When it comes to runway collections, many major fashion publications omit a significant element from their coverage: The fact that they are essentially being compensated in exchange for runway show coverage and editorial placement. The editors behind some of the industry’s most influential publications are consistently being “paid” by brands – by way of vacation-like getaways and expensive gifts – to write runway show reviews, or better yet, to feature brands and their collections in an array of non-traditional advertising formats.
On the heels of the recent stagings of the Resort 2017 collections, The Fashion Law takes an exclusive look at the rampant violations of federal law that come hand-in-hand with the industry’s coverage of such runway show events and the larger practices of wrongdoing being perpetrated by fashion publications, editors, journalists, and critics, alike.
As we told you in Part I of this series, bloggers are consistently running afoul of federal law by failing to disclose sponsored posts and advertisements. However,there are arguably more significant violations at play even further up the fashion totem pole, and they involve some of the industry’s most well-read publications and high trafficked websites, and the industry’s most celebrated design houses. Such ethically and legally questionable tactics are clearly demonstrated in connection with the Resort 2017 runway shows.
THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
The FTC is an independent government agency tasked with promoting consumer protection, and eliminating and preventing anticompetitive business practices. Established in 1914, the FTC garners its investigative and enforcement authority largely as a result of the FTC Act, a federal law that governs the publication of commercial messages and prohibits the utilization of unfair or deceptive acts and practices in the market. Under the FTC Act, the FTC is empowered, among other things, to “prevent unfair methods of competition, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.”
With this in mind, the FTC Act states that an act or practice is deceptive if there is a material misrepresentation or omission of information that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably in the circumstances. So, when a celebrity, influencer, editor or journalist is compensated (with money or free clothes or other perks) to endorse or promote a product or brand outside of a traditional advertising medium, the parties must disclose this to consumers, usually by way of “#Ad,” “Ad:,” or “Sponsored.”
It is worth noting that the FTC is quite adamant that practices obvious within a given industry cannot be assumed to be similarly obvious to consumers. Under the law, “an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads ‘a significant minority’ of consumers. Even if some readers are aware of these deals, many readers aren’t. That’s why disclosure is important.”
THE PROBLEM WITH RESORT
Enter: Brands’ Resort/Cruise collections. The coverage of these special, pre-season shows is often extremely questionable due to the resulting deficiencies in journalistic integrity and rampant FTC violations in connection with such coverage by an array of the industry’s most prominent publications.
Pre-season (and sometimes couture, a la Dolce & Gabbana) collections tend to be presented in far-off locations, and thus amount to mini-vacations, complete with accommodations, activities, and gifts, for attendees. This year, Chanel staged its Resort 2017 show in Cuba. Louis Vuitton in Brazil. Gucci at Westminster Abbey in London, and Dior at Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace. Far from merely taking the form of runway shows, these pre-season events, in particular, are often lavish weekend-long affairs, something editors are not necessarily shy to document (in articles and on their personal Instagram accounts).
As Vogue Runway director Nicole Phelps noted on the heels of Louis Vuitton’s Resort 2017 show in Rio: “There were 514 local and international guests arrayed on the [Niterói] museum’s spectacular patio this afternoon … Some of them had already seen the Niterói from above on helicopter tours of the city. Out-of-towners began arriving in Rio as early as Thursday, and Vuitton kept them busy with everything from trips to Corcovado to paddleboard lessons.”
While such elements have been documented quite thoroughly on editors’ Instagram accounts, what the average individual would not be able to tell from most corresponding show reviews or industry insiders’ Instagram coverage is that these perks tend to be part of nearly all-expenses-paid weekend-long affairs.
This is both ethically and legally problematic. It is also symbolic of a larger problem in the fashion industry. As we learned back in 2014 when Women’s Wear Daily came under fire after its then-employee, David Yi, documented an all-expenses-paid trip to the Maidstone East Hampton courtesy of a PR firm, such trips are commonplace occurrences. While these “press trips” are often documented rather meticulously on Instagram by attendees, they are largely kept under wraps in another way: Their true nature – the fact that brands are often foot the bill for an array of attendees – is almost never disclosed, and thus, such coverage serves to defraud consumers, particularly when coming from individuals and publications charged with providing objective or at least non-deceptive content.
