The List






The Luxury Fallacy


Visit any popular Mediterranean resort mid-season and it won't be long before you are offered an array of fake luxury goods - from watches to perfumes, clothes to handbags. Depending on the persistence of the seller, and your own personal opinion of the counterfeit industry, your response may range from mild interest (no sane person would ever express more than mild interest in front of these sorts of sellers, who can detect a sitting duck at a thousand yards) to absolute contempt.

Western governments, the media and luxury brands tend to have a narrower range of responses to the fake goods industry. In fact, they really only have one - a vitriolic condemnation that could easily lead one to believe that they regard the Ninth Circle of Hell as a place too comfortable for counterfeiters to spend an eternity.

So fakers are evil - end of story, then? Well no, not exactly - and I will explain why.

More than a decade of prosperity has led to complacency amongst luxury brands. Where once the intrinsic quality of a luxury item was the major draw for those who were prepared to pay the premium price, for the last twenty years craftsmanship in high end fashion brands, at least, has been playing a rapidly diminishing role. A close examination of many upmarket manufacturers' pręt a porter clothing will confirm this; poor quality materials, a level of workmanship that would embarrass a 1970s British Leyland employee and a general sense of paying a premium for little more than a fancy tag are all in evidence.

Fakers cash in on the fact that luxury goods are often reproducible at a far lower cost than that at which the original manufacturers are selling them. Often this is not because they use cheaper materials (although this is sometimes the case), but is due to the fact that the original item is so hugely overpriced that a replica - even one that costs the same to produce - can be sold at a huge discount and still turn a profit.

In a certain sense, then, I believe that we can view counterfeiters as drivers of quality; the only way that luxury goods manufacturers will ever beat them is to produce items that are not reproducible at low costs. Or, in other words, make luxury items that really are luxury items - not the sorts of goods that can be knocked up with a few metres of nylon, some general purpose zips and a small factory in South Korea.

If you are not convinced by this line of reasoning, consider the following: would you buy a fake Ferrari? The answer, unless you are preternaturally stupid, or a have a particular liking for re-bodied Toyota MR2s, is, of course, no. The value of a Ferrari is more than merely its name; to those of us who care, and are not merely purchasing a supercar in order to crawl around Monaco's Casino Square on a Saturday night, this value is the technology, the time spent by the company honing the handling, the quality of the engine, chassis and materials, and, lastly the aesthetics. Luxury fashion goods often possess no more than just aesthetics - and beauty alone is not enough to make a mineral a gem.

So, if the luxury goods manufacturers want us to view fakes of their products as akin to the ludicrous Lamborghini and Ferrari copies, they need to give us items that have intrinsic value and do not merely subscribe to the luxury fallacy that the label is everything. I can only hope that the current economic situation drives them, in true Darwinian style, to this conclusion.