Buying Fake Designer Goods in Rome

8 Oct

One of the things that my study abroad students used to ask me every so often was, “Where can we go to get the fake purses?”

There are a few places that are almost like established stores by now, so well-known are they for selling counterfeit luxury goods like Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags. I had students who had become experts not only in bartering for the best price (“Don’t ever spend more than €25…”) to knowing exactly how to identify the crappy knock-offs from the more authentic-looking ones (“The Gucci bags where the G’s look like 69’s instead of G’s? Avoid them. Way too fake-looking.”)

Personally, I’ve never bought a fake bag and I never intend to. It’s not some sort of statement or snobbery. It’s just that I think I would feel silly carrying one around, when nearly my entire wardrobe consists of Old Navy clothing and Payless shoes. I mean, come on. I pay $16 for a pair of shoes but then I want to try to make people believe that I spent $600 on a handbag? Who are we kidding here?

But lots of people buy them. This article from the International Herald Tribune says that 20% of Italians buy fake goods. Actually, I don’t think that it’s really accurate to examine how many Italians buy the fake goods. My guess is that the majority of the bags are sold to tourists.

I’ve accepted these street vendors without complaint, because they are as much as part of the city as the people who beg for money or the street performers. But I have to say that despite what the article above (from January 2006) says, just recently I’ve seen a marked increase in street vendors selling fake designer purses, sunglasses, and the like. This summer on the more touristy end of my street in Trastevere, madness truly descended. There were so many street vendors with their blankets spread out on both sides of the street, that there was literally only room for people to walk almost single-file. It was becoming like the Vegas Strip, and I found myself searching for alternate routes to avoid the traffic. Luckily I don’t live near that part of the street so I don’t have to bother with the chaos when I come in and out of my apartment, but I have to wonder how the residents who live on that side of the street must feel when they have to maneuver around all these bags and people just to get to their front doors.

A phenomenon you might see when in Rome is a sudden mass exodus of the street vendors packing everything up and getting the hell out of Dodge. That’s because they’ve heard that police are on the beat and so they need to move. Now, I really question whether these street vendors actually ever get ticketed. I think they more likely just find new spots to set up shop, or come back the next day.

For example, towards the end of the summer I saw a sudden disappearance of the street vendors on that busy end of my street, which directly coincided with a marked increase in police cars patroling that particular area. However, around the exact same time, I saw a huge increase in vendors setting up shop in front of the Pantheon (where the photos for this post were taken). It had gotten to the point where one could barely move in the area surrounding the outside of the Pantheon, for fear of tripping over a handbag or pair of sunglasses displayed on the ground or on makeshift tables fashioned from cardboard boxes.

The last I heard, the law was that the person who purchases the fake goods is the one commiting the crime. In fact, the same IHT article says that a Philippine woman living in Florence was fined €3,333 for buying fake sunglasses for €11. While I think that’s entirely possible, I also have to say that I think the chances of a tourist actually getting fined for purchasing fake goods sold in broad daylight in high-traffic tourist zones is just about as likely as the street vendors getting fined or arrested, which I think probably never happens. In my view, there’s an unacceptably high level of tolerance that goes on.

Of course, counterfeit goods are sold in most of the big cities of the world. For three days on my honeymoon I had the opportunity to be in Hong Kong, a simply fascinating and enchanting city, but on certain streets you couldn’t walk two feet without being asked to buy fake electronics or watches. In New York you hear about mysterious secret back rooms where the goods are sold (such as the one mentioned in this article). So I know it’s a problem that doesn’t just concern Rome.

I personally wouldn’t mind if the street vendors were completely wiped off the Rome landscape … to me their improvised street “shops” are annoying and an eyesore, especially in front of such great cultural landmarks, but I know it’s a complicated issue. I haven’t even touched the points surrounding the street vendors themselves, who are most likely all illegal immigrants who certainly have found refuge and a better life here in Italy, or the arguments from the luxury goods companies, who say that these sales not only lower the overall value of their brand, but cause massive job loss in their industries.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever bought one of the bags? (It’s ok to admit it, I doubt the tax police will come hunt you down.) I’m curious to know if you see these vendors as annoyances or as providing some kind of valuable service, allowing people to purchase fake goods at a fraction of the price they cost when they are real.

It’s come to the point where even if I had the money to buy a real designer bag, I probably wouldn’t do it now… I’d be too embarassed thinking that everyone would look at it and think it was a fake.


