For decades, tourists have flocked to counterfeit hubs like New York City’s Canal Street to cop knockoff handbags from men and women discreetly whispering designer names like “GUCCI” and “LOUIS” to passersby, leading them into clandestine back rooms or even (in my experience, long ago) a car trunk in a nearby parking lot filled with plastic-wrapped purses. And despite countless raids, airport interceptions, lawsuits by luxury brands, and entire coalitions dedicated to curbing the production and stateside distribution of these illegal counterfeit products, like the International Anti-Counterfeit Coalition (IACC), the market is thriving and even advancing.
Fakes are getting more realistic. While distinguishing a fake from a real handbag used to be a relatively straightforward and easily Google-able process, there’s been an explosion of what some are calling “super fakes,” “Triple-A fakes” or “line-for-lines” over the past five or so years.To the untrained eye, they look like the real thing. You might even have one yourself and not know it. Our own Alyssa was once told by The RealReal that her Balenciaga bag — which she purchased at a prominent luxury retail chain and had no reason to doubt the authenticity of — was fake.
As the designer resale market has exploded online with the proliferation of websites like The RealReal and Rebag, these fake bags are being given second lives, and their trained authenticators are learning firsthand how good fakes can be nowadays — and they have to overhaul their authentication processes as a result.
“Authentication is a little bit like viruses in the software industry in the sense that those who create the viruses tend to go faster than technology,” explains Rebag CEO and Founder Charles Gorra. “Our whole mission, to provide certainty on goods, is always to try and supersede the trends, and that’s a tough thing to do.” He says that’s because fakes have become more sophisticated, with some looking and feeling so close to the real thing that it’s “borderline impossible to figure out. “When it comes to determining the provenance and proliferation of “super fakes,” there are different and conflicting stories. Multiple experts recently told Vogue UK that these higher-quality fakes are made in the same factories as the authentic bags, which I’ve heard as well: It’s a phenomenon that becomes increasingly plausible as more luxury brands move their production to China and India. “Sometimes the factory will produce 10,000 of a product and then make 2,000 on the run and sell them off cheaply,” Cassandra Hill, a lawyer at Mishcon de Reya specializing in intellectual-property litigation, told the magazine.
Counterfeiters are also getting faster: “There’s fast fashion for counterfeit items,” says Gorra. “The time between a new bag and the equivalent fake bag entering the market is, even in the three years we’ve been in business, it’s been incredibly shortened.” Gorra says counterfeiters are sometimes even producing in-season knockoffs, perhaps proving the old pro-“see-now, buy-now” argument that showing items six months in advance helps counterfeiters. And not only are knockoff bags getting better, but so are categories like jewelry, streetwear, and sneakers.
As for where consumers are getting their hands on these items, it’s online. According to the International Trademark Association, $460 billion worth of counterfeit goods were bought and sold last year, with most of the sales happening online. “The online part is growing exponentially,” says IACC President Bob Barchiesi. Big, undiscerning online marketplaces like Ebay, Jet and China-based Alibaba have become infamous resources for these inauthentic products. “Folks will be shopping on marketplaces and think they’re buying a secondhand, expensive handbag, and it’s a fake,” explains Barchiesi. “There are so many different distribution channels now online that are readily available for consumers, one, if they’re looking to buy fakes, and, two, if they think they’re getting a bargain and instead they’re getting a fake.” There are also standalone websites designed to look like authentic retailers to deceive shoppers that even use photos of genuine products, says Barchiesi, only to ship fake ones. While some shoppers might be thinking, they’re buying the real thing at a discount, others are looking for high-quality fakes, buying them directly from “reps” found in the depths of Reddit or through dedicated Instagram accounts. And when those shoppers are done with those bags, whether they believe them to be real or not, they might try selling them on a site like Rebag or The RealReal.
