Counterfeit money, imitation Rolexes, synthetic diamonds, but why would any one counterfeit silk scarves? Counterfeit clothing is a multi-million dollar business that funds the coffers of organized crime and leaves women with clothing that frays and falls apart. Here are the basics to let you know whether your scarf is a product of Hermès of Paris, the famous silk designer, or Hermes, the Greek god of thieves.
Let us begin with the fabric. Why silk, why not wool or polyester? Well, there are luxurious and beautiful scarves in all fabrics. A wool challis scarf or shawl can feel particularly good against your neck on a cold winter day, while a polyester scarf offers an attractive, easy care look at modest cost.
But silk is something special. First discovered in ancient days by the Chinese, silk comes in a variety of forms and finishes suitable for every use from strong, raw silk easily fashioned into durable jackets, to delicate jacquard prints and light, wispy laces.
What all silk has in common is that it is ounce for ounce one of the strongest materials in nature. There is a reason that parachutes were traditionally fashioned from silk. Silk is also one of the warmest materials. Military and camping enthusiasts have long fashioned silk into underwear, socks and glove liners for survival in Arctic conditions. But silk is one of the most hygienic fabrics as well.
All fabrics have electrical properties that determine how easily they are cleaned and how resistant to dirt they are to begin with. Natural fabrics like wool and silk clean easily and resist soiling because the fabric does not naturally attract and lock in dirt. Synthetics such as polyester and rayon are easily soiled and challenging to clean and keep clean because the fabric’s electrical charge binds dirt.
So, although the Polyester scarf may not require expensive dry-cleaning or careful hand washing with special cleaners such as Woolite or white vinegar (silk can be damaged by alkaline chemicals in standard soaps and detergents), it is softer, more likely to fray and pill and quickly acquires a dingy look due to trapped sweat and dirt. For this reason, poly makes a great buy, but it won’t stay the course.
Because polyester is so much less expensive than silk and looks great, one of the simplest ways a counterfeiter can take you is to replace the silk with poly. Once in my twenties I was approached by a street vendor selling a large, intricately-patterned “silk” scarf for a song.
Besides the obvious tip-off of a ludicrous price that could not be matched if the scarves fell off the proverbial truck, the construction of the “silk” scarf was an obvious give-away. Silk is a not a self-healing fabric. Let me explain that. Wool, cotton and many other fabrics are self-healing because they are constructed by weaving the fabric together with a little give between the fibers. This means that if you stick a pin in a wool coat and then remove it, the hole will eventually become invisible as the wool shifts to hide the damage.
Not so with silk. Stick a pin into silk and you will have a hole forever. What this means to a seamstress is that silk edges must be rolled in and then finished with a very light thread sewn loosely, something like a basting stitch usually seen as the first stitch to hold the fabric in place before the real sewing begins. Heavy thread, machine lock-stitching, anything that stretches fabric taut, that is hard or heavy, is a dead giveaway that you are not dealing with silk. Silk does not forgive assaults. If you damage it, it never heals.
Let’s go to the next level of detail. It is silk, but is it designer silk? There are many designers such as Echo, Tie Barn, Perry Ellis and Liz Claiborne making lovely mid-range to higher quality scarves that any working woman would be proud to wear. But these don’t have the cachet or price tag of the top end scarves like Hermès of Paris, so a scam artist may decide to decide to dress the emperor in false finery to attract the aspirational buyer who wants Hermès of Paris at a knock-down price.
Several things alert you to this scam. First, the weight of the fabric. Silk is costly. To learn the hand of the highest end scarves, visit a boutique. Take one out, examine it and note the weight. Mid-weight silk fabric is perfectly serviceable in more mass market scarves, but the real deal is heavy and closely constructed. A overly-light scarf is your first hint of a fake.
After you have trained your hands to feel the heft of the real thing, hold it close to the light. Look closely at the trademark, how it is spelled and what font is used. Trademarks are registered and they do not change. Corporations carefully monitor how a trademark looks wherever it appears, whether on clothing or on correspondence. The exact color, lettering and spelling of the name is always consistent.
I have two fake “Hermes” scarves picked up at a downtown New York flea market and one real Hermès of Paris scarf that I acquired over twenty years ago. In comparison to the real scarf that looks as good as it did when I acquired it over twenty years ago (not new then either), the fakes are considerably lighter and smaller, less than half the weight of the real deal.
The trademark on the real item says: “Hermès of Paris,” note the exact wording, the French “è” instead of the English “e,” but the dead giveaway is the typeface. The real thing appears consistently in a font registered internationally and used by this company for decades. The fake says just: “Hermes” and it has been set in courier type, the ten pitch font known to old-time secretaries as one of two selections on an old-style IBM Selectric and the favored type in the most primitive days of word processing This is certainly a primitive look, unworthy of a luxury designer.
Common giveaways on any fake piece of merchandise include misspelled names, perhaps Channel no. 5, instead of “Chanel” or substitution of Arabic numerals for Roman numerals or vice-versa.
I often wear my fakes and am complimented on them too. But when that happens, I correct the admirer. Although borrowed finery is a temptation, the old saying holds: “Those who say do not know, and those who know do not say.” Few things are more embarrassing than trying to fool the old money crowd with a crude knockoff. Much better to set one’s sights a little lower and make do with perfectly nice, but real merchandise a step or two down.