new distribution system had popped up. Initial contact would be made by a runner standing on the street whispering words like "Louie" or "LV", or perhaps a discreet inquiry to a shop owner. Soon you would be following a runner a block or two away from Canal St., on your way to what would turn out to be a secret showroom on the second floor of a restaurant. Or the showroom might be on Canal St. or Broadway, but way in the back of the shop behind a door not visible from the street, or up a flight of rickety steps in the storage area of the building. One secret showroom was accessed through a false panel in the swap meet which revealed a ladder to a second floor showroom.

This turned out to be the halcyon days for the merchandising of fake purses. Louis Vuitton sued the landlord that owned the building at Canal and Broadway containing the fake purse shops. That strategy was so successful that the building is now a Bank of America branch. Most of the secret showrooms closed down. But you can still buy fake purses in Chinatown. Chinese men and women loiter, mostly on the corners of Canal and Lafayette, with catalog pictures of different styles of Louis Vuitton purses folded up in their pockets. For a while, Monique staked out a space a half block up on Lafayette, but now she operates out of another storefront in another building on Canal St. She keeps her merchandise offsite a couple blocks away. You pick your bag from a picture in the catalog, then she runs off and brings it back in a black plastic bag. We had one incident with Monique where she sold us a defective purse, then when she said to meet us to make an exchange she never showed up. Mary believed she had been stiffed, but on my next trip to New York by myself I ran into Monique, who explained she had been arrested by the police right before she was going to meet us. She said it was her seventh arrest.

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