Established 1978

Nob Hill Knock-Offs

by Beth Spotswood

I’ll admit it. I’ve got some fake jewelry. Okay, I own a few knock-off handbags as well. After one particular trip to Shanghai, where I discovered I could buy a fake North Face ski jacket for $7, my secret love of the designer imposter has blossomed.

Hope diamond worn by American mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, circa 1911. Or is it?

It turns out, I’m not alone. Even local women of means have taken to sporting the occasional faux accessory. Do some notable San Francisco swells choose fabulous fakes and, if so, why? Are the ladies looking to save money, or do they just want to have some fashionable fun without the fashionable price tag? Are we supposed to be fooled by a costume piece, or is everyone in on the pretender?

Founder of the women’s social networking site, A Band of Wives, Christine Bronstein fessed up, “Eve Ensler once said to me at a dinner party, ‘Think about how many expensive handbags women have piled up useless in their closets.  That money could save so many lives at City of Hope.’ Well I was one of those women with a stock of useless handbags.  And this comment made me feel so awfully greedy.  So I consigned many of them, and I started buying fake bags and giving away a lot more money to philanthropic endeavors.  Now I have a much smaller stack of much cheaper bags, and I have been able to help more than a few charities.” I restrained myself from asking Chris if Eve Ensler delved into any other monologues that night, because this article isn’t about that.

Next, I checked in with San Francisco’s favorite Southern-drawling, soirée-throwing socialite, who now lives in Beverly Hills. Pat Montandon pointed out that, often, others just assume it’s the real thing. “They always think that whatever you are wearing, carrying, or dragging, is genuine, darlin’, and it ain’t necessarily so. That goes for husbands too.”

Can we just take a minute to appreciate the treasure that is Pat Montandon? Talk about a REAL gem!

Not every gal in town is willing to rock the knock-off, although that doesn’t mean it’s all mink and Marc Jacobs. Tech-savvy stunner Shannon Bavarro opts for the real thing, while keeping it, well, real. “I just won’t do fakes. I look at a good handbag as an investment. The one or two fakes I bought fell apart and looked terrible after a dozen uses.”

Pacific Heights philanthropist and mother of twins Elizabeth Ebbesen Touw agrees. “I have dresses, shoes, and minaudieres, which are adorned with costume jewels. I own Lanvin and Chanel pieces, which are obviously costume; fun stuff, which isn’t meant to deceive. But my fine jewelry is F-I-N-E, as Aerosmith says. FINE!”

I appreciate the perspective with which Shannon and Elizabeth look at their very real accessories. Fine pieces are an investment, and fashion can still be fun, such as Elizabeth’s label-laden costume jewels and Shannon’s scores from H&M. (And yes, I, too, had to look up minaudieres, which basically means a bejeweled evening bag.)

Palette Originals jewelry designer Tina Breen Moylan can spot a fake at 20 paces, not that she minds them. “There are definitely two kinds of women who wear costume jewelry: the ones who want you to believe it’s real, and the ones who are having fun with their jewelry.” As a designer, Tina noted that when most women invest in fine jewelry, they tend to go for timeless designs. “Strands of pearls, classic diamonds—that’s usually real. But when I see googly-ga, I think fake. Unless it’s on a princess.”

Tina doesn’t think women necessarily wear faux jewelry to avoid having it stolen. “If you’re being driven in a town car and dropped off at the Asian Art Museum, you don’t need to worry about getting ripped off.” Instead, she laments that some social climbers sport the fakes, no matter how gaudy, to get ahead. “When you see someone dressed like Cinderella sitting at a table with no one else, it’s fake.”

Truth be told, very few women I contacted were even willing to go on the record about fake bags and bling, which leads me to believe there must be an epidemic of fabulous faux sweeping San Francisco. While some of the friends mentioned were more than happy to dish on Real Versus Fake 2013, a few better known boldface names took a polite pass. “I don’t think I can help with this particular article,” one responded. “I’m not comfortable talking about this on the record,” replied another. The first rule about the Faux Club is: don’t talk about the Faux Club.

It seems to come down to confidence, not carats.


Beth Spotswood posts a humor column on SFGate, writes for CBS San Francisco, and occasionally tells funny stories on stage. Raised in Mill Valley and currently living in the Mission, Beth drinks too much espresso and is a nervous flier. (Those things might be related.)

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