34 Responses to “Buying Fake Designer Goods in Rome”

  1. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy October 8, 2007 at 1:07 pm #

    No, I’ve never bought a fake bag…I refuse to. I think if I want people to believe I’m carrying around a “big brand,” then I should be ready to make the (sacrifice) monetarily to do it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Save up and get the real thing if it’s that important. Otherwise, spend that money on a decent bag made with better materials.

  2. nyc/caribbean ragazza October 8, 2007 at 2:01 pm #

    Shelley, did I send you my manuscript or something? ha.

    No one would think your real bag is a fake.

    On the travel boards there have been stories of tourists getting hefty fines for buying fake bags. Maybe there is a crackdown going on. I do not understand why anyone would buy a fake bag, esp. in Italy!!. The quality is horrible. The money goes to some pretty shady characters who run the factories that make the knockoffs.

    I’m with Sara. If you can’t afford a Gucci bag don’t buy one. There are people in the States who throw parties where they sell “better quality” fake bags. Women who pay $300 dollars for a fake Balenciaga (they run around $800 and up) are crazy, just use that money and get a well made leather Coach bag or something. Anyone with a decent eye will tell your bag is a fake and you paid too much for it.

    I have heard rational, intelligent people say “well Prada and Gucci make enought money, so what if I buy a fake?” Really, so I guess a buyer of fake goods should have no problem doing whatever they do for a living for free then. All the knockoffs made in China may not put a dent in Ms. Prada’s personal pocket but all the seamtresses, salespeople, and thousand of people employed to make the legit goods may not be so understanding of the idea that we should get things for free or on the cheap.

    When I stayed in Trastevere, you couldn’t walk down the street because there were so many vendors. Most of the people buying were my fellow Americans.

  3. Buda Baby October 8, 2007 at 2:18 pm #

    Never bought one either – it’s not my style, real or fake. I am a sucker for leather shops though, where for similar money (or sometimes a lot more money) you can buy something more one-of-a-kind. Plus, it is more fun to remember later meeting the guy who actually made the bag versus cutting a fast deal with the shifty-eyed guy on the street!

  4. erin October 8, 2007 at 2:39 pm #

    I’ve never bought any of these fake goods, nor do I plan to. There are many reasons I see for not doing so:
    – It’s illegal and is in a way stealing from the “real” companies who worked hard to create a certain image
    – There are several reports from the US, Interpol, and most currently Northern Ireland that link this with growing support of terrorist groups. I’m not sure how far this goes and I’m sure no one really feels the global impact of buying a fake 10euro bag, but I try to be conscious when buying other products (such as fair trade, supporting local farmers, etc) so I can’t weigh my mind down with doubtful thoughts like “well, my small purchase won’t mean much in the whole grand scheme of things”…b/c it can.
    – I’m confident enough in myself as a person to know that I don’t need to have (or just look like I have) a designer bag (or other products). I like fashion and being creative with what I wear, but not at the expense of others – especially not when it’s something FAKE! When people buy fake things, it’s not b/c they like the look of it (thus being a purchase for themselves) – but b/c they can appear to be a certain status to OTHERS.

  5. Elizabeth October 8, 2007 at 2:52 pm #

    For a good deal on bags and shoes try the Testaccio market. Not cheap, but reasonable for the quality, many are stock out. I get my bags at the first stand on the corner.
    Ditto all above, if I am going to walk around with a Gucci bag, it had better be a real one, and the rest of my attire would have to be in line.

  6. romantales October 8, 2007 at 3:11 pm #

    I’ve never bought one. With so many bautiful leather bags one can buy here, I don’t see any point in buying fake brand. I guess I am just not a type to go around with LV, DG… or any other initials on my bag.

  7. Michelle October 8, 2007 at 5:29 pm #

    I wouldn’t buy a fake bag. It’s fake. No joy in that. The street vendors are extremely annoying. I visited Rome last March and had a great time but around heavily touristy areas like the Vatican, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, those guys were just in your face (especially at Trevi Fountain). It’s too bad really because I’m sure a lot of tourists buy that cheap stuff made in China. Here’s my take: why in the world would you spend all your time and money planning and taking a trip to Italy only to buy stuff you can get ANYWHERE in the world? Forget about missing the whole point of being around some of the most amazing ruins, history, architecture, art, etc etc. I don’t know anything about Italian laws but maybe since the vendors omnipresence is allowed anyway, they could at least allocate one area where they could all set up and those who want that kind of thing can go there.

