Authentication is not a science, it’s an Art

An interview with Dora Maar’s Luxury Authentication
and Evaluation Partner, Alexander Saady

Listen to Alex: 

Ever wonder what it feels like to swim in a sea of handbags? Meet Alexander (Alex) Saady, Dora Maar's Luxury Authentication and Evaluation partner. Alex's career in luxury authentication spans over 15 years, but his love of luxury started even earlier. He once asked his mom for a Louis Vuitton wallet for his 13th birthday. Alex started honing in on the study of luxury bags when he started buying and selling in high school, and began authenticating and consulting for consignment shops in college. It was once he moved to the big city and worked with REBAG, that allowed Alex to evaluate and learn from 1,000s of bags a week. Our founder, Lauren Wilson, sat down with Alex to find out his take on the future of luxury fashion, what it takes to craft the perfect bag, and to chat about the complex world of authentication.

How did you begin a career in the luxury industry and why did you decide to focus on authentication?

I grew up somewhere where there really was no fashion around me. The totality of the fashion we had was a Nordstrom, where the most expensive thing they sold in 2011 was a Marc Jacobs ‘Stam’ bag. I was always interested in higher-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, and was so mystified by my grandma’s vintage clothes from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent that she would buy in Europe in the 1950’s and 60s. I started to cherish and want those beautiful things for myself. At an early age, I figured if I was going to invest in something as important as fashion, it might as well be the best of the best! When I was about 13, I was an early bloomer when it came to luxury goods–– I was like “Mom, I want a Louis Vuitton wallet for my birthday, and she was like you, a child, are ridiculous to expect a Louis Vuitton wallet for your birthday!” So I set out to find myself my very first luxury items. I started to hunt estate sales and made thrifting more than a hobby. I had to become savvy enough to be able to find and validate these finds for myself. I realized how few people had the skill to be able to discern between a 2003 Canal Street knock off from an authentic Louis Vuitton from France. There were no resources. It was a skill I had to acquire to feel comfortable spending money on myself and I realized how valuable it was that I was able to foster that skill. 

"Authentication is certainly not a science, and it's an even harder practice to hone in on than art."

In high school, I started to buy and sell on Ebay. Back in those days, you had to actually send checks to people to pay for purchases, so I’ve really seen resale change a lot throughout the years. I’ve been around fashion for a long time and when I was finding my way into the fashion world, I realized what a special skill authentication was when I saw how badly some of the fakes people were buying and selling were. Very few of these fakes were of any quality to pass as handmade by a craftsperson, let alone genuine leather, and even fewer people happened to possess the keen eye to catch and differentiate the minute details that can make or break a very good fake. When I started off in college, I consulted for local consignment stores and pawn shops, basically any place where somebody might bring designer sunglasses, a Louis Vuitton bag or divine fur coat and want to sell it off for quick cash – I would offer my skill, my expertise and my eye to ensure the business owner wasn’t being duped. Think of me as the very first Pawn Stars Expert; any reputable business wants to ensure what they’re spending on is genuine and worth every penny. I have to say, an added perk was that I got to be first in line to buy a bag or two ;).

My first official job where I got to use my expertise full time was with REBAG. I spent time consulting in their Soho boutique while they were just starting to expand and open up all of their boutiques. It was so exciting to work hands on with so many different kinds of bags. It gave me the opportunity to sit and study hands-on the details of so many bags one wouldn’t just find laying around a consignment shop. I was able to study fine stitching, touch the world's most gorgeous materials (literally), and examine the unique details each brand's savoir-faire had to offer. A Balenciaga creation is not the same as an Hermès–– each brand, style and creation is made differently. Authentication is certainly not a science, and it's an even harder practice to hone in on than art. There are so many things one can't expect or control for. Each item I’ve had the pleasure to evaluate has been so unique in every way. Each creation, skin, stitch and layer is completely different item by item, It's just so magical to think about.

How did you develop this expertise?

Rule #1, when asking an authenticator, at least, always trust your gut. The more one sees and researches, the more familiar they’ll be able to become with brands they evaluate consistently. This allows you to identify red flags more easily and to understand what tell-tale things could be easily noticed. The essence of a luxury bag is its craftsmanship and materials; understanding how these beautiful things are created and what they are made of allows one to easily assess an item just by our natural senses. 

