Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Luo Hu Commercial City, Shenzhen, China

a massive heap of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermès copy scarves in front of a rusty fire door

I spent part of the day in Shenzhen, China, today. My friend's mother was in town from England, and it's always great fun to bring a newbie into China's massive border city of Shenzhen. Although it's massive, tourists like me tend to spend the day at the Luo Hu Commercial City mall just across the border from Hong Kong's New Territories.

Everything in this mall is entirely fake, or maybe that is too scary a word. There are endless stalls of sports socks with Nike and Adidas logos woven onto them, which are exactly the same as the official socks your find in Hong Kong. In this case, Nike and Adidas' factories have probably just made some extra and sold them out of the back door. Or maybe Nike and Adidas sanction the selling of their socks at Luo Hu. After all, their mark up is so significant that selling socks at Luo Hu is probably no different from selling socks on sale or in discount packs of three.

There are also endless Balenciaga bags out on display in shop after shop. They look great but they smell like manure or sometimes like wet goat skin. I know a lot about handbags, but the easiest clue to discover whether it is real or fake is probably the smell (although I must admit I was rather dismayed at the smell of my most recent authentic Balenciaga bag, which is disturbingly distinctive, albeit nothing like manure or wet goat).

And then there are a handful of very secret shops, hidden away in attics and basements, where the bags still smell like goats, but have the appearance of some of the finest luxury goods in the world. The only reason these bags are hidden is because their corporate owners, usually LVMH, Chanel, and Hermès, actively fight the counterfeiters and have enough clout with the Chinese government to stop the copy bags from being sold out in the open. Very few of these bags would pass a connoisseur's test, but maybe that is not the point of fashion today.

After all, we buy Zara tops that convey the spirit of Céline, but never the essence of Céline, which is not just about the silhouette but at least as much about the absolute quality of the fabrics and the sewing techniques. For most of us fashion consumers, the fine details do not matter at all and we happily live in this season's Céline look as interpreted by Zara, coping with the fact it's made of acrylic, rather than luxuriating in the fact that it's made of 4-ply cashmere.

No wonder fake Birkins are big business here - these fake bags are all about achieving the look of some of our favorite style icons like Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian, and not so much about the enjoyment of the craftsmanship and the hand stitching. Whereas for one generation, let's say mine, a snap shot of a great life could possibly show a delicious alfresco dinner full of laughter with dear friends, for a Chinese 22-year old in Shenzhen a great life may more likely be about achieving a super cute selfie full of apparent luxury and riches.

There are five floors in this monstrosity of a mall, where men spit out the contents of their horridly congested lungs on the floor around you at the most inopportune moments, and where pretty young mums hold their babies over trash cans when they expect their little bubs are about to shed some human waste. This place is as disgusting as it is fascinating, and if you ever come to Hong Kong, a visit to this sprawling city of more than 10 million people is worth the trouble. Just don't go near any trash cans.

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