NEW YORK — Canal Street’s famous row of counterfeit handbag dealers seems to have gone more contemporary. The onetime go-to for fake Louis Vuitton bags is now more flush than ever with knockoffs of contemporary-priced designs from Michael Michael Kors and Tory Burch. WWD observed the counterfeit styles sold by sidewalk hawkers for about $65. By contrast, their authentic counterparts hover between $150 and $300 each.
This story first appeared in the July 22, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The sidewalk salesmen represent the new shopping structure on Canal Street. Following police crackdowns on fakes, the street’s once-illicit stalls — which, for the last few decades, had served as faux handbag havens to tourists — have transformed themselves into tchotchke dealerships that sell the same “I Love New York” T-shirts and Statue of Liberty figurines as those sold on sidewalks in Times Square. Upon asking one stall’s clerk if he had any “Louis Vuitton” bags in stock, he replied, “No, but you can probably get them on Fifth Avenue.”
To obtain a fake, one must now consult sidewalk salespeople who whisper “handbag, handbag” under their breaths to draw in the street’s slow-walking window shoppers. They do not have bags in tow, but will show a slideshow of merchandise to interested parties on their high-resolution smartphones.
Others escort shoppers a few blocks away to a small side street where they can view paper catalogues that depict copies of designs by Michael Michael Kors and Tory Burch — who just last week, was awarded $41.2 million in a counterfeit case — as well as older designs, some of which have been discontinued, by Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Versace. While viewing the catalogue, WWD was told to do so facing away from the street, “in case of police.”
Once shoppers decide on a style, negotiate a price for the bag — and, most importantly, pay — the salespeople then take them to another location where the merchandise is held.
Despite the laborious process to obtain a bag, the Canal Street area is not lacking in those eager to buy counterfeit luxury goods. WWD observed travelers from Europe, South America and elsewhere in the U.S. willfully participating in the illicit trade.
In 2011, New York City councilwoman Margaret Chin introduced legislation that would allow police to fine purchasers of counterfeit pieces by up to $1,000. There was a hearing for the bill in 2013, but it never came under vote. Chin has said she would like for the bill to be reapproached before the end of the current council’s term, which concludes in 2017.