I am going to try something a little different with this post. I’m not a beauty or fashion blogger, nor do I plan to become one. I don’t want to disappoint long-time readers who follow this blog to read about the Foreign Service and overseas life/travel, or attract new followers looking for fashion topics that I will likely never talk about again. But I can’t see creating my own YouTube channel to make just one video on this topic, and I really want to write about it. So I thought I would make an exception to regular topics and do a one-off post on one of my favorite things: the discontinued Louis Vuitton Multicolore collection of handbags and accessories, and how to spot a fake. (I want to emphasize that I do not in any way wish to be insensitive to the financial and social strain we are facing right now by discussing this topic, nor to ignore the fact that during the global pandemic handbags are not a priority for anyone, including me. I simply enjoy researching this bit of nostalgia, and it interests me and cheers me up. So for the niche audience who would enjoy it or benefit from it, I would like to share what I have learned as a mini-escape from the other things I have to do. If it comes across more superficially, please know that is not my intention.)
My interest in this topic might be surprising, as I’m not much for shopping and generally dislike pop culture. But acquiring a few items for my Multicolore collection has been a longtime dream, and when I eventually did so, I realized there was a real gap in reliable information on how to spot a fake. So I decided I wanted to share some very specific layperson tips on how consumers – if so inclined – can purchase authentic Multicolore items. Consumer education can help avoid money lost to fraud, and it can help informed consumers stop underwriting the unethical and exploitative labor practices of the transnational crime syndicates that benefit from counterfeit sales.
(Regular readers who are not interested in this, please bear with me, and we’ll get back to business as usual with my next post! It is a very niche topic on an already niche blog, and it will not offend me if you give this one a pass. But you never know… it might still be interesting!)
Multicolore as a Cultural Phenomenon
The Louis Vuitton Multicolore collection started in 2003 as a collaboration between then-creative director Marc Jacobs and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. (See especially: https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2003-ready-to-wear/louis-vuitton) The idea was to liven up the fashion house’s standard brown monogram designs and appeal to younger buyers.
The line’s popularity exploded almost immediately, with more than 70,000 Multicolore pieces sold in the first year alone (source: LVBagaholic). You might have seen these bags (or their ubiquitous knock-offs) around that time – blanc (white) or noir (black) canvas splashed with a bright rainbow of monograms, fleurs, and quatrefoils.
They definitely were not everyone’s cup of tea, and for many, the sight of them still conjures up a pre-social media influencer era of “party girls” like Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson.
But honestly, when I like something, I like it forever, whether it’s an “it” thing or not. And I adored them at first sight! There was something so feminine and cheerful about them. Somehow, the trendiest thing ever captured my untrendy heart and still hasn’t let go.
Sadly for me, back then I was a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer trying to figure out how to pay for grad school. I couldn’t even afford the inspired versions by Dooney & Bourke (their rainbow monogram and heart patterns also seemed to be everywhere during those years, and I never got one of those, either).
I had never owned a bag more expensive than Guess or Bebe, so it seemed like a safely unattainable dream. Instead I bought a classic black Kate Spade shoulder bag on clearance (which I still have), admired all these colorful bags from afar, and actually forgot about them for some years, even long after I had enough money to acquire some of my own.
The line was finally discontinued from stores in 2015, and long-time admirers scrambled to buy them up. Afterwards, you could still find pieces in consignment stores, on eBay, or on the preloved market (Fashionphile, The Luxury Closet, The Real Real, Grailed, Mercari, etc.). I would see them in public every great once in a while, and wonder, Is that real, or counterfeit? I had no idea.
Making a Comeback?
Sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, unbeknownst to me until recently, Louis Vuitton Multicolore started to become popular again, due to a new generation of influencers resurrecting these bags and being spotted wearing them on Instagram. As a result, some of the pieces doubled and tripled in value, sometimes even exceeding their original retail price. A new crop of collectors who didn’t experience the era, but wanted to love the bags, was born.
