Reader Marjean writes:
Hello Miss Plumcake,
When purchasing the ‘good’ shoes online, any tips for determining if I’m purchasing the real designer shoe or an unfortunate knockoff that fell off the back of a truck in some sleazy alley in Hong Kong?
We’ve all seen those ads online for discount Louboutins and Manolos at prices that are just expensive enough to keep you guessing. Well you can stop guessing now, those ads are 99.9999% fake. Sometimes they appear on reputable sites via third-party advertisers (and then I have to wax wroth to Manolo who will wax even wrother at the advertising people for being dummies.)
I’ll answer you question in two parts, one today and one tomorrow.
First let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of why and how premium designers choose to sell their product and how much they control the sale price.
Brand Image Control:
Luxury houses have very specific agreements as to where their merchandise can be sold. They take the exclusivity of their product very seriously, because they know you’re buying not just the product, but the prestige. If Manolo Blahnik won’t let his merchandise be sold at Net-a-Porter, arguably the poshest online-only luxury store, because it’s not prestigious enough, you can bet your suitably luscious bippy he’s not going to give a sweeter deal to TotallyNotFakeShoesReallyWePromise.com
Italy and France in particular are maniacal about maintaining the prestige of their luxury goods, often literally destroying the product rather than cheapen its value by selling it at a discount store. So even if Christian Louboutin wanted to sell his merchandise at 90% off, it’s entirely possible the government simply would not let him. Barrels of wine poured down the drain, tubes upon tubes of the only red lipstick I’ll ever really love melted down (Chanel’s Pulsion before they reformulated it)? Done and done. Is it protectionism? Yes. But there we have it.
Collection vs Diffusion & Licensing Agreements:
Luxury houses often have diffusion lines or licensing agreements in addition to what is generally called collection.
Collection is what we mean when we talk about the premium signature pieces designed for the house by the creative director. This is the most exclusive and expensive line. Luxury shoes are generally treated as “Collection” for houses that do Ready to Wear.
A diffusion line is a generally a less expensive, more youth-oriented line from a design house but still receives a good deal of attention from the creative director/designer (e.g, Marc by Marc Jacobs) These products tend to be less exclusive but may still be shown at fashion week. A site or store not authorized to sell Marc Jacobs Collection may be licensed to sell Marc by Marc.
Licensing agreements come in all shapes and forms. Lower-end products such as perfume, sunglasses and entry-level bags are licensed as part of the house’s empire, but may not be designed in-house. This is the stuff you’re most likely to find at clearance stores or online for ridiculous prices. A site or store not authorized to sell diffusion clothes or collection might still be allowed to sell this stuff. No, Calvin Klein did not design your six pack of socks or hand towels.
Shoes generally count as premium merchandise, so while it’s possible you might find a perfectly authentic bottle of Lanvin Arpège perfume at Krazy Klaus’ Internet Wonderhaus, these pair of black satin geometric bowtie sandals with ankle strap and exaggerated banana heel over which your pal Plummy is willing to cut not just one but all of you?
The same thing goes for bricks and mortar shops. While it is not unheard of to find mid-range designers at places like Marshalls, or the low-end diffusion line goods of premium designers (think a pair of Dior sunglasses) you’re just not going to find an authentic pair of Manolos there. Marshalls might THINK they’re authentic, but 999 times out of a thousand they got tricked somewhere along the way (there are plenty of exposes on this sort of thing happening.)
How Luxury Houses Sell Online:
Let’s say Il Maestro comes out with a collection of shoes. Some of the shoes will remain exclusive to the boutiques and some he will agree to have sold at appropriately prestigious department stores. In the states you’re pretty much looking at Neiman Marcus, Saks, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman.
(Nordstrom also sells an extremely limited range in the more traditional styles, usually shoes that get anniversaire-ed every year)
Several, though probably not all, of those shoes will be available for purchase online through the department stores’ websites. They will go on sale up to a certain percent, but the agreement the store makes with the designer will almost certainly include a clause limiting the discount, usually somewhere around 50%.
Premium designers may also make the occasional deal with an extremely limited number high-profile online-only stores. I can think of only a handful:
Luisa Via Roma
Net a Porter
You can feel pretty safe with both of those IF the item is fulfilled by Amazon/Overstock itself. If it’s fulfilled by a third party, I wouldn’t touch it. I know for a fact there are plenty of fakes on Amazon (I once ordered a MAC 217 brush for pretty much what I would’ve paid at the MAC pro shop and got a fake) and I don’t know about Overstock, but I wouldn’t take the risk.
When does a premium designer shoe go on sale for more than 50% off?
Generally, this happens when a shoe has been in stock for more than one calendar year and there is extremely limited availability. With bricks and mortar stores they go to their outlets, e.g., Neiman Marcus Last Call (Bergdorf’s stuff goes here too), Saks Off Fifth and Nordstrom Rack. If the shoes do not sell at the outlet prices, they do NOT get sold to Marshalls, etc. but returned to the manufacturer.
Phew! That’s a lot of info! Time to put this pony show to bed.
How to spot a fake website