By  on September 12, 2007

"Fast fashion is not real enough to warrant paying the price for the real thing," observed James H. Gilmore, author of the upcoming book "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want."

Not that some missing stamp of authenticity is holding down sales of fast-fashion retailers like the $5.4 billion chain Zara or $11.7 billion Hennes & Mauritz. But the swift rise of products considered artificial, or at least adulterated versions of things that have preceded them, has been accelerating demand for things perceived as being more real, Gilmore and co-author Joseph Pine said in recent interviews.

One glaring example of the artificial, counterfeit goods, could make enjoying experiences for a finite time more appealing than purchasing physical goods to own indefinitely — ownership that could be devalued by a flood of fakes, Gilmore said. "Why not charge a subscription to outfit people for a month instead of selling them the goods?" he suggested. "You can't copycat that [personal experience]."

The acid test, according to the author-consultant team, is whether people perceive something as authentic. In the realm of marketing, it's something that delivers what it is seen as promising. Authenticity could be found in something natural or man-made, from avatars created in cyberspace to fantasy sports camps staffed by professional athletes, the authors contended.

In the interview, Gilmore described how five genres of authenticity detailed in the new book are being applied by the fashion crowd. They are:

- Natural: The use of raw, torn or distressed materials.

- Original: Things made by a designer with fashion cred.

- Exceptional: The offer of a custom item or an individually designed experience.

- Referential: Referring explicitly to or borrowing overtly from the past.

- Influential: Affecting change, like using organic cotton in the manufacture of apparel.

To some extent, familiarity breeds authenticity, Pine said. The more time people spend in virtual communities such as Second Life, for example, the more real online avatars and their settings are likely to become. At the same time, Pine maintained, "The past gets a patina of authority because it's no longer accessible — we tend to forget the bad parts and remember the good parts. Things from the past will almost always seem more real than things from today."

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