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Louis Vuitton Handbags: Real or Fake?

As far back as 5,000 years ago, a “purse” was a small, stitched fabric bag which men used to keep their coins safe. Such a bag was either attached to a man’s coat or worn at the waist. It was not until several millennia later that this type of purse was replaced by pockets in clothing, and in the 19th century, wallets.

Women also needed a way to carry their “indispensables,” giving rise to various versions of the handbag, which was introduced in France and, later, embraced in other parts of Europe. At first it was a reticule, a very slender, handmade drawstring bag which women used from the late 18th- to early 19th century. It looked similar to a modern-day evening bag.

With railway travel becoming more common later on in the 19th century, something more durable was needed for the transport of necessities. The small, mostly decorative ladies’ handbag just couldn’t withstand such conditions. That changed in 1841 when Samuel Parkinson, famous for his butterscotch confection, commissioned trunk maker H. J. Cave to create a completely matched set of variously-sized traveling trunks, boxes and handbags. Each was made from the same sturdy material, in a matching pattern. This is considered the very first order that launched a luxury market that was estimated at nearly $60 billion dollars in 2019.

An advertisement for Louis Vuitton that appeared on the inside front cover of the French publication ‘Le Theatre’ in July 1898. Source: Villanova University Digital Library, image in the public domain in the United States where copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years.

Louis Vuitton, a trunk maker in Paris, took notice. One of the notable features of a traveling trunk created by H. J. Cave was its innovative flat top, making the luggage easier to stack. The more commonly seen round-top trunk was designed to repel water, but it was difficult to load and stack onto railcars, coaches or ocean liners. In 1854 Vuitton incorporated treated canvas on the flat tops of his trunks to better repel water while also making them easier to stack and stow. His style was so distinctive that imitators started copying it almost from the very beginning. In 1898, Louis Vuitton added a handbag to the company’s product range.

Today, 122 years after its initial entry into the marketplace, the Louis Vuitton handbag is still considered the ultimate accessory, but it is also the most counterfeited of all luxury bags. How can you make sure you’re buying an authentic LV bag as opposed to a fake? It’s all in the details.

Brand-Specific Styling

In order for a handbag or other luxury item to be recognizable, the brand must be consistent with its identification.

LV’s initial pattern for its flat-top trunk was a gray Trianon Canvas (all patterns are identified as a “Canvas”), in 1872 the design was changed to beige and red vertical stripes. Since it was too easily counterfeited, another version called the Rayee Canvas with beige and brown vertical strips was introduced in 1876, but it, too, was counterfeited. The Damier Canvas design, a checkerboard of contrasting light and dark colors, replaced Rayee Canvas in 1888, with the words “marque L. Vuitton déposée” imprinted within a few squares as a logo to identify it as a Louis Vuitton registered product.

Introduced in 1888, the perennially popular Damier Canvas displays an alternating dark and light checkerboard pattern, with leather handles and perfect stitching. This Salema PM Damier Canvas bag example sold at auction for $1,300 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Regardless, the counterfeits persisted. By the time George Vuitton succeeded his father, Louis, who died in 1892, it had become abundantly clear that a different logo needed to be adopted. In 1898, the motif changed once again, to its now-familiar quatrefoils, floral symbols and the “Louis Vuitton” logo called the Monogram Canvas. The design was based on the Japanese mon of a simple, stylistic representation of an object important to a family, similar to a European heraldic coat-of-arms.

Each part of the Monogram Canvas is trademarked, and any counterfeit that shows even the slightest variant is challenged vigorously with lawsuits, no matter how small the changes. Protecting its brand from counterfeiters is of utmost importance to Louis Vuitton and to those who purchase LV handbags, who want to make sure their accessories are authentic. How can a buyer be sure that their handbag is the real deal? You just have to look closely.

Details Matter

There are many distinctive aspects to note in an authentic Louis Vuitton handbag. Each and every component is perfectly matched and assembled, stitched or riveted by hand. On average, it takes about four hours to create the work of art that ultimately becomes an iconic LV handbag. Each part of the finished handbag matters.

