You rarely see a celebrity without a hot pair of sky-high designer shoes. Ever since Sex and the City made Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik household names, women have been obsessed with what goes on their feet.
"A great pair of shoes can make a woman feel like she is the hottest woman in the neighborhood," says Richard Erani from Chuckie's Shoe Salon in New York.
Designer shoes are pricey, a luxury most women can't afford. But now, illegal counterfeiters have moved in and are making a killing on the designer shoe craze.
So INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero decided to go shopping, undercover.
It didn't take long to find displays of illegal fakes of top designers like Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Alexander McQueen and Ferragamo. The shoes all carry the designer's name and counterfeit logo. They even include the famous Louboutin red sole that women wear so proudly. But if you ask the salespeople, they admit they're not real.
"No. Real ones like these run at least, a minimum of $500 to $1000, $1,500," said one salesperson.
One guy had a huge glass case of fake Christian Louboutins that he says are high quality. Manolo Blahniks, too. A blue pair, which sold in stores for nearly $900, are a direct ripoff of a pair seen in the Sex and the City movie.
We paid $200 for these counterfeits - the originals cost about $900. The salesman assured us these were high-quality shoes, saying, "People think it's real. Also the material is pretty good."
Although we were told the counterfeit shoes that we saw were of the highest quality, when you see the craftsmanship of the real thing, you know that those are nothing but cheap knockoffs.
So what are you really getting when you buy a knockoff?
Valerie Salembier is publisher of Harper's Bazaar and works closely with law enforcement to stop counterfeiting. She showed us, for example, a pair of fake Christian Louboutins. Again, the trademark is that red sole. The knockoffs come with a piece of plastic covering it. You'd never find it on the real thing.
As Salembier peeled off the plastic from a pair of counterfeits, part of the red sole peeled away as well. "Look what just happened. I pulled this off," said Salembier.
Guerrero said, "Oh my goodness. That's a dead giveaway."
Salembier said, "I'll say."
Salembier says knockoffs can even damage your feet. Holding up a fake Manolo Blahnik, she said, "This shoe would never hold up."
INSIDE EDITION showed our video to James T. Hayes Jr., Special Agent in Charge of New York investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who said, "It's an uphill battle. The marketplace is literally flooded with these counterfeiters." Hayes says footwear is the #1 counterfeit item seized coming into the United States.
We went back to the store on Canal Street in lower Manhattan, where Guerrero asked the salesperson if the shoes he sold were counterfeit.
"Ummmm, yes," said the salesperson.
"Do you know it's illegal to sell counterfeit shoes?" asked Guerrero.
"I don't know," replied the salesperson.
When we left his shop, it turns out we hadn't seen the last of him. He followed us around the corner with some of his pals. We counted four men. One guy in particular was the most intimidating as he put his hand on our video camera, saying, "I'll break it. I'll break a leg, all right?"
Here are some tips on how to spot a fake from Harper's Bazaar:
1. Question the price. If it's too good to be true, it's probably not real.
2. Know the dealer. To guarantee that your item is authentic, buy it at the brand's own boutique or at an authorized retailer, like a brand's department-store counter.
3. It's all in the details. Is the stitching straight? Is it well made? Do the edges match up? Does it have polished rivets or cheap screws? Is there glue residue? If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't.
4. Look for signature marks. Since the 1980s, Vuitton bags have been stamped with a serial number and date code that are registered at Vuitton HQ. An Hermès leather bag has stamps that identify the artisan who made it and the year it was made. Find out what your brand's hallmarks are.
5. Check the logo. Some counterfeiters alter the logo slightly. Classic examples are the Ralph Lauren polo player without a mallet or the Lacoste crocodile facing left (fake) rather than right (real). Know exactly what the logo is and check it.
6. Beware of cross-pollinating. Counterfeiters will put any logo on any product, like a faux Prada triangle tag on a Chanel-like quilted bag. Make sure the logoed product is really the purported brand's design.
7. Know your vintage goods. "Established designer-resale stores take precautions to avoid selling counterfeits," says Cameron Silver, owner of Decades in Los Angeles. "However, there is no guarantee. An informed consumer should know the hallmarks and quality controls of an authentic item."
8. Still vexed? Check with the Authentics Foundation (www.myauthentics.com), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers avoid buying fakes.
For more information on counterfeit designer goods, visit Harper's Bazaar's anti-counterfeiting website at fakesareneverinfashion.com.