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On the Fine Art of Losing One’s Latin in China’s Counterfeit Culture –         CHANEL –  the brand of choice for the Fashion Have and Have-not

Ou comment perdre son Latin dans l’art Chinois de la Contrefaçon.                        Cible préférée : CHANEL

It is a good thing that Coco herself thought that copies were the true mark of success. She would then be immensely proud of her enormous presence in China , including many with designs perfectly unknown to Karl.


Different versions of the iconic 2.55 –  Probably only ONE authentic (hint: All her money seemingly went into her beautiful bag, she had none left-over for a real dress or nicer underwear).

  Plusieurs versions de l’iconique 2.55, probablement UN seul est authentique. Indice: elle n’avait plus assez d’argent pour acheter une robe ou de la jolie lingerie.

The amazing thing is that very very few of the “FIB” have any clue about how much Gabrielle/Coco would have approved their fighting spirit of independence.

The young Gabrielle that is.

(Ok, minus the mini-skirts which the older Coco hated with a passion. )

Mademoiselle Chanel, the original Chic Rebel behind the black and white visual revolution in a time of sequins and colors, would be amazed at China today. The Chinese girls would love her story and Chanel Corp. is spending a small fortune in communication in China. Special exhibits, grandiose catwalks, major ad campaigns in all the fashion magazines and parties to educate the clients current and potential about the house history and DNA of the brand. Sometimes the ads are so beautiful, I pulled the No5 Christmas special and made a paper tree X-mas ornament with it.On the other hand, many of the « Chanel » on Taobao (the Chinese Ebay), open markets and tourists shops are not quite so kosher.

Triple Denim Look                                              « Le Boy » – the PVC version

This basket of hair clips is an intellectual Property Lawyer’s nightmare!      


La Belle du Jour – Guomao.

Lovely, and her 2.55 Jumbo, to my eyes was genuine.

The most visible problem  about the Luxury industry’s growth in China that I feel is seldom discussed in the many glowing articles, books, dissertations etc. on the subject is how prominent and easily accessible all counterfeit goods are to the Chinese consumers (and how greedily the tourists snap them up). One can shop daily from dozens of different venues, in street stalls, market shops, shopping malls or internet for cheap imitations to ‘counter genuine’ or perfect copies willingly or not. Prices/quality vary according to each others parameters. Every and all international brands are copied and readily available – everywhere. Most people are no fools and know perfectly well what they are buying, some do not or do not care. Most Chinese people will prefer convenience, speed of availability and face-saving to the waiting list the genuine products sometimes impose which is why big brands need to multiply their boutiques on the ground.

It is a long topic and I will not delve into it but counterfeiting is estimated at 8% of China’s GDP. That is billions of dollars annually.

Dollar for doughnut most of the FIB do not even really know that Chanel was someone who is NOT Karl Lagerfeld.

And yet, the brand is everywhere. The 2.55 bag in all colors and material from PVC to crocodile is omnipresent on the arms of PYT and it-girls, and their mothers while the “freshly baked” BOY is climbing the charts. T-shirts, hairpins, plastic bags, shoes, sunglasses, key chains, flip-flops, everywhere. I am not entirely sure that the Chinese Marketing Master Plan from Cambon and New York’s headquarters included the dodgy men’s slippers but it is a lot of fun to capture the CC all over the city, a little French wink…  Chanel is desired, known and coveted. Instantly recognizable.

Vuitton, Hermes, Dior, Gucci, Burberry and all can kiss her BUTTons….

PS: Food for thought. An American friend of mine asked me last week a question that had me pause for a minute. « How did I know for sure that the goods sold at the Chanel boutiques in Beijing were genuine and not counterfeit? » I shrugged the question off as silly, and told her that of course in the CHANEL store the bags and jewels are genuine!… then I thought about it again, and again.

« Where’s Waldo »?