"Rule #1. . . always trust your gut"

What materials are used? What does the item feel or smell like? What kind of training has gone into producing bags for houses like Hermès, Chanel, or Louis Vuitton? The quality of something like a Longchamp ‘Le Pliage’ tote has maybe six components, is 80/20 Nylon/Leather, takes minutes to produce and costs pennies. It is polar compared to that of something like a Chanel Classic which boasts layers and layers of work, meticulous quilt stitching and symmetrical achievement. I've had the opportunity to work with LVMH and seen first hand what the repairs process looks like from start to finish. Items are meticulously taken apart and put back together. Each house is so exacting in their processes as each of their designs are built to last, bear weight and to withstand all of the crazy stuff we do to them. Through Covid, I had the opportunity to learn to work with and construct goods in fine leather by an ex-Hermès craftsman. The more I’ve come to understand what it takes to make a bag from scraps in a workshop to the inside of a gift box on Madison Ave is astonishing. Handbag nerds rejoice and throw around the fact that the average Hermès creation takes 50+ hours of working time to complete. As I’ve always known that good things come to those who wait, consumers rarely ponder what knowledge and materials actually pour into something as sacred as making a Birkin from scratch. You can say to someone –– “ It takes 100 hours to make a Birkin” but most people can’t begin to fathom every stitch, tiny leather components they’ll never lay eyes on, or each piece of metal that has to be set by hand. It’s literally incredible, to be able to create one of the world's most priceless possessions is literally… priceless. When it boils down to it, wanting to more deeply understand what you're evaluating is the first step to being able to start knowing what to look for. If you have the chance to study, inspect, smell, feel, and get into your favorite designer's bag, that's how you’re going to become more familiar and get a better sense of what is right and wrong.

Walk us through the process of examining a piece, and how you determine if something is real or fake?

Every item is different. Chanel ready-to-wear from the 90s is not going to look like Chanel ready-to-wear from the late 2000s. Chanel RTW from the 90s had handwritten garment tags. There are so many things to consider when you’re looking at items. Was the item a sample or was it from a collection? Is it from a sample sale? Has the item been altered or repaired? Has it been dyed? There are so many aspects to consider, when you look at an item, especially an item of extreme value, like a Birkin or Classic Chanel . With high end items, there are basics to look for: hallmarks, codes, tags, etc. These should be consistent on popular and iconic items and are the gold standard when learning what to assess for. For example, after looking at as many Louis Vuittion Speedys as I have, I happen to know how many stitches there should be on a Louis Vuitton Speedy 35s pull tab. I know how many to count for, and always know points of interest to assess for an efficient and object evaluation. Generally, you really want to look at construction, materials, and you want to make sure there aren't careless things like uneven panels or words that are misspelled–– if anything looks off or is inconsistent with the brands hallmarks, it’s probably something you should consider to be a problem. To be frank, in this business, I have seen so many scary fakes and if you find one thing that seems off, 99.99% of the time that bag fell off the back of a truck! 

"A fake Hermès box does not look, smell, or feel anything like a real one."

On packaging specifically: A fake Hermès box does not look, smell, or feel anything like a real one. Packaging, receipts and authenticity cards don't definitively make an item in question real and they don't make an item in question fake. You really have to have a detailed eye, to be able to assess or even start to begin to understand packaging and receipts. Because people buy bags in different countries, every store prints a receipt in a different way. It is very easy to go online and buy a fake receipt template, so when you are taking those things [packaging] into consideration when you’re buying or selling things, you need to look at things like paper quality, dates, payment methods. There is normally a track to follow. 

Are there specific brands you see counterfeit more often than others? If so, what are some of the indicators that these items are real or fake?

Every time I get a batch of new arrivals to assess from Dora Maar, it's like a New York Times crossword puzzle field day for a fashion nerd like myself. It's very exciting to be able to be wowed weekly by what gets sent to my inbox and never know exactly what I could have the pleasure of taking a look at. The terribly fake things that I tend to see come past my desk over and over in this profession are things like sneakers, designer shoes and heels– lots of fake trendy and desirable Christian Louboutin and Gucci shoes. I do get fake Hermes Chanel and Louis Vuitton in from time to time, but normally these are terrible copies of the real thing. Cheap faux leather, zippers and stitching that couldn’t fool a child and seams that certainly don't adhere. 

"Things that people should be spending money on are classic pieces, enduring silhouettes and styles that will serve them 8-10 years to come."