To me, 17 years ago seems like yesterday, but I have to admit it is long over. Perhaps it’s time for everything old to become new once again?
As I now finally have a small collection of my own in both the black and white, I have learned a fair bit about how to determine whether a Multicolore bag is real or fake. And just like the market contains both real and fake bags, the information and tips to determine authenticity ranges from super helpful to incorrect and false.
Real or Fake, and Why it Matters
The market is flooded with fake luxury purses in general, and seeing women spend their hard-earned money on counterfeit goods frustrates me. Many of them don’t know if and when they are being cheated. In my opinion, it’s one thing to purchase an inspired bag that isn’t purporting itself to be something it’s not. For example, a long time ago, my mom wanted a Fendi bag she couldn’t justify spending the money on. She found an inspired bag the same color and shape, and guess what? She has loved and carried it for years, and it looks great and receives compliments. But it’s quite another thing to find out your bag for which you paid top dollar was misrepresenting itself as a Chanel or Louis Vuitton, when it’s actually a cheaply made knock-off.
You might be thinking, who cares!? Not everyone can afford a luxury bag, and why shouldn’t they have an imitation? Why should we give our precious money to rich companies for overpriced items that aren’t worth it anyway?
Well, let me frame it a little bit differently. Have you ever considered that fake purses are actually a theft of intellectual property? How would you like it if you designed a piece of art, and other people were making copies for their own profit, while duping consumers and damaging your reputation by poorly impersonating your style and quality?
If copyright and trade infringements don’t resonate with you, maybe this will: buying counterfeit goods is actually illegal. I have personally seen people detained and fined in international airports for bringing counterfeit handbags into the country. This includes purses in suitcases that were obviously destined for street sales as well as the very bag on your shoulder.
If the threat of public humiliation, financial penalty, and having your purse seized weren’t enough (and for people like me, the potential loss of a security clearance), the counterfeit luxury industry also has all kinds of nexuses to transnational organized crime. None of us want money we spend on a special item to be used illicitly to fund practices like human trafficking, human slavery, child labor, and even terrorism. These are crimes in and of themselves that have tragic and disproportionately negative effects on women and children.
Empowered Consumers Take Caution
If you generally roll your eyes at the idea of women spending money on expensive purses, consider whether your reaction to a man spending tens of thousands on stereotypical hobby items like jet skis and golf clubs would garner the same reaction. Far be it from me to shame anyone for how they choose to spend their own money! (But can I implore you to start 529s for your kids and max out your retirement accounts annually first? OK, end of lecture.)
At the end of the day, even though I can’t argue it’s “necessary” to buy luxury goods, I believe that consumers – and in particular women – have a right to make educated choices about what they will or won’t purchase. Ours is a consumer demand-driven market. Not only that, but consumers have a right to know where their items originated and how they were made. The counterfeiting of items interferes with that transparency, and consumer and trademark rights. It also obfuscates the sources of money funneled towards really nasty stuff no thoughtful person would want to support or participate in. So I choose to do my homework and avoid counterfeit items.
So with no further ado, here are my (humble and not all-encompassing) tips for authenticating items from the Louis Vuitton Multicolore collection. I hope they will be helpful to anyone considering adding a beautiful Multicolore bag to their wardrobe.
(Note that unless otherwise indicated, all pictures I use as examples below come from authenticated, actual items which I own, whether the pictures are professional or personal. I will also try to link and source advice I give to the extent practicable, although much of it I have known for so long or have aggregated from so many sources, it may not always be possible to cite a source.)
COLORS / PATTERNS
– Authentic Multicolore bags come in either black or white canvas, not leather or cloth. I have seen one very rare evening bag and a roll-up jewelry bag (both in blanc) that come in satin.
– Authentic bags have patterns of monograms, quatrefoils, and fleurs in 33 distinct colors. Some counterfeit bags are easy to spot because they only have five or so colors.