According to The RealReal Chief Authenticator Graham Wetzbarger, shoppers should not trust claims that bags were “made in the same factory” as the real thing. “You will hear stories that this bag came from the same town where HERMÈS makes Birkins and is exactly the same leather, just a different workshop. They’ll tell you the best bags are made in Turkey and that this bag was made at night after the factory closed for the day and was sold out the back door. These better-quality fakes are often wholesaled as ‘overruns’ from ‘authorized retailers’ who, of course, do not exist.
That’s not to say luxury counterfeit bags aren’t made with more exceptional care and effort than earlier generations of fakes, and there’s a reason for that. “One can sell a counterfeit for a lot more money if the buyer thinks it is a genuine piece at a slight discount,” he continues. “These guys are investing more into making the bag only so they can increase their margin by selling the pieces to folks who don’t know better. The con is no longer, ‘how cheap can I make a knockoff?’ but, rather, ‘how much do I have to spend to get someone to pay top dollar?’”
The RealReal, whose focus on authenticity is right there in the name, came under fire recently for listing items that were, reportedly, not authentic. After the famous Instagram account Diet Prada called it out for listing a “PRADA” dress with lots of evidence pointing to it actually being Tibi, people flooded the comments section with other accounts of The RealReal making what they believed to be authentication missteps. In earlier generations of fakes, one could simply look at the color of a leather handle, the type of metal used for the hardware or the lining, and know instantly that it was counterfeit. Now that you can find knockoffs made with identical materials, as the real thing, that process has to be much more complicated and nuanced. “It has made authentication harder because the inconsistencies are now less obvious. The hardware bares branded marking, there are serial numbers which are often correct, and they regularly come with seemingly accurate literature, tags, and packaging,” says Wetzbarger. “We have to dial in on the tiny details these people overlook or still can’t emulate due to resources and technique. Little things such as the casting of a zipper pull, the shape, and size of a screw head, or how a pocket is stitched and finished can be the clue we need to differentiate the product as counterfeit.”
Rebag has specific frameworks for individual brands, meaning there are elements it looks for that are only found in HERMÈS products; same with CHANEL. And still, the company admits there is a grey area. It’s not only possible to mistake a fake bag for a real one, but now that authenticators have to be so vigilant, it’s also very likely to slip an authentic bag for a fake one. There is always a discussion, says Gorra, about imperfections: “Are these manufacturing defects, or are these proof this could be a counterfeit?” When bags are handmade, for instance, it’s not unusual for there to be subtle variations. Determining whether there is enough reason to doubt an item’s authenticity often comes down to a judgment call. Of course, that’s a judgment call made by a trained expert.
Chances are that you’ve seen an exclusive EV BRAVADO garment on the back of Migos, ‘King’ Combs, J Balvin or even the late Lil Peep — but how many people actually know Ev Bravado himself? Though he’d always maintained an interest in clothing, his DIY creations began in earnest with a series of homemade screen-printed shirts. Bravado moved gradually towards cut-and-sew with Lease on Life Society in 2012, eventually debuting his first collection, BRVDO1, in early 2014. Two years later, Bravado revamped the label, opting for an eponymous brand name while retaining the handmade, do-it-yourself spirit that informed his earlier releases.
Bravado’s style is indicative of the people he respects, simultaneously blending contemporary design and cultured taste into his daily looks. For instance, a friend from Grailed lent Bravado the covetable Dries Van Noten jacket he’s wearing over one of his favorite thrifted tees. “I’m trying to get my hands on the most heat,” Bravado admits, smiling. “I made the pants, they’re from the ‘Rumors of War’ drop,” he notes, pointing down at his personal pair of leather Noir Bondage Slacks. “I’ve been sampling them with some friends, like [Bloody] Osiris for a while, they’ve been wearing them around town. I got a lot of good feedback about them,” he adds.
