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Business

Fake Designer Goods Cost France Dearly

France is the world's largest manufacturer of luxury goods; 250,000 people are employed by the sector. But 38,000 jobs are lost every year due to counterfeiting. Designer brands spend millions annually fighting fakes.

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Is that really Louis Vuitton?

Fshion labels like Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton may have made France the world leader when it comes to luxury products. But, the country is also the global loser from illegal competition from fakes. In France, according to the customs service, the counterfeit business is booming.

At a freight depot at Orly airport, just outside of Paris, a customs officer slits open a box of socks as he settles in to another day's work protecting the biggest luxury industry in the world. Last year, he and his colleagues found and destroyed some three million fakes, double what they had taken in the previous year. In one seizure in January, they found enough Louis Vuitton fabric to cover 54 tennis courts.

"There are hundreds of millions of fake products out there," said Marc-Antoine Jamet, secretary-general of Louis Vuitton's parent company, LVMH. He said counterfeiting has become a colossal world industry representing more than five percent of all world trade.

"Look what companies spend fighting fakes: three million euros a year for Lacoste, 15 million for Vuitton," he said. "This is a problem on an industrial scale."

Everyday people

Although organized crime plays a role in the matter, normally law-abiding people are also part of the problem. People on holiday, for example, who see good copies which look like amazing bargains that can't be passed up.

Lacoste-Logo

At Orly airport, people returning from holidays abroad are greeted with posters of the Lacoste crocodile and a Chanel handbag warning them that bringing fakes into France is a criminal offense.

"We've been to Turkey several times on holiday with the children and, I can tell you, when you're with teenagers and you see designer labels for a fifth of what you'd pay back home, it's tempting," said one woman returning for vacation who didn't want to give her name.

She said during the summers, she would get a new wardrobe for her kids with fake goods, mostly jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts, always with a little designer logo and never in any doubt that she was 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," she said.

But her purchasing patterns could be risky. People who are discovered bringing in fake goods can get hefty fines. Generally if there are one or two fake goods, people are let off. But with higher quantities, people can pay fines that are more than double what the goods are actually worth.

The shame of it all

For some, though, buying or wearing counterfeit goods is, well, simply l'horreur.

Replikat einer Chanel-Uhr

Fake Chanel watch

"I'm used to seeing all these fake Vuitton or Prada bags in Asia," said Marion Dufour, a fashion editor at the women's magazine group Marie-Claire International.

"I imagine myself wearing it and arriving at a famous fashion party with all of these beautiful people and all of a sudden a PR or a fashion editor will arrive and she will discover and find out that it is a fake one. And I think I would really feel shame!"

But the big names of the luxury industry along Paris' Avenue Montaigne want counterfeiters to feel more than shame. In the sixteenth century, people would get their hand cut off for making a fake. Today they might have to pay nearly $500,000 (375,800 euros): The maximum fine was doubled last year. That high amount shows that for France there's much at stake -- not just money, but the image of the country itself.

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