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The Dispossession of André Leon Talley

  • February 24, 2021

Though this was an extreme example of the favor exchange in fashion, it was far from unique. In her memoir, “Clothes … And Other Things That Matter,” Alexandra Shulman, the former editor of British Vogue, writes of being “gifted two Chanel jackets by the label’s London press office soon after my arrival at Vogue,” in 1992, which “would have cost about £1,000 at that time.”

Ms. Shulman also describes editors arriving in Paris to discover “wardrobes stuffed with Chanel hanging bags.” Though she herself did not receive them, she did get an offer — also not long after she arrived at Vogue — from Catherine Walker, one of Princess Diana’s favorite designers, to make her an evening dress, which she happily accepted.

Even today, products, including the latest sneakers and cosmetics and bags, are regularly received by certain power players in the industry — generally editors at glossy fashion magazines or social media influencers — from brands hoping for favorable coverage.

The gifting is rarely as crude or straightforward as pay to play; there’s often no stated quid pro quo. And editors would insist it does not affect their taste or judgment, which is their currency, despite the fact that in many other businesses, gifting of this nature may prompt accusations of bribery and corruption.

But in fashion, which was and is an industry where salaries are notoriously low and the pressure to represent the brand is notoriously high, it has long been considered part of the sector’s basic economy and an approved relationship-building tool (that often, for the brands, is considered a marketing expense).

According to the fashion news website Fashionista, for example, the average assistant market editor at a print title, whose job is to help select which items end up in published roundups and reviews, was $25,000 in 2019. To supplement these low incomes, those editors may sell items they have been given to them as a way to make extra money, a practice fueled in recent years by the booming online resale market.

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