The September 2009 issue of Elle magazine is replete with accolades for the Balenciaga designer lines of apparel and jewelry. In the span of eleven sequential pages in the magazine (pages 208 to 218, to be specific) the reader can:
• See three dresses identified as Balenciaga or Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, including the dress featured as the highlighted “First Look” dress of the season;
• Read a fashion columnist’s musings over whether to splurge on the purchase of “the perfect” blue spotted jersey dress by Balenciaga with a price tag in the range of $5,000 to $7,000; and
• See, in addition to three full-length photos of models wearing dresses and bracelets by the designer, four close-up photos of bracelets from Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, identified as “silver and gold bracelets, $495 each” on page 213; a “gold and silver bracelet” for $795 on page 216 (with what appears to be an additional close-up of the bracelets from page 213 again); and a “gold and silver bracelet” for $725 on page 218 (pictured right next to what is identified as a $637 gold-plated bracelet by Eddie Borgo).
While the Balenciaga designs are attractive, a designer label that sells jersey dresses in the mid-four-figures price range is not likely to sell anything made of genuine gold for under $800, let alone a substantial bracelet. Identifying “silver” and “gold” bracelets as having the identical price also does not ring true, as gold is a substantially pricier raw material than silver. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the Balenciaga bracelet for $725 next to a similarly sized and clearly identified gold-plated bracelet for $637 by another, lesser-known designer might be thought to tip off the Elle editorial staff that the Balenciaga bracelet caption was likely missing a few qualifiers.
A quick trip to the Balenciaga web site for American customers shows none of the bracelets featured in Elle magazine, but a couple of brooches of similar price range and golden hue. The Broche Anneau, priced at $695 and Broche Entrelacee, priced at $595, are each clearly stated to be composed of “gold plated sterling silver” and available only in the color “vermeil.”
This situation is different from certain cases I described previously, in which magazines accept and repeat descriptions provided by designers or brands. In the present situation, however, Balenciaga jewelry seems to be clearly identified as to its composition on the designer’s web site. While the designer employs sterling silver in its designs, I did not find anything created of gold. Why, then, are Balenciaga bracelets labeled repeatedly as consisting of “gold and silver” in one of America’s premiere fashion magazines?
And there’s more. There is another mention and photo of a Balenciaga bracelet at page 240. The description: “Gold and silver twisted bracelet, Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, $945.” That bracelet is shown with a cluster of cuff bracelets, including a “Gold, platinum, and diamond brooch cuff” by Verdura, price upon request, and two “Gold and silver” cuffs by Taher Chermirik, one set with gemstones, prices upon request. The latter designer line in 18 karat gold is carried at Barneys New York. Indeed, besides those three bracelets, there are seven other pieces of jewelry identified as “gold” jewelry on page 240, and every single one of them is shown as “price upon request.” One would think that the distinction in disclosure of price might tip off the Elle editorial staff that the Balenciaga bracelet caption was likely missing a few qualifiers.
[Illustration: From left, rings by David Webb and Aude Lechere; bracelets by Taher Chermirik (bottom) and Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere (top); and a pair of cuff bracelets from Dior Fine Jewelry. Is one of these pieces unlike the others?]
And yet another photo of a bracelet appears on page 278. This wide bracelet (ergo the price) is identified as: “Silver and gold bracelet, Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, $1375.” This bracelet appears on the same page as a “Gold-plated link bracelet” by Kate Spade New York.
And then, finally, a glimmer of hope. There is one more fashion photo styled with a Balenciaga bracelet on page 442, where the bracelet is listed simply as “Twisted bracelet, Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, $945″ in a photo spread entitled “Age of Enlightenment.” Leaving out the descriptive mantra “silver and gold” on page 442 is not due to space considerations on the page-there is a half-line unused. I wonder if credit for omitting the descriptive caption text should go to the staff member responsible for that feature.
Contrast Elle magazine’s approach with that in the September 2009 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, which categorizes a pair of Balenciaga cuff bracelets ($495 each) as “Stylish Steals” (”High Fashion Buys Under $500″) mentioned as part of what’s new at Bazaar.com. The magazine also uses the designer’s bracelets in two photos in a fashion spread. In all cases, both in the magazine and online, there’s no description provided beyond a simple identification: bracelet, plus the designer’s name.
The mislabeling or imprecise labeling of jewelry by the mainstream fashion press does a disservice to the reading public. It also hurts the vast majority of designers and retailers in the jewelry industry who strive to provide genuine value to consumers. Once again, I call upon the editors of consumer magazines to be vigilant and to do their best to ensure that information they disseminate to the public, including any description of jewelry, is thoroughly fact-checked, complete and accurate.