image: Diesel

image: Diesel

On the corner of Broadway and Canal Street in New York City’s Chinatown, amidst the shops boasting fake Rolex watches and oddly-printed Louis Vuitton-esque bags, you will find a vendor selling sweatshirts and t-shirts boldly emblazoned with the word “Deisel.” The just slightly off-kilter spelling of Italian brand Diesel’s trademark and the cost of the goods – hoodies for $60, jeans for $70, a definite step down from the brand’s traditional retail prices – signify, straightaway, that this set up is in no way out of the ordinary for Canal Street, Manhattan’s notorious haven for fakes. These garments are counterfeits. 

Except that they aren’t. These seemingly counterfeit goods are not fake. Far from it actually. They are limited edition, designer goods.

Faced with the reality of an overly crowded fashion month calendar and an influx of counterfeit goods, something that continues to plague brands (particularly in the digital age when largely China-based entities can easily set up huge networks of counterfeit sites in an almost completely risk-free manner due to their ability to hide behind layers of fictitious identities and contact information), Diesel is ditching the catwalk for Fall/Winter 2018.

Instead, the Breganze, Italy-based brand is opting for a temporary pop up shop during New York Fashion Week. But instead of an over-the-top foray in Soho, complete with a star-studded opening party, Diesel is doing things differently. It is masquerading as a counterfeit seller on Canal Street. 

“We have so many counterfeit products all over the world I thought, ‘Why can’t we play with this problem that we have?'” Diesel founder Renzo Rosso told AFP, saying he believes that more than a million counterfeit Diesel goods are sold annually around the world. “So, we created a fake product, a fake name, and we came to the counterfeit district.”

The store opened under the radar last week and hundreds of customers have already browsed and purchased, with most of the initial buyers blissfully unaware that the joke was on them. “People come and they think it is a fake product. When they discover it’s not a fake product, they can sell it for three or four times the value!” said Rosso, 62.

Rosso and his brand are not the first to put their own spin on the problem of fakes in recent seasons. In February 2016, Gucci tapped Brooklyn-based artist GucciGhost to put his mark on its garments and accessories … literally. One of the bags from the Italian design house’s Fall/Winter 2016 bore a graffiti-tagged “REAL” situated just above a Gucci logo. On a jacket, the © symbol, which denotes a federal copyright registration. Another includes an ®, the equivalent trademark notation.

Skip forward to summer 2017, which saw Valentino release “Expect the Unexpected,” a video campaign in which London street-goers are duped into buying what they believe are fake Valentino bags and Rockstud sandals for some 200 pounds, only to learn that the goods are, in fact, real.

Before that, the Spring/Summer 2017 shows saw Dolce & Gabbana bring legal commentary to the runway. No, the design duo was not looking to shed light on their long-running (and not now concluded) tax evasion trials, but instead the vast market for designer knockoffs and counterfeits. As the Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley noted in connection with the brand’s “Dolce & Gabbana,” “Docce & Gabbinetti” and other slightly askew offerings, “Dolce & Gabbana is having a laugh at knockoffs. The tees will be affordable to GenZs, I assume.”

Meanwhile, Virgil Abloh, the creative behind Off-White, unveiled a makeshift Canal Street set up outside of his Spring/Summer 2017 show venue in Paris last summer, offering fake fake (aka real) Off-White bags. The stunt fit neatly within the brand’s overarching message for that season, having just revealed, “Off-White™ first ever ‘if the cops come run’ handbag campaign,” a Canal Street-themed ad campaign. 

Abloh, it seems, was unable to resist commenting on the excessive amount of fake Off-White garments and bags – many bearing the brand’s striped logo and “White” trademark – that have consistently been offered on e-commerce marketplaces like Alibaba and eBay for years now.

And back in 2013, you may recall that singer MIA designed a 19-piece collection for Versus inspired by the many Versace counterfeit goods that have flooded the market over the years. 

Limited Runs, Better Quality Fakes

The rise in visibility of brands’ battles against fakes is especially interesting right now. While the luxury model has always depended on expensive price tags and somewhat limited volumes, this has been put into overdrive in recent years. The result is overly eye-popping prices for products (i.e., $500 cotton Gucci t-shirts, $1,500 Vetements hoodies), and seemingly more limited edition products (maybe thanks to the widespread usage of bots to hoard products upon initial sale) than ever before.

This equation – paired with the hype of Instagram advertising by way of brand sand influencers, alike – is driving the average consumer to fakes in order to be able to get in on the action. 

As I wrote for Dazed this week, “Louis Vuitton’s Supreme collaboration was limited in nature, expensive from the outset, and bore even more outlandish prices at resale.” In the same vein, “a quick search of Instagram for adidas’s various Yeezy sneakers, which are notoriously impossible to get when they hit the market due to their small-runs and often prohibitively expensive at resale – is a good example of how counterfeiters are thriving on consumers’ desire to get their hands on otherwise unavailable products.” 

Pair this with the widespread availability of – and ease with which consumers can get their hands on – downright accurate counterfeits, and you have a thriving market for fakes. 

This is something that was certainly on the Gucci team’s mind in connection with the Fall/Winter 2016 collection and lingering in the minds of Diesel’s creatives this season. So, if fashion brands cannot beat counterfeiters’ efforts (and given the breadth of them, it is only fair to say they can’t), why not join them, at least for a good PR play?