Has it ever struck you that the fashion industry needs to be told the story of the emperor's new clothes? You have undoubtedly seen those European fashion shows that our television stations increasingly inflict on us in which sour-faced bony hags wearing awkwardly draped textiles that you never see on the street are applauded for the highly skilled job of walking towards a camera. The applause in turn comes from an audience of people who think a mighty lot of themselves and show it with just that touch of raggedness in their appearance that would qualify them for membership of the Foreign Correspondents' Club were the raggedness not the result of attention but rather inattention to detail. What it all so desperately needs is one common sense little nipper who, if he can't quite say that the hags are wearing no clothes, at least puts the show into proper human perspective with a loud horse laugh. But we have at least come a step closer to it recently with, of all things, Hong Kong tourists dropping in on fashion retailers in Italy. It seems, according to luxury goods chain Louis Vuitton, that Hong Kong people are buying fashion goods in Italian shops with the express purpose of passing them over to mainland counterfeit agents waiting outside. The goods are then shipped to the mainland for copying. 'Every day we'll have five or six Hong Kong tourists coming in and demanding to buy the latest products,' says one Louis Vuitton manager. 'We know most of them are not buying for themselves because many buy without a second's consideration.' We shall ignore for the moment that this actually would make them Japanese, given Hong Kong's historic experience with fashion goods shoppers who buy without a second's consideration. But the Italians are not putting up with it any longer. Outside the shops they have now posted anti-counterfeit agents and if these stalwart enforcers of the law catch anyone handing over a bag to someone suspicious they will call in the police. It is a serious matter, they say. It is actually a big horse laugh. The way for Hong Kong people to risk getting in trouble for breaches of fashion copyright law is now to buy the legitimate articles from the legitimate retailers in the countries where the brand names originate. Their ethnicity alone will put them under instant suspicion when they do it. And the obvious way to escape this is now to come back home first and buy the copies for a fraction of the price from counterfeiters who ask no questions. How much plainer could you want the lunacies of the fashion business portrayed? It tells you something about the fashion market, however. This is one in which huge profit margins are based on sly advertising illusions that these knick-knacks in European shop windows can be made only by elderly skilled craftsmen in leather aprons working with hand tools at wooden benches in the Italian Alps. And now the very people most commonly considered prey to this illusion are showing that they recognise it for exactly what it is. We should in fact consider this as a fine example of the operations of a free market. If counterfeiters cannot copy the legitimate articles faithfully enough to make buyers confident that the deception will work then they would never have had a market. But if they can do it, and of course they can, given how frequently it turns out that counterfeiters are also official producers of the legitimate goods, then we can dispense with the illusion of the leather-aproned Alpine craftsman and legitimately ask why the legitimate goods cost so much. The solution to this counterfeiting problem is not policemen standing outside European shop windows, casting aspersions by their presence on ethnic Chinese buyers. It is a much simpler one. If only these shops and their suppliers would cut their prices to real market levels the counterfeiters would be out of business tomorrow. Free markets, and obviously we have one here, always tell you the truth about fair prices.