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November 24, 2017
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Can you spot a fake? (Source: chinchin.org).

After many years of lusting over Louis Vuitton's Monogram Keepall travel bag (with strap), I finally made the decision to buy not just one, but two. The first was the Keepall 60, the largest of LV's travel bags, and the second, the Keepall 45, the smallest.

In my fantasy world, these bags would have been handed down to me by my grandmother after years of her own personal use, lovingly cared for, in good condition and with the patina of her experiences and travels worn into the very soul of each bag. I'd use them with a prideful sense of heritage, consistent with the fundamentals of the LV brand philosophy, that of a history of extensive and elegant travel. In the absence of such an inheritance, my only option was to buy the bags myself, and to do that, I turned to eBay and the second hand market. For about $1,000, I could get both bags (versus $4,500 to buy them new) with the added bonus that the trademark vachetta leather trim would have already turned honey brown from years of use.

Magritte asked his challengers to fill the pipe, and I ask, can you point out the differences [between a super-fake and a genuine Louis Vuitton bag]?

While researching how to identify an authentic LV bag (especially important because most sellers are based in Japan and counterfeit bags are commonplace in Asian markets), I came across the notion of the Japanese Super Fake: a replica so accurate that even LV employees allegedly cannot distinguish between the super-fake and the real thing. The hours of researching, watching, and eventually bidding, sent me into a reflective spiral that eventually led to René Magritte's famous surrealist painting, The Treachery of Images. The painting depicts a pipe with the statement, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." ("This is not a pipe."), written beneath it in cursive hand-writing. Magritte was concerned with the notion that even though the image is clearly that of a pipe and that realism in art can accurately depict an object, it can never actually be the object itself, hence, the treachery of the representations of an image. If anyone challenged him on it, he would simply ask him or her to attempt to fill the pipe. Cheeky devil.

Now, one may be wondering what an LV bag and Magritte's pipe have in common, but a vein of commonality indeed runs between them. Let's assume that there is such a thing as a super fake in the world of luxury brand bags - a bag that is entirely faithful to the original in terms of material, hardware, size, shape, weight, colour, and just about any other variable you care to list. Next, imagine this super-fake sitting beside the genuine luxury bag. In this case, we're not concerned with an image of the bag as Magritte was with his non-pipe pipe, but rather two physical objects that resemble each other perfectly in every detail. The question is - what is the difference between them? Magritte asked his challengers to fill the pipe, and I ask, can you point out the differences?

The Treachery of Images by Magritte (1926)
(Source: gmu.edu).

Perhaps the only difference between the two bags is their paths of origin. One came from a factory, typically French, and was constructed by the hands of experts often descended from generations of experts who performed the same tasks. The other may have come from a covert factory somewhere in Asia, likely using different tools and techniques to construct the product, although the output is ultimately the same. The fact that the authentic bag has been hand-crafted by artisans and imbued with the genuine trademark is a reasonable defense as to why one bag is authentic, and therefore preferable. But my problem is that once the bags are sitting in front of me, the "path of origin" doesn't exist in any part of either bag at that moment. I can't point to it, and so it seems irrelevant to define authenticity by something entirely intangible. Authenticity is a concept about which one might be right or wrong. Take this next example:

Let's pretend you own an LV super-fake but, importantly, you believe it to be genuine. You take the bag with you on walks around the city and on planes, people ask you about it and compliment it. You, and those around you, don't know the bag's a fake, and your enjoyment of it is not affected in any way. If your experience of the bag is the same whether it's genuine or fake, what does the genuine article give us that the fake does not? LV lets us have an experience of a product that is informed by its brand values, and in doing so, enables us to stimulate and guide other people's perceptions of us. When we choose to wear an in-your-face brand label such as the monogram canvas, we're making an overt statement about our choices in, for example, style, lifestyle, heritage, identity, and financial worth - all of which the LV brand speaks to, and why LV has seen such a resurgence in the past decade or so. The super-fake allows us to have this experience in the same way as the genuine article when nobody knows the difference.

In wondering what Magritte might have thought about the Louis Vuitton Keepall he bought on eBay (had he actually done so), I found myself back on eBay. I was faced with the situation where I could either buy, to the best of my knowledge, the super-fake or the real thing. Ultimately, there was no way of truly knowing what was genuine, but in the end, it didn't matter. When it comes to the second hand market and the authenticity of designer bags, my perception is what mattered. I bought the bags (real, I think) and I have loved using both of them. Perhaps one day I'll buy one new from the store itself, and this time have my own monogram painted on with their custom "Mon Monogram" service. That way, it won't be just an LV Keepall. The bag will be mine and only mine.

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