Sun, 11 Jun 2000

Epi leather a gentle touch from a giant name

By Bruce Emond

JAKARTA (JP): For many of us it's all about the name, or rather that distinctive monogram, when it comes to Louis Vuitton.

Regardless of the style, the quality of the craftsmanship or the range of products, we cannot help chewing over whether what we see being toted before us on city streets is the genuine article or a superb knockoff.

Although the monogrammed travel line is what put it on the style map, the company has branched out into other areas in recent years in a bid to keep up with the times. Among the efforts is the Epi leather collection of city bags, clutch bags and accessories, which it has produced since 1985.

"What sets us apart is our history, and the fact that our designs always progress with the times and never go out of fashion," said the company's Asia public relations manager, Maria Miu, at the Jakarta launch of the new leather collection.

Miu said the company listened to its customers in coming up with the new colors and designs for the collection. Some complained the dark hues used in previous lines were too "intense" and could not be used for more casual occasions.

With four designs for city bags, three for clutches and two types of small leather accessories, the line is in three new colors of vanilla, lilac and pepper. Finished in titanium and light gold, they are indeed easy on the eye and distinctly feminine.

For those among us loath to sling over our shoulders a universally recognized status symbol, the Louis Vuitton name and monogram are discreetly embossed on the straps and bag clasps. Yet the lack of brand prominence was unsettling to one reporter, because "the reason most Indonesians want to buy them is to show off the monogram".

In-your-face-brand name or not, the products are undeniably beautiful and stylish -- and come with a commensurate price tag. They range in price from Rp 1.6 million (US$188) for one of the accessories of a small purse, to Rp 7 million ($823) for a city bag.

Mui said loyal customers put quality first over concern for the brand name.

"They tell us that they buy our products because they last a long time and they can trust the quality. We never put our products on sale."

She added that the formula for sniffing out the fakes was simple.

"Our products are only available at our stores, and we do not use agents," Mui said.

Even though you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Louis Vuitton outlets in Indonesia, it's easy to find products -- counterfeit ones -- bearing the brand name. In South Jakarta's Blok M shopping area, for example, there are many vendors selling imitation leather goods of Louis Vuitton and other international brands, available at prices of less than Rp 100,000. The lack of public awareness of copyright laws and weak law enforcement have allowed the business to flourish.

Mui said the real trouble spots, particularly for production centers, were elsewhere.

"It's not as bad here as in other markets in Asia, especially China, Thailand and Korea. Our approach is to focus on those markets and work with the authorities there. We conduct a couple of raids a year."

What does she do when meets an unwitting owner of a fake product?

Mui said it worked best to let the person down gently.

"We ask them where they bought the product, and then tell them about our stores, that genuine products with 100 percent guarantees are only found in our stores."