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 image: HBO

image: HBO

On this day 20 years ago, a little old show called “Sex and the City” premiered on HBO. The television series, which was created by Darren Star and based on the 1997 book by Candace Bushnell, starred Sarah Jessica Parker (as Carrie Bradshaw), Kim Cattrall (as Samantha Jones), Kristin Davis (as Charlotte York), and Cynthia Nixon (as Miranda Hobbes), and depicted four women living and working in New York City. The show, itself, became soundly entrenched in the late 90’s cultural zeitgeist, and would run for six seasons, followed by still-airing syndication across the globe. 

The effect that the Sunday evening show had on television was remarkable. Sex and the City, which picked up no shortage of Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards during its 6-year run, is said to have almost single-handedly popularized the HBO network, which is now one of the most-watched television networks in the U.S.

The show, itself, was “groundbreaking for its time,” according to the Chicago Tribune’s Nneka McGuire. “Long before Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn, before Sandra Oh’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ character put career first and terminated a pregnancy, before ‘Broad City’ brought us stoner girl high jinks, there were four women in the back of a cab. And those women were talking about sex,” she writes.

“It brought women’s sex lives out of the shadows — shamelessly,” devoting airtime to relevant and modern social issues facing women, including open dialogues about infertility, divorce, the plight of women in the workforce, and of course, “some sexual acts that no newspaper editor would allow a reporter to describe in detail.”

The reach of Sex and the City extended far outside of television viewers’ homes to the U.S. legal system, which was inundated with copyright complaints for unauthorized downloads, and Sex and the City-esque trademark filings in the height of the show’s popularity from (unauthorized) companies aiming to bank on its appeal.

Even beyond that though, the impact of Sex and the City was seen at U.S. borders, as many as seven years after HBO had stopped airing new episodes of the show. In an annual report released in early 2012, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) revealed that it had seized nearly $51 million in counterfeit perfumes during the 2011 fiscal year. The fake perfume intercepted most frequently  almost 90 percent of all fragrance seizures in 2011  was not Chanel No. 5 or YSL’s Opium or Eternity by Calvin Klein, some of the fragrance world’s most famous names.

No, it was fragrances adorned with the words “Sex in the City,” a highly protected trademark and enormously valuable asset of HBO, of course.

In one year alone, the government entity seized shipments containing more than one million fragrance bottles bearing the “Sex and the City” trademark. If sold, CBP estimates that the retail value of the seized fragrances would be more than $45 million. These numbers do not even take into account the quantity of goods that went undetected.

More than merely a demonstration of the ever-thriving market for counterfeit goods, the influx of specific types of fake products or any patterns/prevalence in terms of branded counterfeits over certain periods of time says something more broadly about our consumptions habits.

Because the manufacture and marketing of counterfeits tends to operate in accordance with the level of demand, the consumer goods that are targeted most vigorously by counterfeiters, whether it be Louis Vuitton logo-covered bags or Nike swoosh emblazoned footwear … or Sex and the City branded goods, provide a snapshot of consumer tastes at any given time. In this way, the proliferation of specific fakes gives us an interesting way to gauge the zeitgeist. 

And for a very long time (and still, to an extent, 20 years later), that was Sex and the City and that $45 million in fake perfumes was a sign of the times.