People don't know what to look for. When you think about a fake Hermes bag it's not hand stitched, the leather is not quality, the hardware’s not the real metal, the handles aren't where they are supposed to be. I also see a lot of fake Louis Vuitton monogram. Things that people should spend money on for something that will last them 8-10 years. Fake hype items like Gucci belts, Hermes belts create such a clutter in the resale world. 

Can you talk a little bit about the provenance of a piece and how that plays into your authentication process?

You have to appreciate art and workmanship to even start to understand fashion. When you look at a Birkin bag, one person sat there at a desk for days, and worked on one item, to put it beautifully in an orange box, plastic seal it and send it somewhere like Madison Avenue for someone to spend $18,000 on it. People that make Birkins have the ability to create one of the most expensive things on earth. I think about that alot. The provenance of an item is so important, and where the item comes from, and its history is so exciting. There is a pride in knowing what goes into making a Birkin, there is a pride in knowing how many steps it takes to make a single Kelly bag handle, it has 52 steps to make… they layer the leather, they hand sculpt it, its beautifully sculpted like finished and layered and stitched onto the bag, you cannot fake a Kelly handle, nobody can. So when you talk about the provenance of fashion, and when you talk about couture pieces that are hand-stitched and handmade with hand-selected fabrics, you see the care and symmetry, the agility that goes into making something. 

I would love to know how every bag is taken apart and put together. If I had the money, I would love to cut a bag up... I would love to take a Birkin and cut it in half. Who wouldn't want to?! When I see Jeffree Star cutting a Louis Vuitton bag in half on his YouTube, I’m like “Jeffree, can you send it to me?” I want to know what's inside that bag.

What are some of the challenges you face in authenticating luxury items?

When you approach authentication, it is solely based on an opinion that one makes using a culmination of knowledge and information. It's subjective and every item is different and one should always use their most particular, objective judgment. Some items are much easier to evaluate with confidence than others. When it comes down to it, you have to be educated in what you're looking at and how to understand what you are evaluating for. When I look at something, I have my first gut reaction. Which is often spot on from the shape and appearance of the bag. Then sometimes when I get looking, I'll be digging and think “alright that's the tag I need to take a look at, however I’ve never seen the tag there, maybe in this case location isn’t super worrying to me… other tags in similar styles are found along the seams of the lining versus along the seams of the pockets etc.” Then you can start to realize how many variables you are venturing to assess when evaluating an item. I think one of the biggest challenges is, at the very least, being aware that even if you think the item in question is real, it could also very well be fake. Finding references to compare to, double checking with colleagues and researching for hours is all part of being thorough when wanting to make an informed and confident decision around the origins of an item. If you really just don't know what you’re looking at, phone a friend. I promise, there is a great fake out there for every item that has ever been sent out of a retail store post ‘carte blanche’ swipe… Imagine if one could actually compare every authentic designer creation to its second-class copy cousins… the immediate findings in their apparent differences would be just astounding. 

The resale industry has grown so much, how do you see the process of authentication growing as the market itself grows?

Back in the day, there were not a lot of great fake Louis Vuitton bags. We hadn't had these advances in tech that make it possible to mass produce, mass cut, mass handle, mass stitch. In the 2000s, when I was learning to authenticate and shopping on Ebay, there were only so many Louis Vuitton styles to study and learn. In the beginning the variety was nothing like what it has become today. Now there are multiple sizes, finishes, materials and editions to study and consider! Louis Vuitton has issued at least one limited edition Neverfull since its birth in 2007. Think about how many variations of the iconic bag have circulated… enough pieces that nearly every client on Louis Vuittons VIC (very important client) spend roster has one in their sales history.

"Back in the day, there were not a lot of great fake Louis Vuitton bags."

Now we are seeing companies like Entrupy, a software company, wanting to achieve fully automated authentication. They issue devices to their clients that give them the ability to evaluate [a piece] physically and cut out the middle-man by having the tools to document specific aspects of the item in question and submit them for digital review. It's an interesting approach because fashion, construction, materials and physical goods are so subjective. A piece of leather made from one cow, is not physically the same as a piece of leather from another cow, giving each high quality hide you use unique and varying characteristics. You might have a Birkin that is going to wear a weird way because of the way they cut the piece of leather used. Brands employ quality control for these types of defects by measuring the weight and hand of the leathers they use. As an authenticator, seeing things become automated significantly increases the already vast opportunity for error. A Louis Vuitton Speedy or a Gucci Marmont is the easiest thing to authenticate ever because I see 50 fakes for every 50 real, but you still have to know what you're looking at. You can upload as many images as you'd like to try and control for, and evaluate each aspect robotically. Fakes have become so sophisticated that they are starting to feature technology like NFC tap access to repairs, authenticity or style information. 