– Using the photo below as an example, you can see that there are three sets of three monogram letter colors that repeat in order. On white bags, the sets are dark pink, dark purple, and chartreuse; yellow, light blue, and dark blue; and fuchsia, black, and green. Monogram letters on black items are the same, except instances of black letters are replaced with white.
– Depending on the size of the canvas and your item, the first monogram color or row might vary, but they will always, always repeat in the same order within a set. Super-fakes get this right, so the right colors alone aren’t a surefire way to determine authenticity. However, monograms in red, orange, gray, brown, lavender, or turquoise are a dead giveaway as a fake; authentic bags do not have monograms in other than the nine colors I listed. The only thing on an authentic Multicolore that can be red is a fleur.
– The rows alternate in lines of five, with the monograms being in the third/middle row. (See the picture below as an example.) First a row of quatrefoils and fleurs, then a row of fleurs, then a row of monograms interspersed with fleurs, another row of fleurs, and another row of quatrefoils and fleurs. The rows followed vertically, horizontally, and diagonally across should all be perfectly aligned with no crooked elements.
– On authentic bags, the colors are never garish, neon, uniform in their intensity, crooked, or smudged. There should be a mix of bright, bold colors and pastels to make up the 33.
– The quatrefoils are perfectly round. The fleurs have pointy edges and are never rounded. The fleur to the top right of each monogram should never color match, as they do in the fake bag example below.
– Monograms are almost never cut into, although the presence of a pocket as an additional piece of canvas may change the color order pattern.
– On the monogram, the L is always under the V, with one thicker stroke and one thinner stroke per letter.
– Look along the zippers and seams for symmetry. It should be perfect and design elements should align on both sides.
– Note that many styles of bag use one continuous piece of canvas, meaning the pattern will be upside-down on the back. This is where doing your homework on how a particular edition should look before buying is very important. Compare information from several reputable sources.
GENERAL APPEARANCE / FEEL
– Authentic bags feel smooth and supple, not rigid or hard. In your hand, the weight is substantial. No aspect feels flimsy. The handles are smooth, the canvas feels rich and strong, and the lining feels luxurious and velvety.
– There should definitely not be any chemical smell to the bag.
– There shouldn’t be any paper or metal tags hanging off, no “certificates of authenticity” or serial numbers, and the bag or its handles should not be wrapped in plastic or tissue.
– If you are buying online, ask for lots of pictures from all angles. Reputable sellers generally post 10-12 pictures inside and outside without being asked. Listings with 1-2 photos are super dodgy.
– A seller including the original box and dust bag are a good sign, but doesn’t guarantee authenticity. These items could genuinely be missing, or if authentic, could accompany a counterfeit bag.
LEATHER, STITCHING AND LABELS
– Except in very rare instances when accompanied by metal or alligator, all Multicolore bags feature vachetta leather. Vachetta is untreated cowhide, and patinas (darkens) with age and use. Beware of bags claiming to be old with leather that has a very white, “birch-like” appearance, or bags with obvious signs of chemical staining to the leather, designed to hurry up the “aged” patina look.
– Bag handles that are black are dirty. There may or may not be patina underneath, but cleaning or treating vachetta in any way changes the way the bag ages, so I would avoid buying a bag that will need serious cleaning due to prior ownership. There are tons of videos on YouTube showing you how to clean vachetta with a variety of products including baby wipes and Magic Erasers. This can result in drying out your leather over time and cracking, and is not recommended by Louis Vuitton. Please, don’t do this unless you are really willing to take the risk of spoiling your bag.
– The trim of the handles should be trimmed with burgundy, never red.
– The mustard-colored stitching should be evenly-spaced and at the same distance from the edge throughout the piece. Counterfeit bags often use thread that is brighter yellow. Stitching should never be crooked or missing. The same number of stitches are found in similar locations on similar bags.
– On leather tabs or labels, the correct wording is “LOUIS VUITTON, PARIS, made in France.” (Or sometimes Spain, USA, etc.) The “m” in “made” should never be capitalized. The tag should never say made in (a city). On bags that pre-date the Multicolore collection, France was sometimes stamped as “france” with a lowercase “f.”