Black Suhali Leather Lockit MM Bag handmade in Paris in December of 2006 (letters DU is code for France; first and third numbers indicate month; second and fourth number indicate year). Image courtesy Japan Treasure Auction and LiveAuctioneers

 

A clear example of an internal leather tag in the same color as the leather trim features two letters and four numbers for this Black Suhali Leather Lockit MM Bag that translates as being handmade in Paris in December of 2006 (letters DU is code for France; first and third numbers indicate month; second and fourth number indicate year). Image courtesy Japan Treasure Auction and LiveAuctioneers

A clear example of an internal leather tag in the same color as the leather trim of a genuine Black Suhali Leather Lockit MM Bag features two letters and four numbers, meaning it was made in Paris in December of 2006 (letters DU is code for France; first and third numbers indicate month; second and fourth number indicate year). Image courtesy Japan Treasure Auction and LiveAuctioneers

There is no better way to know a Louis Vuitton handbag is authentic than by going directly to the source: Louis Vuitton authorized stores and boutiques. Their products are never “discounted,” they are not wholesaled to the public, and they never go “on sale.” In fact, the only way to buy a new Louis Vuitton product is to be invited to do so.

If you are presented with the opportunity to purchase a Louis Vuitton handbag, either from a reputable auction or boutique that is not operated by Louis Vuitton, here are points to note:

  • Material: All Louis Vuitton handbags are made from a high-quality, coated-canvas-type material with real leather handles and trim that are soft, never hard or rough, with absolutely no seams that break up the design.
  • Stitching: Each handbag is handmade, and the stitching for each and every piece of trim is evenly placed within a certain number of stitches (a trade secret), where none are ever missing, skipped or frayed.
  • Patterns: Each of the Canvas patterns is uninterrupted by stitches or the placement of fasteners, straps or zippers, unless it matches exactly on either side.
  • Inside: A Louis Vuitton handbag features lining specifically designed only for that handbag. There will never be a substitution of color, style or fabric.
  • Tags and Codes: Tags are never attached to the bag itself. Instead, date codes (not serial numbers) consistin of letters and numbers beginning in 1980 are either foil-embossed on the inside lining or printed on a rectangular leather tab stitched to an inner seam that is the same color as the trim.
  • Hardware: All rivets, mechanisms, locks or metal fasteners are sturdy and solid, and fitted evenly throughout, without gaps. Certain pieces are stamped with the Louis Vuitton logo.
  • Imperfections: There is no bleeding of color, missing edges, sloppy logos, frayed threads, ill-fitting zippers, shorter handles, painted metals, plastic parts, incorrect stamps or misspelled words (except for words intentionally spelled in an unusual manner by LV). These sorts of things suggest a bag may have come off an assembly line and therefore is a counterfeit.
  • Releases: There may be a particular product that was never released that is being offered for sale as a prototype, an unauthorized limited edition, or special opportunity not offered to others. This should be regarded as a red flag, as Louis Vuitton never does such things.

On occasion, LV will choose to produce authorized limited-edition handbags such as this striking red and black Speedy 30 handbag designed by Stephen Sprouse with Marc Jacobs in 2001 with the words ‘Louis Vuitton Paris’ written as graffiti. The limited edition also came with a charm bracelet, the only piece of jewelry ever released by LV. It sold for $2,800 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

  • Packaging & Miscellaneous: Packaging, including the addition of an authorized dust bag, is also a critical point. Louis Vuitton does not include a certificate of authenticity but can provide a cream-colored, heavy stock card identifying the style with a unique barcode placed inside. If the seller adds anything additional such as extra straps that weren’t part of the original release, it is a sign that the handbag may be a counterfeit.

Even the font on the logo should be researched beforehand to determine if it is correct in size, shape, color and material. With all the different styles and features seen in Louis Vuitton handbags, research matters. The watchword at Louis Vuitton is “perfection.” Each handbag created by LV is a very limited work of handmade art whose materials, fasteners, and workmanship are of uncompromising quality.

Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 monogrammed leather handbag with LV’s iconic quatrefoils, floral design, and leather trim and handles. This bag sold at auction for $950 (plus buyer’s premium). 
Image courtesy Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

According to Forbes, the counterfeiting of top-tier luxury goods such as those produced by Louis Vuitton is around a $600 billion industry. While this staggering number shows that there are many who will knowingly purchase a cheaply-made fake bag, the bottom line is, it’s illegal. If you can’t afford a genuine handbag made by the French company whose history and workmanship are second to none, the best advice is, save up for it. Some things are so special, they just can’t be duplicated.