A brand can put every label, magnet or code into a bag to enable sales or repair associates to access and evaluate its origins. However, someone determined enough could easily go on Etsy or Amazon and buy 100 programmable NFC tags, program them to a fake Louis Vuitton website or page to fool unsuspecting folks into convincing technology arguments. Hermès will never have leather goods made by a machine, and in the same respect for tradition and savoir faire, I will never buy a bag authenticated by a machine. I would not trust a machine to authenticate a bag for myself and that be the only say. Maybe that's an old fashioned opinion, but it's most certainly an opinion made after 15 years of authenticating and learning from both the most gorgeous creations and the most terrible fakes of the world. 

What has been your most favorite piece that you’ve been able to authenticate during your career?

My dream bag came across the desk at REBAG. The apple of my eye is a fat, buttery, beautiful chocolate brown crocodile Hermes Birkin, 35cm with brushed Palladium hardware. It was one of those random weekdays in Soho where someone happens to bring in a plastic tub full of Hermes bags. It [the bag] was a shining example of gorgeous and diligent late 90’s craftsmanship. Like I mentioned earlier, every luxury item is different. Something so special about Hermès creations is the process by which they select skins, especially present in their sumptuous exotic creations. Even if made from the same animal and maybe even the same color, every skin is different, every scale is different, no bag is the same. So when a trained eye looks at an exotic bag, one can deeply consider the skin, appreciate its symmetry and notice how the artisan decided to place and cut their pattern to best celebrate the hide.

Any rare items you’d love to see in person but haven’t yet? 

I have a thing for people watching and for really rare bags and watches. People watching is my thing and lets you learn so much more about fellow fashionistas who appreciate fashion in its highest art form. If I'm walking up Madison [Avenue], I’m looking at bags, watches and shoes. One sees the everyday Rolex or Cartier up and down Madison five times over; however, what a treat it is to pass the fine time-house’s storefront and catch your friendly UES zillionaire wearing Richard Mille or Jaeger-LeCoultre creation which can be so impeccably stunning even I’d stop in my tracks hoping to catching a closer look. To be within feet of a piece like Jay-Z’s $3 Million dollar diamond Hublot that Beyonce treated him to for his birthday several years ago, is magical. The watch is basically nothing but diamonds. I would love to see the Tiffany & Co Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, I'd be so excited to get near one or get it on my wrist… one recently sold at auction for $6.5 Million to an unidentified buyer… without a single diamond on the darn thing! With my personal love for exotic skins with unique qualities and character, I would love the opportunity to get my hands on a So- Black Crocodile Birkin. It features blackened PVD plated hardware, an discrete embossed logo and monochromatic packaging! Leave it to the creative genius of Jean Paul Gaultier to ensure one of Hermès most iconic limited edition bags be sent in enviable all–black packaging. The box was black, the ribbon was black, even the tissue, dustbags and paper pamphlets were black!! 

What’s your favorite item that you’ve authenticated at Dora Maar?

The impeccable Cognac Alligator belted trench by Ricardo Tisci for Burberry (from the curated closet of @lizzy_savetsky). That is a highlight of my career to be honest, it's up there with my most memorable evaluations. I’d consider a coat of this caliber to be more of a luxury than a Birkin… as few resale Birkins approach the RETAIL value of this beautiful garment, which proudly boasts what I’d estimate to easily be crafted of 10-12 full alligator hides… even the late, great André Leon Talley would be envious of its elegance and distinctiveness. He was known to wear bespoke exotic garments regularly made for him by hand at Tom Ford or Gucci and due to his stature and grandeur would require, what I would imagine, to be almost double the amount of skins for a custom garment when compared to this exquisite retail coat. Imagine wearing nearly 30 alligators, Cruella DeVille could never! 

Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway

Burberry

Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway

Who's your dream Muse closet?

My dream Muse closets are @lorihirshleifer, @tamumcpherson, @irisapfel, @lisakornblank, and @luciazolea!