When his friends aren’t helping him perfect his craft, Bravado supports them by wearing their own creations. Pointing at the bespoke, pentagram-laced Vans, Bravado explains, “My homie Sean Clay made the shoes. All the homies doing wonderful things. I’m mostly just wearing my own things, my friends’ things.” Even the glasses and chains have a personal touch: “My chains came from my fiancée, but the glasses are my brother-in-law’s — I was like, yo, lemme rock those.”
Keep an eye on EV BRAVADO’s social media to know when the designer’s extremely limited edition clothing hits the brand’s website.
Kate Huling, the leather designer behind Marlow Goods, repeats the phrase back at me over the phone, questioning it. Turning it over. And then she laughs — really laughs. The whole concept is just so ridiculous. The words status and fanny pack do not belong in the same sentence.
We can mark the fanny’s transition into a legitimately fashionable accessory to around the same time we decided to start calling them belt bags. Or shoulder bags, which is where we’ve actually started wearing them. Or bum packs, which is what British people have used all along. Basically anything besides fanny. And once the fanny was no longer the fanny, a whole new world opened up. The bag, always about convenience above all, became cool. Or at least it shed its image as being wrapped around some ’80s-era Jazzercise-er with ankle weights and parachute pants.
That’s in no small part thanks to Huling herself, who designed her own fanny — she called it the Lexington Bum Pack — with leather left over from the cows that supply Marlow and Sons, Diner, Romans, and the other Brooklyn restaurants owned by Andrew Tarlowe, her husband. Huling herself wore it cross-body when she released the bag in 2014, popularizing the fanny’s whole new look. That bum pack made its way to Greta Gerwig. It was also picked up and sold at Madewell. “They always sold out,” Huling remembers. She closed down Marlow Goods in March to focus on other projects, but “every single time I see a lady who bought one, they still have it on.”
At around the same time, in the same city, but in an entirely alternate universe, hypebeasts were picking up on the perfect way a bum pack allows its wearer to conveniently carry all of their goods, while displaying brand allegiances right across the chest. Places + Faces, a photography duo turned merch-and-fashion label, was one of the first to incorporate them into the world of streetwear in 2016. A year later, Virgil Abloh wore a cross-body Prada fanny pack over a tuxedo to receive his GQ Australia Man of the Year award. Supreme’s picked up steam, too, culminating in a fanny pack on the Louis Vuitton runway. Gucci brought them back in a big way. And eventually, devoted lifelong fanny wearer Judnick Mayard wrote an article for Ssense calling Off-White’s take “a $760 baguette of clout,” with clout essentially translating to status.
The fanny’s clout changes according to the group wearing it. Whereas the status clog is likely the same for all clog-wearers, the status fanny, and the clout it emits, shifts between Grailed-obsessed hypebeasts, Brooklyn moms, runners, and anyone else who might strap one on. So below, we’ve organized the status fannys by tribe.
The Brooklyn Mom
Agnes Baddoo Belt Sac
Now that the iconic Lexington Bum Pack is sold out, only to live on forever as highly covetable dead stock, where is a Brooklyn mom into sustainable leather to get her bag? Huling points us to Agnes Baddoo, who’s making similarly structured fanny’s out in L.A. “She sells a lot at the Echo Park Craft Fair,” Huling says.
The “It” Bag Collector
GG Marmont Matelassé Leather Belt Bag
For the woman who had the Proenza PS1, the CELINE Luggage tote, and the BALENCIAGA City bag, there is the GUCCI Marmont fanny. The “It” bag of the fanny renaissance — the one you’ll find in street-style photos outside of fashion weeks around the world. “Where I came from in leather goods, it was all about function, not making a statement or communication about how much is in my bank account,” Huling says. “But if I were to just lose my mind and be a completely different person, I love all the GUCCI ones.”
The Athleisure Fanny
Huling calls Pilgrim Surf’s Sacoche (descriptor courtesy of the retailer) really “techno and sporty,” and if she were to buy a new bag right now, it would be this one because it’s both lo-fi and functional. It’s almost the athleisure version of the Lexington Bum Pack.