  8. finnyknits October 8, 2007 at 6:00 pm #

    I actually haven’t ever bought a fake bag, but I am not above going to the outlets (Coach, Prada – you know) and buying a designer bag on discount.

    I have found though, at the end of the day, a well made leather bag without a fancy designer logo on it is my preferred accessory. I have a feeling that the supah soft leather hobo bag I have now will last me for years without any troubles because it is well made from fine materials.

    Meanwhile, the Coach and Prada bags I coveted for so long are hanging on their hooks in the closet because *feeling dumb* I now feel their logos are too flashy.

    My question after all this though, is what about the tourists who aren’t necessarily looking for a designer knock-off, but just want to buy a pair of sunglasses for the hot Roman summer while their traipsing around the Pantheon? They aren’t even trying to do anything shady – they’re just getting some sunglasses just like they might do on the streest in Mexico or SF or NY…just a thought. The situation is pretty widespread. It’s almost normal now.

  9. John F Rauchert October 8, 2007 at 7:09 pm #

    We didn’t buy anything from the street vendors but we were amused by the dance they did with the police. In Florence, there was a large group of them huddled in an alley looking around the corner waiting for the police to move away from the Ponte Vecchio.

  10. lisa October 8, 2007 at 9:15 pm #

    I personally would never buy a fake just because I would feel funny about it..but alot of americans love to buy fakes! Why……I don’t know! sometimes I have even heard that they are real and are “hot” bags. or stolen. I don’t know! But I must say I love your blog those other articles on the pasta and the pasticceria are fantastic! thx 🙂

  11. Cristina October 9, 2007 at 6:20 am #

    Yes, the dance where they run away from the police is quite a site. when I was in Firenze in June, I witnessed this, and an oriental woman selling shawls was too slow. She was on the ground wailing while the carabinieri were rolling their eyes. They let her cry for awhile, but they did take her in, so I guess there are some arrests make.
    Agree about the designer bags. Buy a real one (at a discount outlet) or don’t buy them at all. the fake ones are really obviously fake, so there’s no fooling anyone. Enjoyed the post-and the pasta one! Ciao

  12. Lee Ann October 9, 2007 at 7:54 am #

    Just found your blog and am really enjoying it. Especially since I will be in Rome at the end of the month.

    On the issue of fake vs real, I wouldn’t buy either. I hate logos on my stuff. Why pay someone to advertise for them. Just makes you look cheap no matter what you paid for it (like a NASCAR vehicle). I’d feel silly running around with logos all over me.

  13. Isabelle October 9, 2007 at 4:33 pm #

    Completely OK with you…
    There was a massive arrest of these street vendors on Pza Navona 3 or 4 weeks ago though I don’t think that’s so frequent…
    What drives me crazy is seeing the tourists bargaining and arguing with these vendors whereas THEY are doing something illegal. There should be large European campaigns on this subject, though (I think that many tourists are not aware of what they risk !). My boyfriend actually works on these subjects (between France and Italy … difficult issue beacause fake items are sometimes actually made in Italian factories…

  14. Albert October 9, 2007 at 4:46 pm #

    I wouldn’t buy a fake bag,it’s not worth to pay a fine when you will be caught by the customs and your bag is confiscated by the customs,the bag is not good quality.I have seen in Paris and other cities in France you have black people who sell fake things such bags,purses,wallets ….

  15. Sherry October 9, 2007 at 5:07 pm #

    I too would never buy a fake bag. I covet certain designer bags (chloe anyone?) BUT since I cannot afford it I will simply enjoy my lovely *real* Italian leather bag that I purchased in Florence almost a month ago. Honestly, I have gotten so many compliments on that bag that my desire for a designer bag at 3-4 times the cost is waning.

  16. Janavi October 10, 2007 at 1:18 am #

    I couldn’t believe all the vendors around the Pantheon the last time I was in Rome & NAPLES is even worse,so many times I saw the police just strolling by.There is a link to terrorism & child labor, so I would never buy one & it’s just so tacky.Of course we have a big problem here in NY also,but there has been a crackdown, so now people sometimes take prospective customers into basements. As a tourist in Italy I really hate seeing the vendors around the monuments.And I would much rather have a beautiful but anonymous bag.