Authentication is not a science, it’s an Art

An interview with Dora Maar’s Luxury Authentication and Evaluation Partner,
Alexander Saady

Listen to Alex: 

Ever wonder what it feels like to swim in a sea of handbags? Meet Alexander (Alex) Saady, Dora Maar's Luxury Authentication and Evaluation partner. Alex's career in luxury authentication spans over 15 years, but his love of luxury started even earlier. He once asked his mom for a Louis Vuitton wallet for his 13th birthday. Alex started honing in on the study of luxury bags when he started buying and selling in high school, and began authenticating and consulting for consignment shops in college. It was once he moved to the big city and worked with REBAG, that allowed Alex to evaluate and learn from 1,000s of bags a week. Our founder, Lauren Wilson, sat down with Alex to find out his take on the future of luxury fashion, what it takes to craft the perfect bag, and to chat about the complex world of authentication.

How did you begin a career in the luxury industry and why did you decide to focus on authentication?

I grew up somewhere where there really was no fashion around me. The totality of the fashion we had was a Nordstrom, where the most expensive thing they sold in 2011 was a Marc Jacobs ‘Stam’ bag. I was always interested in higher-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, and was so mystified by my grandma’s vintage clothes from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent that she would buy in Europe in the 1950’s and 60s. I started to cherish and want those beautiful things for myself. At an early age, I figured if I was going to invest in something as important as fashion, it might as well be the best of the best! When I was about 13, I was an early bloomer when it came to luxury goods–– I was like “Mom, I want a Louis Vuitton wallet for my birthday, and she was like you, a child, are ridiculous to expect a Louis Vuitton wallet for your birthday!” So I set out to find myself my very first luxury items. I started to hunt estate sales and made thrifting more than a hobby. I had to become savvy enough to be able to find and validate these finds for myself. I realized how few people had the skill to be able to discern between a 2003 Canal Street knock off from an authentic Louis Vuitton from France. There were no resources. It was a skill I had to acquire to feel comfortable spending money on myself and I realized how valuable it was that I was able to foster that skill. 

"Authentication is certainly not a science, and it's an even harder practice to hone in on than art."

In high school, I started to buy and sell on Ebay. Back in those days, you had to actually send checks to people to pay for purchases, so I’ve really seen resale change a lot throughout the years. I’ve been around fashion for a long time and when I was finding my way into the fashion world, I realized what a special skill authentication was when I saw how badly some of the fakes people were buying and selling were. Very few of these fakes were of any quality to pass as handmade by a craftsperson, let alone genuine leather, and even fewer people happened to possess the keen eye to catch and differentiate the minute details that can make or break a very good fake. When I started off in college, I consulted for local consignment stores and pawn shops, basically any place where somebody might bring designer sunglasses, a Louis Vuitton bag or divine fur coat and want to sell it off for quick cash – I would offer my skill, my expertise and my eye to ensure the business owner wasn’t being duped. Think of me as the very first Pawn Stars Expert; any reputable business wants to ensure what they’re spending on is genuine and worth every penny. I have to say, an added perk was that I got to be first in line to buy a bag or two ;).

My first official job where I got to use my expertise full time was with REBAG. I spent time consulting in their Soho boutique while they were just starting to expand and open up all of their boutiques. It was so exciting to work hands on with so many different kinds of bags. It gave me the opportunity to sit and study hands-on the details of so many bags one wouldn’t just find laying around a consignment shop. I was able to study fine stitching, touch the world's most gorgeous materials (literally), and examine the unique details each brand's savoir-faire had to offer. A Balenciaga creation is not the same as an Hermès–– each brand, style and creation is made differently. Authentication is certainly not a science, and it's an even harder practice to hone in on than art. There are so many things one can't expect or control for. Each item I’ve had the pleasure to evaluate has been so unique in every way. Each creation, skin, stitch and layer is completely different item by item, It's just so magical to think about.

How did you develop this expertise?

Rule #1, when asking an authenticator, at least, always trust your gut. The more one sees and researches, the more familiar they’ll be able to become with brands they evaluate consistently. This allows you to identify red flags more easily and to understand what tell-tale things could be easily noticed. The essence of a luxury bag is its craftsmanship and materials; understanding how these beautiful things are created and what they are made of allows one to easily assess an item just by our natural senses. 