– Watch for spacing irregularities or off-centeredness in text, particularly in the letters L, O, and T. The “L” in Louis should have a very short bottom line. The “Os” should not look like ovals but be very round. And the two “Ts” should look close enough to be touching.
– Authentic hardware is brass and “gold” in appearance, never rubber or plastic. There may be differences in zipper brand stamping with vintage bags more than 30 years old, but I won’t get into that here.
– Zippers should run tightly and smoothly.
– Stamping on zippers, rivets, buckles, etc. should be smooth and crisp.
– Multicolore purses in blanc feature an Alcantara lining that is maroon in appearance. Multicolore purses in noir feature a lining that is taupe/mushroom – never brown or tan. The linings are soft, not rough or canvas-like, and should be completely attached; you shouldn’t be able to pull them away from the inside of the bag.
– The interiors in Multicolore small leather goods might be somewhat different; I have seen noir pieces with grenade (hot pink) or violette interiors and blanc pieces with pale pink interiors. There may be others I am not aware of.
– I don’t recommend buying a bag if you aren’t able to see pictures of the interior. Some interiors can be really dirty from years of use, and some stains don’t come out.
While Louis Vuitton does not issue serial numbers or authenticity certificates to its bags, it has been stamping date codes inside since the 1980s. I won’t discuss the 1980s date coding here since it doesn’t pertain to the Multicolore collection, but I will talk about 1990 forward. This is one area in particular where I have seen a lot of misinformation.
– Each bag has a date code stamped inside with two letters and four numbers. Sometimes it is stamped onto a leather tag, and sometimes it is heat stamped right into the lining. I have at least one piece where the date stamp is so faded it is almost impossible to see or photograph. This can be normal over time especially when the stamp is in the fabric rather than on a tag. Every bag manufactured in the same place during the same period would have the same date code stamp, as it is not a serial number.
– The first two letters are always a code for the country where the bag was manufactured. As far as I know, the only exception is code “AAS” which is a special order. The letters are not always intuitive; for example, “SP” does not stand for Spain. You can check the link I posted above for a list of country codes. As a buyer, for example, if the bag you are considering buying is stamped “made in France,” you would want to see a corresponding two letter code for France.
– Between 1990 and 2006, the first and third numbers refer to the month, and the second and the fourth numbers refer to the year. In the example of two of my bags below, the top bag (FL0063) was made in France in June 2003, and the bottom bag (MI1006) was also made in France in October 2006.
– From 2007 to the present, the first and third numbers refer to the week, and the second and the fourth numbers refer to the year. In the example below, this wallet was produced in France during the 28th week of 2009.
– The date code stamp should be spaced evenly and appear centered – they haven’t all looked identical over the years. But when you look at many of these, you start to get a sense of the font and size. Counterfeit ones usually are spaced funky, upside-down, or the letters and numbers are very skinny.
– A bag having a date code stamped inside is not a guarantee that it is authentic. However, it is one more piece of the puzzle and can be used to determine whether the total picture makes sense. A Multicolore that claims to have been produced before 2003 or after 2015 is going to be a fake. A bag with a code referring to, for example, the 82nd week of 2012 or a country that doesn’t exist also doesn’t make a lot of sense.
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There you have it! That probably would have been easier to do in a video, but I’m not really a video person, and no one wants to hear me talk about one thing in detail for so long anyway (ask my husband!). Unless maybe you are as obsessed with Multicolore as I am, and in that case I hope this was helpful and interesting for you.
Until next time, when we get back to how life in quarantine is going, and when we might leave for our next diplomatic assignment. Thanks for reading!
[ETA ~ I am amazed that less than a year after writing this post, it has racked up more than 6K views. I have also surprised myself by amassing a serious vintage collection of Multicolore pieces in the meantime… In April 2021 I launched an Instagram account dedicated to sharing my love for Louis Vuitton Multicolore. If you’re interested, please follow me there!]