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Jasper52 sale carrying dozens of designer bags April 1

“The joy of dressing is an art.” – said British fashion designer John Galliano. A Jasper52 online auction on Wednesday, April 1, will bring some joy into your closet with timeless designer fashion and accessories. Four out of five lots in the auction constitute bags, purses and totes by the likes of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Cannel, Gucci and Fendi.

Hermès Birkin 35, blue leather, includes storage bags, Cadena and Clochette with key, in good condition. Estimate: $13,000-$16,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Designer accessories to sell in online auction March 11

More than 200 handbags, totes and wallets will be sold on Wednesday, March 11, in a Jasper52 online auction titled Timeless Designer Fashion & Accessories. Approximately 50 lots of jewelry made by the likes of Tiffany & Co., Bulgari, Cartier and Mikimoto will also be offered.

Hermès Kelly 32 Outside Sewing handbag, 23cm x 32cm x 12cm. Estimate: $11,000-$13,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Scores of Hermes bags offered in Jasper52 auction Oct. 30

Jasper52 will host a Rare and Coveted Designer Accessories auction on Wednesday, Oct. 30. This online auction offers some of the world’s rarest and most coveted designer accessories. From one-of-a-kind Birkin bags to limited edition jewelry designs, these lots cannot be found anywhere else.

Gold Hermes 40cm Bolide Monster Shark bag, comes with lock, key, clochette, sleeper and signature Hermes box. Estimate: $30,000-$36,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Luxury fashions & accessories on Jasper52 runway Sept. 16

Jasper52 will present 100 lots of luxury fashions and accessories by such esteemed houses as Christian Dior, Manolo Blahnik and Hermes in an online auction on Monday, Sept. 16. Most of these coveted designer finds – handbags, clothing and shoes – are in never-worn or like-new condition.

Hermes Birkin 35 in chartreuse, Togo leather lush with gold hardware, clean with light wear noted, 14in. long x 11in. high x 7in. deep with 5in. handles. Estimate: $14,000-$17,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

All things Hermès starring in Jasper52 auction July 31

“It’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin!” And Jasper52 will offer nearly 90 of these coveted items in an exclusive Hermès auction July 31. These iconic bags, rare accessories and home furnishings embody the rich history, expert craftsmanship and attention to detail the house of Hermès is celebrated for.

Hermès Birkin 35 Himalaya Blanc crocodile Palladium bag, new or never worn
Estimate $294,000-$353,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Designer Fashion Auction Jan. 9 is in the bags

More than 200 fashion designer bags are complemented by several dozen lots of couture in a Jasper52 online auction set for Wednesday, Jan. 9. Chanel, Prada, Valentino, Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton are a few of the famous names offered in this large auction.

Valentino Rockstud large clutch wrist bag, mint condition, 9 x 13.5 inches. Estimate: $800-$1,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Judith Leiber Handbags: Art on the Red Carpet

NEW YORK – Chronicling the career of Hungarian-American accessory creator Judith Leiber, who died on May 28 at the age of 97, the Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers wrote, “…it is her whimsical rhinestone-studded evening bags, often crafted in the form of minaudieres, which have brought her lasting fame. Brightly colored, small-scale and delicate yet sturdily engineered, they are covered with handset Austrian crystal and semiprecious stones, duplicating flora and fauna.”

Movie stars flash them on the red carpet, president’s wives carry them to the inauguration ball, and collectors snap them up at vintage couture and jewelry auctions across the country. While the head might argue that you can get by with just one, the heart knows that you can never have too many of these glittering minibags in a hundred clever forms; one leads to another and a collection grows. The whimsical designs of the minaudieres are far too charming to keep in a drawer.

The form seems to have been developed by jewelers; Charles Arpels made one for socialite Florence Gould in the 1930s. The lip-smacking name “minaudiere” comes from a French term for silly little trifle, and the small size of the Leiber examples – dimensions under 6 inches – means only a few necessary items can be carried within. The artist designed elegant leather handbags for daywear, but the evening bags completely covered with handset crystals and semiprecious stones attract the most attention.

