AB Fab Fakes - High Quality Bags in ChinatownAdditional reporting by Raakhee Mirchandani
December 1, 2005. New York Post, pg. 22
The heavy clank of the double metal doors banging closed behind me made me jump.
But the speed with which the small, middle-aged woman locked the door with a key was what really started my stomach churning.
As my shifty guide led me through a semi-deserted basement sweatshop in Chinatown, past rows of idle sewing machines, I started to have second thoughts.
Was it worth it?
Thirty seconds later, past another two doors and locked into a walk-in closet, my anxiety dissolved.
There it was - a $40 fake Prada handbag, which looked remarkably like the real one that retails for more than $1,000 that I had lusted over for months.
This is why women are making John Le Carr-esque trips into the bowels of the city, setting aside their fears to make off with the latest and greatest in counterfeit merchandise.
Chinatown, which lost its status on the international shopping map after the NYPD cracked down on the sale of phony designer goods about four years ago, is back as the place to get the best fakes in the world.
Unlike the merchandise being sold at street level these days - shoddy, undesirable copies of high-end handbags - a crafty ring of rip-off merchants appears to have found a way to produce and sell top-notch fakes that is as intricate and spooky as any drug deal.
The NYPD is "actively investigating" the shift in the sophistication of both the methods and the quality of the merchandise currently available, Inspector Michael Coan told The Post yesterday.
This year, in addition to busting the more-traditional street peddlers, a specialized division of the Organized Crime Unit has seized more than $8.7 million worth of counterfeit goods, confiscated more than $9,000 in cash and executed 62 search warrants.
"We will continue to take an aggressive posture against the illegal sale of counterfeit goods," Coan said.
"The increasingly sophisticated levels" the criminals involved in these operations have been forced to take in order to avoid detection "proves how effective our actions have been."
The hub for Chinatown's latest illegal scheme is at the corner of Canal Street and Broadway, right by the subway steps.
The key to making the right connection is to loiter, with a clueless look on your face, in this bustling cross-street patch.
Within seconds, you'll be approached by a lookout - an elderly lady identifiable by the squawking Nextel walkie-talkie phone clamped onto the strap of the handbag she's wearing, messenger-style, across her chest.
Yesterday, at 1:45 p.m., The Post spotted 18 of these women, dressed head-to-toe in black, covering the four exits of the subway station at Canal Street and Broadway.
After a brief chat with the lookout - when you strongly emphasize the fact that you're not interested in the cheap-looking plastic rip-offs being sold in street stalls - and some name-dropping (Prada! Chanel! Vuitton! Dior!), you're off on a fast trot north.
The lookout walks you three blocks and, her eyes darting around like a frantic fugitive, refuses to participate in any small talk by constantly yakking into her phone.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, another small lady appears and the lookout disappears.
The hand-off to the next woman - who turns out to be your vendor - is as swift and seamless as anything in "The Thomas Crown Affair."
It's also the moment your shopping spree takes a turn into the cinematic.
Three minutes later, you stop at the remote corner of Grand and Crosby and, after urgent prodding by the vendor, walk down a deep set of iron steps into a basement foyer.
The vendor unlocks a heavy metal door and shoos you inside. She then quickly relocks the door behind you.
You find yourself inside a sparsely staffed sweatshop, where you nod to a sweet-looking grandma trying to thread a needle. You have to go through two more doors - which the woman locks behind a now-very-scared you.
Then you reach the inner sanctum.
Unlike the heaps of faux merchandise we've seen over the last five to 10 years, these fakes are absolutely fabulous.
A $355 Louis Vuitton wrist purse, embossed with cherries, is lined with rich red fabric - a snip at $20.
A classic $1,350 Gucci shoulder bag, with leather trim and buckle detailing, goes for $30.
And for $100 - or, after some haggling, $90 - you can score a Louis Vuitton travel case that, after close examination, bears almost no discernable difference to the $1,540 genuine version.
It's enough to make any bag addict gasp. But by the time you're back on the street, you breathe a sigh of relief.
It may be a great deal, but you will pay a price with stress.
Real Vuitton Cherry Wristlet: $355; Fab Fake:$20
Real Prada: $1,095; Fab Fake:$40
Real Vuitton Wallet: $535; Fab Fake:$10
Real Gucci: $1,350; Fab Fake:$30
Real Vuitton MM Bag: $905; Fab Fake:$40
Copyright 2005 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.
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