The Guy Who Needs to Be First
P+F Waist Bag
Back in 2016, Places + Faces, the photo project turned clothing brand, zine maker, and party thrower, released a waist bag with their logo and were the first to reintroduce fanny’s into the world of hype and hip-hop. Wearing this bag projects an in-depth insider knowledge far beyond the clout of an Off-White grosgrain belt. The bags aren’t for sale right now, but they can be purchased on resale websites like Grailed.
The Clout Chaser
Off-White Black Tape Hip Belt Pouch
It might not project a secret insider knowledge, but no status fanny list is complete without the Official Clout Pouch, Virgil Abloh’s Hip Belt Pouch. If you want people to know you’re serious about your fanny, this is the one to buy, which is why Judnick Mayard, writer, event producer, and wearer of fannys since 2013, wrote an ode to it on Ssense extolling its virtues.
Over the past five years Mayard has experimented with most of the fanny’s out there, and stands behind American Apparel’s. “They’re the best. The lightest. They carry the most. They make the most sense. They’re small, but this is as much space as a fanny pack is supposed to have,” she says. “It’s not even a competition.” The new American Apparel is only selling them in vinyl right now, which is trendy in its own way, but the classic nylon version is available secondhand and will likely come back in stock as the company continues to update its accessories offerings.
The Early Aughts Throwback
Vintage North Face Lumbar Fanny Pack
“Also, North Face made a fanny that was the shit in 2012,” Mayard remembers. It was a cross-shoulder utility bag that was meant for hiking and outdoor activities, but “all the kids in New York wore it to school because you could fold a notebook and put it inside. It was a much less invasive book-bag.”
Nike Benassi JDI Fanny Pack
Recognizing the power of the fanny this summer, Nike released a slide with an attached fanny pack.
As Coach designer Stuart Vevers continues to court millennials’ affection, the brand is also branching out into street art. Some of the most well-known street artists in New York have turned Coach’s signature “C” print into murals. The project, which spans New York’s five boroughs, includes work by Bisco Smith, Crash, DAIN, TriHumph, and WhIsBe. The interlocking Cs are turned into subversive touches on murals — like sanctioned Dapper Dan pieces.
This isn’t the first time fashion has merged with street art. GucciGhost graffitied the brand’s flagship store in New York in 2016 and just last month Sonia Rykiel turned the facade of their store into a collaborative mural that looked like a bookshelf, where passersby could add their favorite titles, or just draw over it. Coach’s rainbow of Cs is reminiscent of your favorite bags from 2005 — just reimagined for the Instagram age. See some of the murals below, along with a map of where to find each piece, in case you want to pose for the ‘gram.
The aesthetic of interior designer Ryan Korban—whose work spans some of the finest retail spaces in New York including the flagships for Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, and Altuzarra—is sexy, bold and clean. Just don’t call it glamorous. “I cringe when people call my style ‘glamorous.’ That’s sort of haunted me my whole career,” he says over the phone. “I mean, I get why people say it but for the last few years I’ve really tried to find a better word. I suppose the best way I’d describe my work is fresh. No matter what material I’m using, whether it’s traditional or modern, I think you do feel that freshness.”
Korban has consistently strived to illustrate this sense of innovation through his modern take on traditional design and interiors, something he calls “luxury redefined,” that aptly became the title for his 2014 coffee table book.
Reinvention is key to his work, a thesis he hopes to emphasize at the upcoming Collective Design fair, which takes place March 9 to 11th in New York as part of Armory Arts Week. One off custom furnishings will inhabit the space, such as statuary marble sofas, mixed terrazzo flooring, suede-paneled walls and a heavy limestone coffee table—all custom designed by Korban. The most unexpected addition to his distinctive portfolio, however, is the new luxury condominium at 40 Bleecker Street that will mark his first full condo building. “It’s the first time a luxury condominium is branded as Ryan Korban. It’s the first time you can buy a Ryan Korban penthouse!” he says excitedly.
