The rise of high-end ‘dupes’ presents a unique challenge for premium and luxury brands. Social media feeds overflow with influencers flaunting designer knock-offs – from furniture and fashion, to tech cosmetics – blurring the lines between real and replica. For luxury brands, this presents a crisis of legitimacy. Is the normalisation and popularisation of dupes simply a matter of price amidst global financial pressures, or is something more fundamental at stake? The answer may lie in a profound shift in consumer perception – a loss of the “aura” surrounding high-end goods in the age of mass-production.

Luxury and High-end Dupes: Balenciaga, Adidas Samba Dupe, and Zara dupes for Luxury perfumes.

Understanding Luxury’s Lost Aura

Walter Benjamin’s influential essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, offers a lens and framework for us to understand both the allure (and increasing disenchantment) with original luxury items. Benjamin’s concept of “aura” describes the unique quality of an original artwork tied to its history, creation process, and authenticity. This intangible quality fosters a connection to the artist’s genius, imbuing the artwork with a special and almost mystical presence.

Walter Benjamin quote: "Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be."

High-end goods have traditionally held a similar status rooted in “aura”. This intangible quality, tied to history, craftsmanship, and authenticity, creates a unique connection with the original. Owning a genuine luxury item wasn’t just about the product – it was about inheriting a brand and product story, a connection to the artistry and human touch poured into its creation.

The Mass-Production Malaise

In the age of mechanisation, luxury goods seem to be losing their soul. A designer handbag crafted with laser-cut precision and machine stitching simply lacks the allure of a piece touched by human hands, even if some elements remain hand-finished. Even when not entirely machine-made, mainstream luxury tends to emphasise a faceless, near-engineered level of perfection in their visual representations of craftsmanship. While impressive, this sterile approach fails to capture the essence of Walter Benjamin’s “aura” – the intangible quality imbued by a human touch.

Luxury Craftsmanship: Images from Rolex and Montblanc websites.Top: Rolex website; Bottom: Montblanc website

Human Connection & The Allure of the Real

The key to reigniting luxury’s “aura” lies in a renewed focus on the human narrative behind the brand and the artistry. In a world saturated with logos, consumers crave emotional connection. Authentic brands offer more than just a product – they offer a story to own. They allow consumers to be part of a legacy, to connect with the passion and artistry behind their purchase.

Cecile Bahnsen website

Emerging high-end brands across categories like watches, fashion, and automobiles are bringing back the authenticity of their “aura” by moving beyond generic images of anonymous artisans, and celebrating the real people who breathe life into creative visions. They showcase their stories, techniques, and the passion that fuels their meticulous craft.

Instead of showcasing perfectly sterile studios, they showcase the messy, human journey of creation – the sparks of inspiration, the late-night revisions. They invite consumers into a world where flaws are not defects, but testaments to their “aura”, authenticity, and human touch. Such behind the scenes imagery of real artisans helps to infuse each (imitable) product with a tangible soul.

From Singular Genius to Collective Brilliance

When high-end brands do represent the craft process, they dominantly fixate on the idea of the singular genius – the iconic designer, the expert watchmaker, the master distiller. This approach fit perfectly with the past’s top-down, celebrity-driven culture. But today, with a growing emphasis on collectivism, collaboration and shared success, the focus on sole individuals seems to lack transparency and cultural relevance.

We can see this evidenced in broader culture: with this year’s Met Gala backlash and the celebrity blockout movement we can see a growing distaste for individual celebrity – particularly when it fails to acknowledge wider societal issues and the collective effort behind success. From Time Magazine to the Turner Prize – we see how for years, our broader culture has been starting to foreground collective achievements over individual ones.

The tide of collectivism has been steadily rising for years: Left, Time Magazine Person of the Year awarded to ‘The Silence Breakers: The voices that launched a movement’ (2017); Right, Turner Prize shortlist consisting entirely of artist collectives (2021)The tide of collectivism has been steadily rising for years: Left, Time Magazine Person of the Year awarded to ‘The Silence Breakers: The voices that launched a movement’ (2017); Right, Turner Prize shortlist consisting entirely of artist collectives (2021)

Consumers are also more aware and discerning of the invisiblised people behind the creation of products, services and media. From the rise of ‘Factory Tiktok’, showing livestreams of factory workers in China, to the recent release of The Fall Guy, an ode to the unsung heroes of the movie industry – there is more visibility and awareness of the craftspeople, designers, and technicians who contribute significantly, often for long hours and with little recognition.

Emergent premium luxury brands are taking note and pointing to an alternative, where they acknowledge how a team of skilled individuals weaves their expertise into a final product that embodies the brand’s heritage and the collective passion of makers.

Dupes may offer a fleeting imitation, but they lack the soul and story that define true authenticity. High-end brands have the opportunity to reconnect with consumers by centering narratives of authenticity, creativity, human craft, and the collective genius of their team. In doing so, they’ll offer consumers what dupes can’t: a genuine connection to the story, passion, and heritage woven into every authentic piece.

3 Key Takeouts for High-End Brands

  1. Reclaim Authenticity: Refocus on the human narrative. Showcase the real people – the artisans, designers, and craftspeople – behind your brand. Highlight their stories, skills, and personalities to imbue your brand with “aura” and authenticity.

  2. Embrace the “Imperfect” Journey: Consumers today value authenticity over manufactured perfection. Celebrate the messy, creative process behind your luxury goods. Show the journey from conception to creation, fostering a deeper connection with your brand.

  3. Shift from Singular Genius to Collective Brilliance: The idea of the lone creative genius is fading. Highlight the collaborative effort behind your brand. Emphasise the team of skilled individuals who contribute their expertise and passion to create truly exceptional luxury goods.


Maria Victoria O’Hana, Project Director

Beyond the Dupe: Reimagining Brand Authenticity in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction