In a somewhat ironic case, Chanel is alleging bags sold on The RealReal, an online consignment shop for used luxury products, are actually fake.

Chanel filed a lawsuit in a New York district court last week for trademark infringement, counterfeiting, false advertising and unfair competition, among other things. Its biggest complaint: the start-up is selling counterfeit Chanel bags and is confusing consumers who are led to believe that The RealReal is affiliated with the luxury fashion house.

“TheRealReal is not an authorized retailer of Chanel products and has gone out of its way to create the impression in the marketplace that it has an association with Chanel,” said a spokesperson for Chanel.

Furthermore, the claim says that The RealReal’s staff, which touts on its web site that it uses “authentication experts” to ensure every item is “100 percent the real thing,” isn’t qualified to tell the difference between a real or fake Chanel. Chanel said it found several counterfeit Chanel bags on The RealReal web site. In fact, the company said some serial numbers — which are on all authentic Chanel bags — don’t match up.

“Such training and knowledge regarding authentication of genuine Chanel-branded goods could only reside within Chanel,” the spokesperson said. “When this retailer lets its customers believe its so-called experts can authenticate genuine Chanel-branded goods, it deceives them.”

An example of a “counterfeit” Chanel bag, as seen in court documents, for sale on The RealReal’s web site.  Courtesy

An allegedly counterfeit Chanel bag, as seen in court documents.  Courtesy

But The RealReal rejects the claim that its authentication experts aren’t qualified to do their jobs.

“We know exactly how to tell real from counterfeit, from the quality of the leather to the zipper manufacturer,” the web site says.

Still, Chanel asked The RealReal to stop advertising and selling bags that bear the Chanel logo — including counterfeit ones — and stop using the word “vintage” in connection with Chanel bags that are not at least 50 years old. In addition, Chanel asked the court to order The RealReal to notify customers who have previously bought Chanel bags on the site that their bag might not be real.

The RealReal, however, “unequivocally rejects” the claims, according to a representative for the company, saying the lawsuit “is nothing more than an alarmingly thuggish effort to stop consumers from reselling their authentic used goods, and to prevent customers from buying those goods at discounted prices.”

Court documents, filed by the attorney representing The RealReal, describe the “suggestion that The RealReal is intentionally selling counterfeit goods” as “baseless and wrong.”

In addition, the demand to stop selling Chanel products on The RealReal is “apparently based on the erroneous belief” that products aren’t allowed to be resold in the secondary market. Lawyers for The RealReal cited an earlier case between Tiffany & Co. and eBay, where the courts found that a seller can use another company’s trademark if it’s necessary to describe the products, as long as it does not imply a false affiliation with the original company.

The RealReal’s business model works by allowing anyone to sell their used luxury items, including men’s and women’s clothing, accessories and home goods, online for a fee.

“It’s generally accepted that people are allowed to resell their own goods,” said Marc Reiner, an intellectual property lawyer at Hand Baldachin Associates. “But the products have to communicate that the original company did not make them and the average consumer doesn’t get confused. It gets a little tricky with Internet goods.”

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