"Rule #1. . . always trust your gut"

What materials are used? What does the item feel or smell like? What kind of training has gone into producing bags for houses like Hermès, Chanel, or Louis Vuitton? The quality of something like a Longchamp ‘Le Pliage’ tote has maybe six components, is 80/20 Nylon/Leather, takes minutes to produce and costs pennies. It is polar compared to that of something like a Chanel Classic which boasts layers and layers of work, meticulous quilt stitching and symmetrical achievement. I've had the opportunity to work with LVMH and seen first hand what the repairs process looks like from start to finish. Items are meticulously taken apart and put back together. Each house is so exacting in their processes as each of their designs are built to last, bear weight and to withstand all of the crazy stuff we do to them. Through Covid, I had the opportunity to learn to work with and construct goods in fine leather by an ex-Hermès craftsman. The more I’ve come to understand what it takes to make a bag from scraps in a workshop to the inside of a gift box on Madison Ave is astonishing. Handbag nerds rejoice and throw around the fact that the average Hermès creation takes 50+ hours of working time to complete. As I’ve always known that good things come to those who wait, consumers rarely ponder what knowledge and materials actually pour into something as sacred as making a Birkin from scratch. You can say to someone –– “ It takes 100 hours to make a Birkin” but most people can’t begin to fathom every stitch, tiny leather components they’ll never lay eyes on, or each piece of metal that has to be set by hand. It’s literally incredible, to be able to create one of the world's most priceless possessions is literally… priceless. When it boils down to it, wanting to more deeply understand what you're evaluating is the first step to being able to start knowing what to look for. If you have the chance to study, inspect, smell, feel, and get into your favorite designer's bag, that's how you’re going to become more familiar and get a better sense of what is right and wrong.

Walk us through the process of examining a piece, and how you determine if something is real or fake?

Every item is different. Chanel ready-to-wear from the 90s is not going to look like Chanel ready-to-wear from the late 2000s. Chanel RTW from the 90s had handwritten garment tags. There are so many things to consider when you’re looking at items. Was the item a sample or was it from a collection? Is it from a sample sale? Has the item been altered or repaired? Has it been dyed? There are so many aspects to consider, when you look at an item, especially an item of extreme value, like a Birkin or Classic Chanel . With high end items, there are basics to look for: hallmarks, codes, tags, etc. These should be consistent on popular and iconic items and are the gold standard when learning what to assess for. For example, after looking at as many Louis Vuittion Speedys as I have, I happen to know how many stitches there should be on a Louis Vuitton Speedy 35s pull tab. I know how many to count for, and always know points of interest to assess for an efficient and object evaluation. Generally, you really want to look at construction, materials, and you want to make sure there aren't careless things like uneven panels or words that are misspelled–– if anything looks off or is inconsistent with the brands hallmarks, it’s probably something you should consider to be a problem. To be frank, in this business, I have seen so many scary fakes and if you find one thing that seems off, 99.99% of the time that bag fell off the back of a truck! 

"A fake Hermès box does not look, smell, or feel anything like a real one."

On packaging specifically: A fake Hermès box does not look, smell, or feel anything like a real one. Packaging, receipts and authenticity cards don't definitively make an item in question real and they don't make an item in question fake. You really have to have a detailed eye, to be able to assess or even start to begin to understand packaging and receipts. Because people buy bags in different countries, every store prints a receipt in a different way. It is very easy to go online and buy a fake receipt template, so when you are taking those things [packaging] into consideration when you’re buying or selling things, you need to look at things like paper quality, dates, payment methods. There is normally a track to follow. 

Are there specific brands you see counterfeit more often than others? If so, what are some of the indicators that these items are real or fake?

Every time I get a batch of new arrivals to assess from Dora Maar, it's like a New York Times crossword puzzle field day for a fashion nerd like myself. It's very exciting to be able to be wowed weekly by what gets sent to my inbox and never know exactly what I could have the pleasure of taking a look at. The terribly fake things that I tend to see come past my desk over and over in this profession are things like sneakers, designer shoes and heels– lots of fake trendy and desirable Christian Louboutin and Gucci shoes. I do get fake Hermes Chanel and Louis Vuitton in from time to time, but normally these are terrible copies of the real thing. Cheap faux leather, zippers and stitching that couldn’t fool a child and seams that certainly don't adhere. 

"Things that people should be spending money on are classic pieces, enduring silhouettes and styles that will serve them 8-10 years to come."