Such press trips, when not documented in accordance with the FTC’s guidelines (certainly the result of a lack of guidance from the top), leave editors, critics, celebrities, and bloggers – including those in attendance at the destination Resort 2017 shows and those of seasons prior – running afoul of the FTC Act. This is because such coverage stands to significantly mislead consumers. As discussed in Part I of our examination of the industry’s advertising practices, posting endorsements that have come about as a result of a non-obvious connection between the endorser and the underlying brand without proper disclosure amounts to a violation of the FTC Act. The same is true for the posting of quasi-sponsored content, such as press trip coverage (regardless of the medium).
Consider Chanel’s Cruise show, which was held in Havana, Cuba last month. Editors from nearly every major fashion publication were in attendance, as were an array of bloggers/influencers were also in attendance. As Chanel’s creative director Karl Lagerfeld told New York Magazine’s Amy Larocca, “We brought 700 people to Havana.” (Notice he did not say, 700 people came to Havana).
Larocca described the scene at the Hotel Nacional, where many of the show’s guests, including private clients and fashion editors, were housed. “Everyone’s been given a special-edition Chanel fedora, and everyone smells vaguely of Chanel Chance, the shower gel left in each guest’s room … There are endless cars and vans coming and going, shuttling everyone around on rotating tours of the Museo de Revolución, the streets of the old city, Ernest Hemingway’s house on the outskirts of town, and a warehouse funded by the Cuban government and full of the country’s promising contemporary art. There’s an evening trip to the Tropicana cabaret.”
InStyle’s fashion director, Eric Wilson, recounted: “Chanel had booked rooms in no less than five hotels for a production that would include hundreds of outlandishly dressed guests being ferried to the show in Havana’s famously retrofitted and antiquated taxi cabs, tours of the revolutionary sites, literary odes to Hemingway, a visit to the Tropicana nightclub, and finally a blowout party at la Plaza de la Cathedral.”
This is all to say: Chanel (or whatever house’s show is taking place) flies and houses, and wines and dines its guests, including at least some editors and critics, who are then expected to take in the collection in an arguably unbiased manner (as opposed to merely penning a purely sponsored post) a few days later.
The same can be said of couture shows, by the way. As regular BoF columnist Colin McDowell documented in a 2010 article for his own site, entitled The Thrill of Couture: “Arriving in Paris for the couture shows has always been an experience. First-class on Eurostar; limo waiting at Gare du Nord (apart from meeting relatives or a lover, there’s no better way of arriving at a station than seeing your name on a card, held up by your personal chauffeur for the week); hotel staff welcoming you back with what seem genuine smiles; flowers from the top designers waiting in your room […] You really feel privileged. And I, for one, love being pampered – or should that be corrupted?”
DECADENCE WITHOUT DISCLOSURE: QUESTIONABLE ETHICS & ILLEGALITY
The widespread “pampering” that McDowell and others describe is problematic for at least two reasons. For one thing, there is the question of how it affects a journalist, editor and/or critic’s objectivity in connection with his/her coverage of the collection. It should be lost on no one that … well, no one gave the Chanel Resort 2017 collection a negative review (the same can largely be said for reviews of Chanel’s previous outings in Dubai, Austria, Seoul, etc, and those of its other high fashion friends). Instead, the results were more like sponsored (read: paid for) posts.
Yes, the reviews of nearly all of the editors/critics in attendance were uniformly glowing (and arguably very biased), and how could they not be? A journalist or critic simply must feel some sense of obligation to a house (particularly when said house is an advertiser, which is another issue entirely) to skew his review to an extent, if he has been wined, dined, flown (in first/business class, quite often), housed and showered with pricey gifts by the house. With such knowledge at hand (although most readers/consumers certainly do not possess such insider information), expecting even a reasonably objective review is plainly absurd. This is the ethically problematic aspect.See more at:plus size formal dresses | formal wear brisbane