5. Any market in Rome
Just as we were roped in five years ago, tourists to the Eternal City continue to throw their money at street vendors flashing Dolce & Gabbana and Prada logos. You might not want to believe it, but behind the beautiful frescos and ancient grandeur of Italy is Europe's largest counterfeit producer, with everything from fake bags and sunglasses to fake perfumes and sportswear and shoes trotted out in the markets.
The men usually selling the illegal wares are called the "Vú Cumprá," a whole level of society in Italian cities, made up of illegal immigrants from Africa, specifically Senegal, who funnel directly into the counterfeit sales business in Italy. They will spread out any number and variety of fake luxury goods on blanket on the ground, or simply wring their necks with the bag straps as they waddle through markets. It's not a pretty sight, and yet the hoards of shoppers anxious for logos practically strip the Vú Cumprá by the end of the day.
4. The Old City in Shanghai
Technically, the "old city" is really just the traditional-looking area around the Yuyuan Gardens, where you'll also find a McDonald's and a Starbucks for the tourists who flock to the Gardens. The market stalls along the street will try to sell you cheap silk coin purses and elaborately-embroidered shoes, but beware anyone who offers to take you down an alley to show you Chanel and Gucci; you are headed to a counterfeit den.
Since most of the designer fakes are manufactured in China, here is where you will likely find the cheapest prices. Still, selling counterfeits is a crime here as well, and the den you enter is a really a dena temporary room rented out of someone's dingy hovel, frequently moved to avoid police and so cramped that only a few buyers and sellers can fit at once. Not to mention intimidating. Giant Gucci totebags run about $25, and top-of-line Fendi leather knockoffs max out at $40, but there is a serious safety risk here.
3. Santee Alley in Los Angeles
Santee Alley may be the place to find knock-offs of designer brands, but just around the corner is the city's garment district where you can find t-shirts, dresses, skirts, pants, tops and more for prices ranging from $5 to $10. Seriously, nothing here costs more than $10. They even sell Forever21 clothes, with tags and all, for half the price.
This being LA, there's less of safety concern than in the back alleys of Shanghai, but we'd still watch out for shifty eyes and run the other way.
2. Namdaemun Market in Seoul
Some Korean friends took us here late one night for the specific reason of dazzling us with the warehouse-size sprawl of designer fake vendors available at almost all hours of the day. South Korean-made knock-offs are like the caviar of the fakes world; if you want to buy a counterfeit bag, you want one from here. We spotted Marc Jacobs wallets we knew had only recently debuted back in New York, and a gazillion of those Anya Hindmarch "I Am Not a Plastic Bag" totes from seasons ago, still selling like hotcakes.
Of almost identical appearance to the real thing were Chanel purses and Ferragamo shoes, the Chanel purses manufactured with an "O" instead of a "C," but leaving a part of the "O" easily snippable to turn into a "C." Since shopping for counterfeits is so widespread and like going to the mall here, the vendors are often very nice and make respectable kiosks. Still, you have to remember the black market behind it.
1. Canal Street in New York City
Canal will always take the cake in regards to counterfeit sales, simply because there is such a demand from a constant flow of tourists of all ages, and because of the ease of going underground. A recent slew of police crackdowns on the shanty stalls on Canal only pushed the bag and watch sellers to go mobile; bringing customers into vans stocked with the goods.
It might be New York and not Shanghai, but home turf doesn't mean you are safe. Tourists browsing the goods are every so often held hostage by the vendors while police attempt to make a raid. These days, we simply walk in the street in order to avoid the whispered illicit offers of such salesman. It's not like we could fit on the sidewalk anyways, what with everyone gawking at fake Ray-Bans and swinging their purchases around in black plastic bags.
You've now been fully warned, as we've visited and experience the counterfeit markets in all of these locations. We don't want to read in the news that one of our readers had been held hostage in a basement underneath Canal Street, so stick to the high streets and avoid these places. Pretty please? For more information on counterfeiting, we love reading Counterfeit Chic, a lawyer who blogs about such issues.
[Seoul Counterfeit Salesman photo: Jaunted]