As the New School alumnus continues to transform the landscape of modern interiors, he talks about how he has left an indelible mark on the luxury fashion experience.
JEENA SHARMA: Tell me about your work with Balenciaga.
RYAN KORBAN: My first project with the brand was the store on Mercer Street. Simultaneously, they asked me to help create new concept for the men’s ready-to-wear store across the street. So we started working on both of those spaces. That was also the first time that the Balenciaga retail experience had a new look in North America. What inspires me is quite traditional but my work is really modern. But with Balenciaga, it was really more about looking into the past than create something that’s super modern and contemporary.
SHARMA: How do you translate a brand’s vision into a concept for a retail space?
KORBAN: This is one of my favorite working relationships. I love working with designers! I love being able to take a designer’s world and figure out how I can create an environment for it. For most people, the designer is the client. But I’ve found more satisfaction and success in seeing the product as the client. So if you’re a ready-to-wear company, it’s the collection that matters and if you’re an accessories company, it’s the footwear. I’ve always taken that approach when working with a designer. Fashion designers have such a distinct point of view, you can get lost in that.
If you focus on the product or the collection and if you’re able to extract from that, that really works. The other approach is to look at the designer’s work and what the common spread is, which allows you to build an environment that feels true to what that brand is and not necessarily focus on what they’re doing next season. What I really do is try and the pick the DNA of the brand or the designer and translate it into an environmental language. That’s how I start that process.
A lot of designers are really fantastic at what they do in terms of creating clothing or accessories—they know what they like in terms of environment. But sometimes they don’t know exactly how to get it to that level. So it’s really rewarding to be able to do that for them and to create a space that is a complete expression of the brand’s message and what they’re trying to sell.
MEN’S BALENCIAGA FLAGSHIP, IMAGE COURTESY OF RYAN KORBAN
SHARMA: Do you pick a certain element of a collection and then decide to incorporate it into a concept or is it the collective brand identity that’s more important to designing a store?
KORBAN: I think you start building a language and that language starts becoming the brand identity. It really depends. For instance, when I was working with Alexander Wang, sometimes he would get inspired by the materials that we were using to build the spaces and they’d work their way into the collection. The other times, I would get inspired by what he was doing in particular with that project.
In his inaugural collection for Balenciaga, you’ll notice a recurring green marble symbol throughout the lineup something that’s also part of the flagship store. That’s because he didn’t want things to be black. Black and white was the DNA and colors to his own brand. He wanted to create something that felt like him in terms of a darkness but we also really wanted to make sure it had heritage. I remember being in Europe and seeing this green stone across these buildings and in old architecture. There was something about it that felt very outdated but inherently European. So we took that and mixed it with fudge limestone. It then turned into 30 feet of walls with green stones and modern lights and other modern things. That’s where that started and where the stonework originated from. It was about getting inspired by something European and then modernizing it. We also felt that that was something that could be part of a collection but still feel relatively neutral as a backdrop.
So I think when you’re working with a designer, it’s really about playing off each other. When you take instances like these, you can really see that the collection is really the client. That’s really how a collection inspires an environment.
ALEXANDER WANG FLAGSHIP IN NEW YORK, IMAGE COURTESY OF RYAN KORBAN
SHARMA: Have you ever worked on a project where you had full creative control and could really imprint your own style and vision into it?
KORBAN: Yeah, and those are amazing projects where you really get to decide what the DNA of a brand is going to be, especially when you’re working with a brand that’s just opening up or has never existed before. That happens a lot more with multibrand stores. Some of those stores that I have done are my favorites. But essentially, I look at every project as creating an environment for a brand. Sometimes those brands have a strong DNA and sometimes they’re brand new.
SHARMA: How do you strike a balance between making sure a store feels luxury but also inviting and not intimidating?
