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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 17:10 GMT
France awash with fashion fakes
By John Laurenson
BBC News, Paris

Fake jeans
You wear it well: But is it the real thing?
Two well-dressed men who have just stepped off a flight from Benin try to explain that the 11 pairs of fake designer jeans just found in their luggage were for friends.

The customs officers at Paris' Orly Airport are having none of it.

"These are fakes, sir," says one. "It's illegal to bring them into the country. Counterfeits undermine legitimate business."

The goods are impounded. They will soon be sent to the incinerator. The men are fined 150 euros (104) and sent on their way.

But this was a drop in a counterfeit ocean.

Frontline

Figures released by French customs on 21 March show that the number of counterfeit articles seized in 2004 was up 76% on the previous year's figure to 3.5 million items.

"All sorts of things are counterfeited: from Viagra to car parts," says Marion Guth, Secretary-General of the National Anti-Counterfeit Committee which brings together representatives from government and business to fight fakes.

For me, there's a bit of getting our own back on companies who, as soon as they get a brand that sells well, charge astronomical prices
'Madame Delphine'

"Fake luxury goods only represent about 10% of all seizures."

But 10% of 3.5 million is still a lot of handbags, designer dresses and bottles of perfume.

Fashion labels like Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton have made France the world's leading producer of luxury goods.

LVMH, which owns Vuitton, Moet, Hennessey, Kenzo and Givenchy among others, recently announced record profits of 1bn euros (600m) for last year, confirming its position as the world's biggest luxury goods manufacturer.

This pre-eminence has put France on the frontline in the war against the counterfeiters and its companies employ vast armies of lawyers and private investigators to take the fight to the fraudsters.

Global industry

The clothing brand Lacoste, for example, spends 3m euros (2m) a year on fighting fakes. Vuitton, whose distinctive LV label leather goods must be among the most distinctive - and most copied - in the world, spends 15m euros (10.4m).

Marc-Antoine Jamet, secretary general of the company's perfume division, is head of the anti-fakes pressure group, the Manufacturers' Union.

"No one knows exactly how much we're losing because we don't know how many people who buy fakes would have bought the real thing," he says.

French advert
Adverts warn that buying fakes could end in tears

"But we think, in a sector that employs a quarter of a million people in France, we lose 38,000 jobs a year because of counterfeiting.

"In Genoa (in Italy), if you order 400,000 fakes of an item made by a famous French brand, they'll be delivered inside 48 hours," Mr Jamet adds. "Counterfeiting has become a colossal world industry representing over 5% of all world trade."

You might think Mr Jamet might be exaggerating, but French customs supplied the BBC with a film of a seizure they made in January where they found enough Vuitton fabric to cover 54 tennis courts.

Despite successes like this, huge numbers of fakes are doubtless getting through.

They are bought by people like... well let's call her "Madame Delphine".

Revenge

Madame Delphine works in a highly-respected profession and is mother of two teenage children. She is also a self-confessed fakes tourist.

On the first of several family holidays in Turkey, she saw what she said were good quality copies of designer clothes at about a fifth of the price she would have paid back home.

Customs haul
French authorities are slowly chipping away at the illegal imports
"So, in summer, we got into the habit of renewing the kids' wardrobe for the new school year... jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts mostly. Always with a little designer logo... and never in any doubt that we were buying fakes.

"For me, there's a bit of getting our own back on companies who, as soon as they get a brand that sells well, charge astronomical prices."

The luxury industry is trying to shame people like Madame Delphine into changing their ways. They say buying fakes puts money into the hands of the same criminal gangs that deal in drugs and prostitution and that money from counterfeiting even finances terrorism.

Mr Jamet's Manufacturers' Union has financed a poster campaign featuring, for example, the Lacoste crocodile and a Chanel handbag, warning people that buying fakes is criminal.

The government, meanwhile, has introduced stiffer penalties. Last year it doubled the maximum fine to 300,000 euros (208,000) or three years in jail.

But being harsh on fakers is nothing new for France.

In the 16th Century, counterfeiters had their hands chopped off.




SEE ALSO:
Trio charged over fake goods
18 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland
Bling or bust?
29 Sep 04 |  Magazine
Warning as fake goods flood market
08 Aug 03 |  Business


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