  17. Janavi October 10, 2007 at 1:26 am #

    Also,I have wondered if the police mostly turn a blind eye because the Mafia is somehow behind all these vendors.

  18. pina October 10, 2007 at 2:45 am #

    i’ve never understood why rome doesn’t really do something..not just pretend. i’m not a big fan of the vendors and wouldn’t mind them not being allowed to set up on any street. one year in rome, the area around the colosseo was so crowded you almost had to walk single file around it!

  19. CP October 10, 2007 at 3:30 am #

    Very interesting post! I will admit that I did buy a fake Burberry purse back when I was in high school. I used it for a bit and then threw it out for a number of reasons. (1) The quality is obviously really bad, (2) I’d rather wait for the real thing, and (3) I do not wish to support criminal activity. I visited Rome two Christmas’ ago and even during the low season at all the main tourist attractions there were tons of street vendors selling them. My opinion on the matter is this: either buy a bag that is still is very nice but not designer, or save for the real thing. I have a small LV, a Coach, and a few others, all that I received as presents for my birthday or Christmas. It is much better to just wait for the real thing than buy a fake in my opinion.

  20. Jeff October 10, 2007 at 10:14 am #

    I thought about this when I got my “man bag”. I didn’t want to support the annoying people on the street and I’m too cheap to buy an expensive bag so I got the carhartt bag you saw in my blog.
    It’s funny because this summer we didn’t have anything close to the usual number of vendors on the streets. I wonder if they are all staying in Rome, which is ok for me!:)

  21. Ed Quigley October 15, 2007 at 8:53 pm #

    Hi girls, why don’t you go to a museum and learn something. You can shop at home.

  22. Richard October 17, 2007 at 5:48 am #

    The stories about the backrrom of NYC are very true indeed! Just go to Chinatown and on any street corner on Canal Street you will see the “messengers” who are easy to find because they wear small messenger style designer bags on their hips. One you tell them what you are looking for you will be handed off to another person and taken to the hidden location. These locations are hidden in basements of buildings, behind trap doors, on top floors of old factory buildings and anywhere else where they can hide their identity. On Canal Street many of the shops have secret trap door which lead to back room filled with these fake luxury goods.

    Some say that the knock off handbag trade has replaced the drug trade as the most profitible crime in NYC.

    Good news, although it is illegal to sell these knock offs, it is not illegal to buy them!

  23. Becca October 22, 2007 at 4:42 am #

    heh, I just came back from Italy last week and the amount of vendors shocked me, in Australia we don’t really have them. Venice was really good though, a friend and I saw a guy get arrested near the Rialto bridge for selling those little squishy things. Some people in the group tried their hand at bartering but most didnt buy anything, they just wanted to see how low they could go.

  24. Rachele January 14, 2008 at 3:43 am #

    I have never bought a fake bag. like many others I would feel silly. And I completely agree that it sucks that these sellers are clogging up beautiful piazzas and streets. I hated getting off the tram at Flaminio and going to the undergraound everyday. You couldn’t walk to get to the opening of the underground. Here you are with 75 other people going to the underg. 75 people coming at you coming off and out of the opening and realizing there is nowhere to go. to the left mile long sellers,to the right mile long sellers holding tiny,cheap barking plastic dogs in your face while you are trying to find a way to escape. And then they look at you like you shouldn’t be walking in their area, rediculous! I would be so happy if all the sellers were ordered to go away! I mean, really…who buys that stuff anyway?? just thinking about it again makes me mad. hahahaha kind of like the time i payed 20 euro for a pumpkin to carve with the kids i taught English too…that ticked me off….hahahaha

  25. co_dorin January 23, 2008 at 5:18 am #

    i have bought a fake prada belt. i threw it out after 1 week. i have bought some real desighner goods. let me tell you there is a big difference from anything you defineltly will find anywhere else. i find that most people who buy fake designer goods either want to “LOOK” like they have alot of $$$$$ or think or think that they will be of an elevated status if they buy it becuase people will think he/she spent alot of money on the object. i personally don’t have alot of money but make a decent living. i love buying well made sunnglasess. let me tell you that to a trained eye in sunnglasess i see people who just want a logo to show(fake) and those who go and spend the 200, 300 or even $400+ on a pair that and makes me say look at those beatiful sunglasess. the real mckoy makes you turn your head and say wow, the fake wannabe makes you turn your head and say lol wannabe…

  26. seriously? June 6, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    Ugh. It’s painful to see pages like this, filled with postings from what seems like LVMH employees. It appears quite a noble choice to support a product image for some reason.