People don't know what to look for. When you think about a fake Hermes bag it's not hand stitched, the leather is not quality, the hardware’s not the real metal, the handles aren't where they are supposed to be. I also see a lot of fake Louis Vuitton monogram. Things that people should spend money on for something that will last them 8-10 years. Fake hype items like Gucci belts, Hermes belts create such a clutter in the resale world. 

Can you talk a little bit about the provenance of a piece and how that plays into your authentication process?

You have to appreciate art and workmanship to even start to understand fashion. When you look at a Birkin bag, one person sat there at a desk for days, and worked on one item, to put it beautifully in an orange box, plastic seal it and send it somewhere like Madison Avenue for someone to spend $18,000 on it. People that make Birkins have the ability to create one of the most expensive things on earth. I think about that alot. The provenance of an item is so important, and where the item comes from, and its history is so exciting. There is a pride in knowing what goes into making a Birkin, there is a pride in knowing how many steps it takes to make a single Kelly bag handle, it has 52 steps to make… they layer the leather, they hand sculpt it, its beautifully sculpted like finished and layered and stitched onto the bag, you cannot fake a Kelly handle, nobody can. So when you talk about the provenance of fashion, and when you talk about couture pieces that are hand-stitched and handmade with hand-selected fabrics, you see the care and symmetry, the agility that goes into making something. 

I would love to know how every bag is taken apart and put together. If I had the money, I would love to cut a bag up... I would love to take a Birkin and cut it in half. Who wouldn't want to?! When I see Jeffree Star cutting a Louis Vuitton bag in half on his YouTube, I’m like “Jeffree, can you send it to me?” I want to know what's inside that bag.

What are some of the challenges you face in authenticating luxury items?

When you approach authentication, it is solely based on an opinion that one makes using a culmination of knowledge and information. It's subjective and every item is different and one should always use their most particular, objective judgment. Some items are much easier to evaluate with confidence than others. When it comes down to it, you have to be educated in what you're looking at and how to understand what you are evaluating for. When I look at something, I have my first gut reaction. Which is often spot on from the shape and appearance of the bag. Then sometimes when I get looking, I'll be digging and think “alright that's the tag I need to take a look at, however I’ve never seen the tag there, maybe in this case location isn’t super worrying to me… other tags in similar styles are found along the seams of the lining versus along the seams of the pockets etc.” Then you can start to realize how many variables you are venturing to assess when evaluating an item. I think one of the biggest challenges is, at the very least, being aware that even if you think the item in question is real, it could also very well be fake. Finding references to compare to, double checking with colleagues and researching for hours is all part of being thorough when wanting to make an informed and confident decision around the origins of an item. If you really just don't know what you’re looking at, phone a friend. I promise, there is a great fake out there for every item that has ever been sent out of a retail store post ‘carte blanche’ swipe… Imagine if one could actually compare every authentic designer creation to its second-class copy cousins… the immediate findings in their apparent differences would be just astounding. 

The resale industry has grown so much, how do you see the process of authentication growing as the market itself grows?

Back in the day, there were not a lot of great fake Louis Vuitton bags. We hadn't had these advances in tech that make it possible to mass produce, mass cut, mass handle, mass stitch. In the 2000s, when I was learning to authenticate and shopping on Ebay, there were only so many Louis Vuitton styles to study and learn. In the beginning the variety was nothing like what it has become today. Now there are multiple sizes, finishes, materials and editions to study and consider! Louis Vuitton has issued at least one limited edition Neverfull since its birth in 2007. Think about how many variations of the iconic bag have circulated… enough pieces that nearly every client on Louis Vuittons VIC (very important client) spend roster has one in their sales history.

"Back in the day, there were not a lot of great fake Louis Vuitton bags."

Now we are seeing companies like Entrupy, a software company, wanting to achieve fully automated authentication. They issue devices to their clients that give them the ability to evaluate [a piece] physically and cut out the middle-man by having the tools to document specific aspects of the item in question and submit them for digital review. It's an interesting approach because fashion, construction, materials and physical goods are so subjective. A piece of leather made from one cow, is not physically the same as a piece of leather from another cow, giving each high quality hide you use unique and varying characteristics. You might have a Birkin that is going to wear a weird way because of the way they cut the piece of leather used. Brands employ quality control for these types of defects by measuring the weight and hand of the leathers they use. As an authenticator, seeing things become automated significantly increases the already vast opportunity for error. A Louis Vuitton Speedy or a Gucci Marmont is the easiest thing to authenticate ever because I see 50 fakes for every 50 real, but you still have to know what you're looking at. You can upload as many images as you'd like to try and control for, and evaluate each aspect robotically. Fakes have become so sophisticated that they are starting to feature technology like NFC tap access to repairs, authenticity or style information. 

