February 27, 2024

Back in 2018, Chanel sued a luxury fashion reseller called What Goes Around Comes Around (WGACA). The French handbag-and-makeup giant, which will go to distant ends to protect its intellectual property and reputation, didn’t like the means that WGACA was using to drum up interest in its pre-owned wares—Chanel-associated hashtags, old display stands, stuff like that—and made a call to its lawyers. Nearly six years later, enough paperwork had been passed back and forth at the courthouse for the case to go in front of a jury. On Tuesday (Feb. 6), that jury ruled in Chanel’s favor.

Plus, they’ve given the company a new definition for a fake bag.

The verdict was unanimous for all the questions of the trial, including “Did WGACA act willfully, with reckless disregard, or with willful blindness in its use of the hashtags?” Damages are $4 million. But a number of those questions bring up some real ship-of-Theseus questions about the blurred lines between a “real” purse and a “fake” one.

Bag tags create legal snag

Chanel is in the business of selling new purses for as much as the market can bear, and WGACA is in the business of selling vintage and slightly used purses for less than that but enough to make a profit.

WGACA helps raise the price of its bags by ensuring their authenticity for its customers. “We conduct an extremely detailed research about the counterfeit market and collect data on exactly how they are made to compare to authentic pieces,” a page on the company’s website reads. “Our Authenticators are trained on exactly what details to look for that indicate an item may be counterfeit.”

In its suit, Chanel alleged that those practices aren’t air-tight, and fake bags were getting through anyway. In 2012 some extremely specific and enterprising thieves made off with 30,000 serial numbers from a proprietary database Chanel uses to track its bags through the secondary market and for when they’re brought in for refunds, exchanges, repairs, etc. All of the serial numbers were voided in the company’s systems, but some of them still made it onto bags that turned up on the global purse market.

WGACA’s lawyers even argued that, since it couldn’t be proven that the bags hadn’t been manufactured in the same facility that the numbers were stolen from, they could still be “real” bags. But Chanel insisted that the bags hadn’t been approved for sale, and since they didn’t go through regular quality controls—who knows, maybe a stitch here or there wouldn’t have been to the company’s liking—the bags were not “real” enough. The jury agreed.

“Chanel welcomes the ruling, which demonstrates Chanel’s unwavering commitment to protecting consumers and its brand against all false association, trademark infringement and counterfeiting, and false advertising,” a Chanel spokeswoman said in a statement, per Vogue. WGACA told Quartz that it’s mulling its legal options pending a few motions still awaiting resolution in the case, but that it will “continue to stand by our 100% authenticity guarantee.”

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