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It may just now be Oct. 31, but the Hollywood costume parade has been marching on social media for days.
Halloweekend saw Harry Styles dress up as Elton John and Chloe Grace Moretz as Tonya Harding. Then today, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka enlisted their 8-year-old twins to re-enact Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. But late Wednesday, the Kardashians took the prize, revealing a group costume that seemed like a paid brand placement if there ever was one.
“This was not a paid sponsorship. The girls did it just for fun,” a rep for the Kardashians told THR.
But a Victoria’s Secret press release sure made it seem like a commercial relationship.
“In the spirit of Halloween, Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe Kardashian along with Kendall and Kylie Jenner channeled the iconic Victoria’s Secret Angels,” the release read. “The sisters are clad in wings from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway, and Kylie can be seen in the bodysuit Candice Swanepoel wore during the 2015 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”
Along with links to the group photo of the girls posted on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram (120 million followers), and Kendall Jenner’s Instagram (97 million followers), the release included handy links to all of the product worn by the girls, including the VS Dream Angels Scalloped Lace Hipster Thong worn by Kourtney ($16.50) and the Lacie String Bikini panty worn by Khloe ($10.50).
What was not in the press release, or in the Instagram posts, was a hashtag indicating the costumes were a sponsored advertisement, which celebrities must legally disclose according to the FTC’s rules.
Kim Kardashian thanked Victoria’s Secret for sending the looks, and she tagged the brand in her post. (It’s been reported that she earns as much as $500,000 per sponsored Instagram post.) She also mentions the brand in her IG Story, but does not mention the loan.
Jenner posted a more, um, cheeky take on the group photo — from the back, also tagging Victoria’s Secret, and also not disclosing if the costumes were part of a paid deal. (Jenner earns closer to $1 million per sponsored post, according to reports.)
A post shared by Kendall (@kendalljenner) on
The posts fall into a legal gray area, according to New York-based attorney Julie Zerbo, founder and editor-in-chief of The Fashion Law blog. “If any of the posts are not potentially in violation of the FTC’s rules, it would be the Instagram post from Kim Kardashian that’s clear from the language that they borrowed the wings. That’s distinct from just saying ‘Thanks VS,’ which the FTC has held is not a valid disclosure,” she explains, noting that even borrowing from a brand is a material connection that must be disclosed.
The post on Kim’s IG story, where she tags VS, should say, #ad or #sponsored, or explain that the costumes were borrowed, “because the FTC has said you have to repeat your disclosures,” Zerbo suggests. “There is always a chance someone just saw her IG story and not the IG post.”
Altogether, the posts bring up a bigger issue, says Zerbo, “that the FTC doesn’t have hardline rules about the language they want people to use for disclosures.”
The press release from Victoria’s Secret also complicates things, she says. “In theory, the Kardashians (or any celeb) don’t like when their images are used in a commercial capacity. The press release implies there might be some other agreement going on here, which would give rise for a greater need for disclosure.”
Dressing up for Halloween is big business in Hollywood, especially now that celebrities as influencers share costumes on social media. There are often professional stylists involved in procuring the right looks, and makeup artists, too, and there is image-making in finding that right costume to make an impression. With the help of stylist Maeve Reilly, up-and-coming actress Madison Pettis dressed as her idol Beyonce.
A post shared by Madison Pettis (@madisonpettis) on
Heidi Klum’s legendary 18-years-running Hollywood Halloween party is sponsored (complete with a step-and-repeat) by Party City.
So the opportunity is ripe for brand collaborations. It’s easy to see how Victoria’s Secret, once America’s No. 1 lingerie label but now struggling in the #MeToo era against such girl power brands as Aerie, would find it attractive to dress the Kardashian-Jenners for “the holiday,” with their enormous social reach. (VS has seen same-store sales drop 5 percent in 2018.) It’s less clear why the Kardashian-Jenners, who no doubt have ambitions for lingerie labels of their own (including Kim’s unfortunately named Kimono Intimates), would want to associate themselves with Victoria’s Secret. Let the fallout ensue.
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