    If people didn’t buy this junk, no one would sell it — and this city is brimming with street sellers speaking English. If the clowns buying this stuff can’t tell the difference between luxury goods and garbage, then I doubt their co-workers at Arby’s can either.

    There is zero enforcement and no one cares, save for a few media-ready busts per year. The luxury goods companies claim this amounts to massive losses (one article claimed six percent of world trade made illegal – gasp!), but I don’t see many rich old ladies bartering with street vendors. Some middle class family on their trip to Rome isn’t going buy Gucci. Hell, they wouldn’t even know what to do if they went there.

    A crime on paper with corporate victims losing customers they never had. Poor LVMH.

  27. ronetta bapshe October 27, 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    I did purchase some of these bags. Honestly I didn’t get them for the logo,but because they were so nice looking and the leather is mui soft. I had no idea I was supporting bad people…I should have read about it first. Sorry to all who this offends,but I knew not what I was doing!

  28. bOBBIE DE rUITER August 27, 2009 at 2:47 am #


  29. Yetta September 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Having been to Italy on many occasions, I can truly say, I have never been tempted to buy anything from the impromptu street sellers.

    For a while they were very much in evidence in Piazza Rotunda, but then seemed to have been moved on. However, as we are off to Rome in a week I have been looking at the web cam of Albergo Senato where it looks very much as though they are beginning to drift back.

  30. Mary Jurmain May 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I accidentally bought a fake bag when I went to Italy a few years ago. I honestly did not know it was illegal to buy from the street vendors; I learned afterwards. The bag I bought did not have a Fendi label, so technically it was not a knockoff, but still illegal because the Somali seller likely did not have a license. The quality was shoddy. The coin purse fell off after I used it a few times. I would not buy from them again. I just returned from the Virgin Islands where fake designer bags are everywhere. I think the government must turn a blind eye, because the sellers have a well-established location under a tent in the heart of the tourist area. I’m guessing they government gets tax revenue, and since the designer brands aren’t located there (as they are in Italy), they have no clout. I eavesdropped on the transactions and never heard a single American wonder if the bags were authentic, legal, etc. Didn’t seem to cross their minds. There is a huge education process that needs to occur!!

  31. The Hack June 29, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    I don’t do fakes. If I can’t afford one, I shouldn’t pretend I can. I did get a nice one from a high end consignment, even when complimented I feel guilty if I don’t mention where I got it

  32. Maria Soto October 11, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    Thank you!!(I am so sick and tired of ppl “holier than though”, claiming “they won’t buy a fake, they will buy the real thing WHEN they can afford it”…awwwwwwwwwwww!! good luck living 876 years…hahahah!!(and yes, designers are soooooooooo worried about rip-offs, if they were, they would lower their prices so that PEOPLE could afford their “works of art”…get real!! if you like something, fake or real, go for it, and stop whining!! ;0)

  33. thomas December 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    knoffs actually create jobs. The people who have the money buy the real thing. Shoure a few people who do have the money still buy the fakes. Think of all the people in china that are making the fakes in the first place. So you have companies like coach, LV, and you name it and most of there goods are being made in china. So if the fakes are primarly made in china and the real are made in China then the little people like you and me still have jobs. there are so many people that keep up with the new fake. they would not have the money to buy the real. But 30 to 50 csh a month to buy a new bag is offortable. The reality is the fakes do not take much less time to make then a real bag so now millions of fakes are being made. I would bet 50 to 1. Fifty fake bags are being sold to one real bag. So there are tons of jobs being created buy sellers of fake Bages. Then you got the law enforcement, leagel systems world wide, privet investergaters, the people getting payed off and a million other people getting employed world wide becouse of the knoff problem?
    if it is a problem?

  34. Galina Sherman January 19, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    This is just a plain Advertisement launched by Chanel co not to buy replica bags in Italy on the street. I have bought many bags from street vendors in Rome and no one i s hunting you down or impose such crazy fines. Bags are in fact of amazing high quality in distinctive of originals. Vendors do flee police but i never saw buyers have paid fines for buying them One lady purchased 6 bags at once. All these people comments above are Chanel co under covers. Chanel co is a rip offfffff to buy their bags, that is not even designed by Coco Chanel, she has been dead since 1972

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