‘Americans are fond of shopping’, is definitely an understatement. Regardless of whether the dollar is strong or weak, Americans will shop when abroad. Outlet shopping may be huge in the states, but it is only beginning to become popular in Italy. There are outlet shopping centers throughout the peninsula as well as smaller shops called ‘stock houses‘ in most cities. You can sometimes find excellent deals but you must keep your eyes open to minor details that will prevent you from throwing your money away.
- Factory Outlet: Designers sell irregular items for less.
- Outlet: Department stores or designers sell last season’s items or a sub-par line made specifically for the outlet.
- Stock House: Privately-owned shops which buy sample items, past season leftovers, and sometimes sub-par lines then sell them in their shops.
The controversial book ‘Gomorra’ (by Robero Saviano), shed light on what has been common practice in Italy for years. Top designers hold auctions for who will ultimately create their exclusive designs. They give the materials to top tailors, usually in Naples. The one who achieves the best quality in the least amount of time for the right price, gets paid. The rest get stuck with the completed attire, but without the labels, which are only added at the designer’s factory.
What do the unpaid tailors do with the items they have created? After having received the exact fabric, materials and designs from the fashion house itself and having completed the items, what do you imagine they do? Where do you think these items end up?
I bought a book which lists all the outlets and stock houses throughout Italy. After visiting quite a few, I began to notice details which reminded me of what I had read in Gomorra. My boyfriend found a Versace suit in a stock house in Naples. It was priced at €400, which is less than 50% off of the regular price. The hems were already cuffed, but it was obviously a new suit. The quality was perfect, the hems happened to match his exact height and the price was right. Upon further inspection, we noticed that although a Versace label was on it, the hologram was not. We believe this was a suit made by a tailor who had lost the auction. In this case, the only difference was in the missing hologram, but this is not always the case.
At a stock house in Rome, we found a pair of Burberry pants. There was a label, but no hologram. The quality of the fabric was the same as the original, but the stitching was not and the labeled buttons and other details were also missing.
Look for the following signs before you buy a designer item in a stock house:
- Hologram: It will usually be a sticker which is added at the final stage of production. My D&G jeans had it on the inside top of the leg.
- Label: Labels are easy to reproduce, but if you know what the original labels look like, then it may be easier for you to spot a fake. Fake labels are usually simple. Real designer labels are becoming more and more complex, making the differences more noticeable.
- Buttons, Zippers and details: The brand name is usually on the buttons, zipper and other details. This is especially true for shirts, jeans, tops and pants. A men’s Gucci shirt is sold boxed and will read Gucci on every single button. Suits, winter coats and dresses might not have the brand on the buttons, but inspect the garment carefully to be sure.
- Stitching: Inspect the stitching and make sure they are straight and even. Items with faulty stitching are usually ironed out, in order to appear correct, which either becomes obvious upon trying it on or after washing.
- Try it on: If it is faulty, it will usually show. If it looks great, even if it is a fake, consider whether the price is worth it.
- Pricing: Fakes are usually priced a lot lower than their real counterpart. The fake Burberry pants were €90, while the discounted Gucci, Versace and Cavalli pants at the same store, were €300. The Gucci, Versace and Cavalli pants at that stock house were most likely real. They also included the hologram, labeled details and perfect seams, whereas the Burberry pants did not.
- Availability: If it is turquoise, orange, green or hot-pink – aside from children’s wear – it is probably real. If it is available in all sizes and in fashionable colors, it is most likely fake. Remember, stock houses carry sample sizes and leftovers from previous seasons. Not every size is available when it is a popular item. However, items in odd colors will have a wider range of sizes available. The more avant-garde the item, the more you will find available. I found Adidas running shoes for €25; they were turquoise and the only pair in that style, which happened to be my size.
- Quality vs. Price: If you have confirmed that an item is fake, but it fits well, generally looks real, the price is good for you and you love it, buy it. The maker of that item may have lost the auction but it may have been due to time or price and not lack of quality. The only difference may be where the final label was applied. Fake items will vary from perfect to ridiculous. By following these guidelines, you will know what to look for. Armed with this knowledge, you can shop and know what you are purchasing.
Generally speaking, outlets and factory outlets are usually fake free. I cannot be 100% certain, but I have yet to spot a fake in any of the outlets I have been to. Follow these aforementioned suggestions and perhaps you will. If you do, let me know.
The book on outlets in Italy is in Italian: ‘La Guida agli Outlet e ai consumi ragionati’ – by Marina Martorana (Sperling Paperback) E10
If you are driving through Italy, you may find it worthwhile. You can pick it up or order it at Felrinelli Books. They sell dictionaries too!