Last October i stumbled unto a tacky glittery boutique located in the basement of my Chinese School office building in Beijing’s new business district (CBD). Orange boxes stacked high in the windows, a massive H at the door and prices similar to Faubourg St Honoré once translated from Renminbi to Euros.

The colorful Birkin, Picotin, Kelly or Bolide  were neatly plastic wrapped perched on the boxes or encased against the walls. When I argued with them that they sold « fake Hermes » at « real prices » the store staff offered to provide me with « genuine invoices » stamped with the Paris address and i saw a few Chinese clients leaving happy with their luxury bags wrapped in the iconic orange paper bags. Shocked and not a little pissed off I tracked down via my social and professional networks the head of Hermes Asia and he promptly thanked me for the intel. Less than a month later the H store vanished-overnight, padlocked.

More recently Apple famously found out by fluke (via a blogger complaining about service) that there was over a dozen APPLE STORE in Chinese cities that had nothing to do with them. Sprinkled in some of those « smaller » markets of 8 to 10 million people. In those stores the staff wore blue t-shirts and sold i.stuff all marked with the trademarked Apple. The local staff thought it was part of the Cuppertino family, so did the clients. Rude awakenings for Apple at the time.

Could the same fate befall the most desirable fashion überbrand in China? Is it already happening?

I certainly hope not.

*- Sorry Jacques, have an aspirin.


Coco Chanel elle-même pensait  que la copie était la rançon du succès et si la mode ne descendait pas dans la rue, elle mourrait.

A ce point de vue, Chanel se porte comme un charme en Chine. Culturellement les Chinois n’ont aucun problème avec la  contrefaçon. Qianlong, un empereur du XVIII siecle fut amusé un jour de découvrir dans sa collection une fausse coupe de jade du XIV siecle et félicita publiquement le faussaire pour son effort à reproduire parfaitement l’inestimable coupe Ming.

 Mademoiselle Chanel, la rebelle originale derrière la révolution visuelle des Années 20, qui amena les petites robes noires à l’époque des paillettes et des couleurs adoreraient je pense l’énergie de la Chine d’aujourd’hui. Et les jeunes chinoises adoreraient son histoire de fille ambitieuse née du mauvais côté du lit qui à force de talent et de ténacité s’est imposée à son époque amassant une immense fortune au passage. Chanel Corp.  pas fou dépense des fortunes en Chine à communiquer l’histoire et l’ADN de la marque à grand coup de défilés extraordinaires, de boutiques immenses, de campagne de pub dans la presse mode, de fêtes et d’exhibitions spéciales pour éduquer cette nouvelle cliente. Il est très amusant de traquer les clins d’œil de la rue Cambon à tous les coins de rues aux bras des créatures de rêves (ou de leurs bonnes) avec un goût plus ou moins sûr ou plus ou moins authentique. Lunettes, sacs, bijoux, chaussures, foulards, t-shirts, tongs… rien n’est épargné et le célèbre double-C est omniprésent dans la rue. Tous les articles, livres, dissertations qui se glosent des résultats pharamineux de l’Industrie du Luxe en Asie et en Chine en particulier ne parlent pas assez à mon humble avis de l’ampleur incroyable, de la permissivité, de la facilité d’accès de la consommatrice Chinoise et des touristes à la contrefaçon. De Taobao (eBay chinois) aux boutiques pour touristes, des marchés locaux aux centres commerciaux les copies plus ou moins bonnes et plus ou moins parfaites sont absolument partout et il est très difficile d’identifier les meilleurs efforts.

Chanel avec son logo si facilement identifiable est loin devant toutes les autres marques du Luxe en termes de reconnaissance visuelle et de désirabilité. Elles portent parfois des t-shirts YSL mais ne connaissent ni le nom complet de la marque ni son histoire. Chanel a au moins une longueur d’avance sur Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Dior, Burberry ou Versace. Elles savent que c’est désirable. Mais dans le centre mondial de la contrefaçon c’est une arme à double tranchant.