A brand can put every label, magnet or code into a bag to enable sales or repair associates to access and evaluate its origins. However, someone determined enough could easily go on Etsy or Amazon and buy 100 programmable NFC tags, program them to a fake Louis Vuitton website or page to fool unsuspecting folks into convincing technology arguments. Hermès will never have leather goods made by a machine, and in the same respect for tradition and savoir faire, I will never buy a bag authenticated by a machine. I would not trust a machine to authenticate a bag for myself and that be the only say. Maybe that's an old fashioned opinion, but it's most certainly an opinion made after 15 years of authenticating and learning from both the most gorgeous creations and the most terrible fakes of the world. 

What has been your most favorite piece that you’ve been able to authenticate during your career?

My dream bag came across the desk at REBAG. The apple of my eye is a fat, buttery, beautiful chocolate brown crocodile Hermes Birkin, 35cm with brushed Palladium hardware. It was one of those random weekdays in Soho where someone happens to bring in a plastic tub full of Hermes bags. It [the bag] was a shining example of gorgeous and diligent late 90’s craftsmanship. Like I mentioned earlier, every luxury item is different. Something so special about Hermès creations is the process by which they select skins, especially present in their sumptuous exotic creations. Even if made from the same animal and maybe even the same color, every skin is different, every scale is different, no bag is the same. So when a trained eye looks at an exotic bag, one can deeply consider the skin, appreciate its symmetry and notice how the artisan decided to place and cut their pattern to best celebrate the hide.

Any rare items you’d love to see in person but haven’t yet? 

I have a thing for people watching and for really rare bags and watches. People watching is my thing and lets you learn so much more about fellow fashionistas who appreciate fashion in its highest art form. If I'm walking up Madison [Avenue], I’m looking at bags, watches and shoes. One sees the everyday Rolex or Cartier up and down Madison five times over; however, what a treat it is to pass the fine time-house’s storefront and catch your friendly UES zillionaire wearing Richard Mille or Jaeger-LeCoultre creation which can be so impeccably stunning even I’d stop in my tracks hoping to catching a closer look. To be within feet of a piece like Jay-Z’s $3 Million dollar diamond Hublot that Beyonce treated him to for his birthday several years ago, is magical. The watch is basically nothing but diamonds. I would love to see the Tiffany & Co Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, I'd be so excited to get near one or get it on my wrist… one recently sold at auction for $6.5 Million to an unidentified buyer… without a single diamond on the darn thing! With my personal love for exotic skins with unique qualities and character, I would love the opportunity to get my hands on a So- Black Crocodile Birkin. It features blackened PVD plated hardware, an discrete embossed logo and monochromatic packaging! Leave it to the creative genius of Jean Paul Gaultier to ensure one of Hermès most iconic limited edition bags be sent in enviable all–black packaging. The box was black, the ribbon was black, even the tissue, dustbags and paper pamphlets were black!! 

What’s your favorite item that you’ve authenticated at Dora Maar?

The impeccable Cognac Alligator belted trench by Ricardo Tisci for Burberry (from the curated closet of @lizzy_savetsky). That is a highlight of my career to be honest, it's up there with my most memorable evaluations. I’d consider a coat of this caliber to be more of a luxury than a Birkin… as few resale Birkins approach the RETAIL value of this beautiful garment, which proudly boasts what I’d estimate to easily be crafted of 10-12 full alligator hides… even the late, great André Leon Talley would be envious of its elegance and distinctiveness. He was known to wear bespoke exotic garments regularly made for him by hand at Tom Ford or Gucci and due to his stature and grandeur would require, what I would imagine, to be almost double the amount of skins for a custom garment when compared to this exquisite retail coat. Imagine wearing nearly 30 alligators, Cruella DeVille could never! 

Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway
Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway

Burberry

Alligator Trench Coat | Spring '19 Runway

Who's your dream Muse closet?

My dream Muse closets are @lorihirshleifer, @tamumcpherson, @irisapfel, @lisakornblank, and @luciazolea!

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