KORBAN: That’s always a balance I’m trying to strike. I’ve made mistakes in the past where a space felt too intimidating. What I strive to do most with my work is create something that feels fresh, modern, and a younger take on something traditional.
It’s funny you ask that question because it’s still a challenge for me. And right now with my work for Collective Design, I’ve been asking that question a lot. What I’m doing there is an ultimate study of that. I talk about it a lot with my team because I am not afraid to say I’m wrong. I believe when you create something, it should make you stop for a minute and sort of say, “Wow.” I want my kind of wow movement but I try and balance it in a way that feels new and not stuffy. Especially when I was doing Alexander Wang’s store on Mercer Street, which was seven years ago. That idea of creating something that’s not intimidating but also exciting kind of manifested itself in the fur hammock that’s in that store. The way it’s done with the cashmere, when you see it, you go like, “Wow,” but it’s also done in a tasteful way. I also created these sofas for the Collective Design fair that are made completely out of statuary marble. That’s another thing that strikes that balance, which is a little intimidating but also has that wow factor.
SHARMA: What’s been harder creatively: designing a personal space or retail?
KORBAN: I think one is really personal and the other one is more of a strategic job. They’re both challenging in a different way. Working with an individual is obviously more personal, which is challenging at times, but also very rewarding. It’s just much more of an emotional process.
SHARMA: You use a lot of animal skins and prints in your work as well as marble. Is there a specific reason?
KORBAN: I don’t really gravitate towards patterns and colors. When I started I really just had a neutral color palette. I think animal textures and palette just started to become part of my prowess, over the years. I started experimenting with animal patterns and that just sort of developed further.
As for marble, stones are my favorite. They always have been. When I sit down on a new project, I’m always thinking how do we make this more permanent, and how do we make it feel like it’s been here. I like making something monumental. Stones have always been the material that really grounds things. It’s just that power, you know. I love knowing that something’s not going anywhere.
EDON MANOR, IMAGE COURTESY OF RYAN KORBAN
SHARMA: Are there certain designers you’d like to work with in the future?
KORBAN: There’s no one specific, to be honest. I’m open to everything. I know that’s not an exciting answer but I accept any challenge that comes my way. My philosophy has never been, “Oh, I’m dying to work with this person.” It’s sort of about, “What’s next?” That’s what I’m excited about.
SHARMA: What are the three essential accessories you’d recommend for a home or a personal space?
KORBAN: Lighting, lamp, mirrors, and interesting seatings.
SHARMA: What is the tackiest home accessory?
KORBAN: The tackiest? [laughs] Oh, I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer. I think it’s best to never say never. I mean, I love wall-to-wall carpet, for instance. Some people think it’s the tackiest thing in the world, but for me, it’s luxury. There have been times where I’m like, “I hate that,” and then years later, it’s almost like I’m drawn to it.
I think there are two types of designers; there are those that have a very clear artistic vision and that’s what they go with. Then there are designers like me. I think it comes from my background of working with brands, where you let the projects dictate your taste. I’m very much that kind of person. I feel like I’m constantly exploring with different looks and things. So, I don’t think any two of my projects would look alike.
SHARMA: What’s next for you?
KORBAN: I’m doing everything I want to do. So my biggest goal right now is to just keep doing it. I just did interiors for a high-end condo building. It’s the first time a luxury condominium is branded as Ryan Korban. It’s the first time you can buy a Ryan Korban penthouse! I’m launching a book and a furniture line, and I’m doing the Collective Design fair. People ask me about my dream project and client all the time. But what’s next is I just want to keep it going. I’ve been very fortunate and I love the projects that I did and I’d like keep doing them. I’m open to anything and I’m always excited about new sectors that are growing.
COLLECTIVE DESIGN WILL HOST ITS SIXTH FAIR MARCH 9-11, 2018 AT SKYLIGHT CLARKSON NORTH.