SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Vera Wang, the queen of bridal couture, is abolishing the nearly $500 fee she charged Chinese brides-to-be to try on a garment at her new Shanghai bridal boutique after the move, meant to deter counterfeiters, set off a global outcry.
Local and global media had criticized the surcharge as being discriminatory because it was applied only in China, at the company's Shanghai store, which staged a "soft opening" in January as the company's first bridal salon in the country, a vast potential market as the numbers of wealthy grow.
A Vera Wang spokeswoman told Reuters that the 3,000 yuan ($480) charge was being scrapped as of Wednesday.
"Please kindly be informed that Vera Wang has abolished appointment fees at her bridal salons worldwide starting from March 27, 2013," the spokeswoman said in an email, without elaborating.
A company spokeswoman told local media earlier this year that the charge was imposed to fend off copying of the elaborate dresses, which fetch thousands of dollars in the original.
Despite the move, though, Vera Wang's ivory tulle trains and pinched bodice gowns had already found fans in the world of pirates, with knockoffs widely available on Chinese e-commerce sites for a fraction of the price.
Li, one seller of "Vera Wang style" dresses on Taobao Marketplace, China's largest e-commerce site, says he can achieve up to 90 percent similarity to the namesake garments without even seeing the originals.
A Vera Wang original can range anywhere from $2,000 to over $10,000, but on Taobao some imitations go for as little as $100.
"For the experts you don't need to try on the dress to figure out how to copy it, you just need to see it or feel it at the shop," said Li, who declined to give his full name.
Li's factory, based in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, makes Vera Wang knockoffs from photos of her creations, then sells them online for between 600 yuan ($97) to 1,700 yuan ($270).
The Taobao sellers who hawk the look-alikes use organza, satin and lace to recreate the ethereal bridal trains and three-dimensional floral whorls on Wang's dresses.
Most of the sellers online said they could achieve near 100 percent similarity to Vera Wang dresses but the complicated hand stitching and high quality materials that go into an original dress is something they can't replicate.
"There will be slight changes... If you want 100 percent you should buy the original," said one seller of mid-range copies.
In 2012, China was the top source country for counterfeit goods entering the United States and the European Union (EU) with more than 70 percent originating from China, according to the latest customs seizure reports from the U.S. and the EU.
Alibaba Group, which owns Taobao Marketplace, said in a statement to Reuters the company works with intellectual property rights holders to take down counterfeit listings and will penalize stores caught.
($1 = 6.2107 Chinese yuan)
(Editing by Kazunori Takada, Elaine Lies and Michael Perry)