Judith Leiber bags from a 300-piece collection assembled by Louisiana philanthropist Bernice Norman were sold in a landmark 1999 charity auction to benefit the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Judith Leiber was present for the sale, hosted by New Orleans Auction Galleries, and even purchased some of the purses back to put in her personal museum. The minaudieres, as opposed to the also very desirable “day” bags, brought the most money. Those featured in the book Judith Leiber: The Artful Handbag (1995) by Edith Nemy sold for even more.

Judith Leiber’s interest in Asian art is reflected in this crystal-studded Buddha design sold at a Bruce Kodner auction in Lake Worth, Florida. It is 5 1/2 inches high.

Judith Leiber, nee Peto, was born in Budapest in 1921. Her hopes of studying chemistry in London were thwarted when war broke out in 1939. She joined the Hungarian handbag guild and worked her way up to master status, learning every aspect of construction. Her family survived the war, and at its conclusion she met and married American G.I. Gerson Leiber. After moving back to New York, she exercised her expertise at several accessories firms before founding her own in 1963.

Her designs received a number of prestigious awards. Fashionable stores carried the bags, and the New York Times did a lengthy story on Leiber in May 1996 after she opened her own boutique on Madison Avenue. Christine Cavanaugh, the actress providing a voice for the central character in the movie Babe, had carried a jeweled pink pig minaudiere on the Oscar red carpet that year. Judith Leiber is now retired from active designing, but the firm bearing her name continues to produce both old and new shapes, which are carried in stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Leiber drew inspiration from many sources; the dragonfly on this 1992 minaudiere in the Leiber Collection Museum is similar to the winged creatures on classic Tiffany lampshades. Courtesy the Leiber Collection; photo credit Gary Mamay.

Judith Leiber evening bags were always luxury items intended for wealthy partygoers who wanted their outfits to be noticed; new creations with the brand name easily bring $5,000 or more. So vintage examples can be viewed as an opportunity to acquire something marvelous at a reasonable price.

Minaudieres are equipped with a concealed shoulder chain, which can be used to carry the evening bag. This rare Venetian mask design was auctioned by Bruce Kodner Galleries.

Most Judith Leiber evening bags have been well cared for and retain their original accessories – a coin purse, standing mirror, tasseled comb, and soft storage bag.

This violin-form minaudiere covered in Swarovski crystals came complete with original coin purse, comb, and mirror. The evening bag sold at New Orleans Auction Galleries.

Some Judith Leiber evening bags still have the store’s price tag and the designer’s certificate of authenticity. Restoration services are available if stones are missing from their settings.

The Museum at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, has around 45 Judith Leiber bags in their permanent collection, including this bright 1994 tomato minaudiere design.

There, students can examine how the bags are constructed. Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories, said in a recent interview, “There are a lot of whimsical handbag styles throughout the 20th century. Although Leiber did do many different styles of bags, these jeweled minaudieres were what she was especially well known for – they’re conversation pieces. The craftsmanship is absolutely the thing that I like to point out. Everything is really perfect, everything lines up exactly.

“For true luxury items like these Judith Leiber bags, you have to look closely at them,” Hill continued. “You have no visible glue, everything is fitting together perfectly, they’re almost objects of art in their own way. You can imagine how they’ve become collectors’ items – they’re more than just something to carry to a fancy party, they’re really something that can be admired as an object as well as an accessory. It’s very apparent that these are not things that are machine-produced and just replicated exactly time after time, which adds to their one-of-a-kind appeal.”

In one of its past sales, Dallas Auction Gallery offered this 6-inch “Sleeping Lion” minaudiere covered with tawny crystals and multicolored cabochon hardstones.

The form of Japanese inro, a container for small objects hung from a sash, inspired this tripartite beaded minaudiere with red silk cord and a gold leather lining. The colorful purse starred in a DuMouchelles auction in Detroit.

In 2005, Leiber and her husband Gerson, who was a Modernist artist, opened their own museum and sculpture garden in the East Hampton village of Springs, New York, near the tip of Long Island. (www.leibermuseum.org). Works by both artists – including many handbag designs – are on view in the galleries and a history of their entwined careers can be found in No Mere Bagatelles: Telling the Story of Handbag Genius Judith Leiber & Modernist Artist Gerson Leiber by Jeffrey Sussman (2009).

This article, written by Karla Klein Albertson, originally appeared in Style Century Magazine, now part of Auction Central News (www.auctioncentralnews.com).