image: Vogue, Harper's Bazaar

image: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar

Selena Gomez covers the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar in a powder pink dress. The dress was made by Coach, a brand for which Gomez is an ambassador. In addition to releasing collaboration collections with Coach, she appears in ad campaigns, sits front row at the brand’s runway shows, and attends events – such as the Met Gala – in Coach. In much the same way as the aforementioned things are marketing opportunities for the New York-based brand (and likely outlined in Gomez’s contract), her appearing on a magazine cover in Coach is an ad, as well.

The same can be said for Louis Vuitton ambassador Alicia Vikander, who is on Vogue’s March cover – her second for the magazine – in head-to-toe Louis Vuitton. Meanwhile, in a video on the magazine’s site, entitled, “Alicia Vikander Has All the Answers . . . Or Does She?,” she is styled in a Louis Vuitton  top and shorts.

So, how – exactly – does a brand ambassador, such as Gomez or Vikander, magically end up on a magazine cover in the brand she is regularly paid to endorse? Well, it certainly is not a coincidence. 

Not surprisingly, the logistics behind such styling choices is not set in stone (or in a brand ambassador’s contract). However, what we do know is this: A brand’s ambassador often ends up in its wares on magazine covers, primarily because magazine editors are required to please big-name advertisers, such as Louis Vuitton or Coach. This often entails featuring their clothes and refraining from shedding any unflattering light – via articles and interviews – on these brands.

The use of – and preference for – advertisers’ garments and accessories by many publications has been well-documented over the years. There was the now-notorious internal Harper’s Bazaar document that made the rounds online in 2010, which listed the brands to feature in upcoming editorial spreads, ranked according to priority — and helpfully divided between “Advertisers” and “Non-Advertisers,” suggesting that advertiser status does, in fact, impact editorial decisions in some form.

Much more recently, former British Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers admitted that the magazine prefers advertisers, saying: “The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it.” 

But there is more to it than giving preferential treatment to advertisers. Since publications do not purchase the garments and accessories for each shoot (they are loaned by brands via their PR companies or departments, of course), brands have control over what samples they loan to magazines for covers and editorials.

As a result – and sticking with the Louis Vuitton example – a brand that is not Louis Vuitton may decline a magazine’s sample request for a cover and/or editorial if the brand believes the actress or model does not fit its image. So, Balmain (hypothetically) may decline to loan garments to Elle Magazine (again, hypothetically) for an Alicia Vikander cover because the actress is so heavily associated with the Louis Vuitton brand.

In the same vein, Louis Vuitton may decline to loan garments to Marie Claire (another hypothetical) for a cover featuring an actress other than its handful of ambassadors for the exact same reason. This is likely why most recent magazine covers featuring Michelle Williams and Jennifer Connelly, for instance, feature Louis Vuitton garments, as well. The same can be said for the styling of Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard in Dior or why pre-Louis Vuitton Lea Sedoux frequently wore Prada in magazines (she was the face of the Prada’s Candy fragrance for years).

As for why covers routinely feature head-to-toe looks from one brand, that is oftentimes yet another specification from brands to magazines and their stylists: You must feature only “full looks” from a collection or else we will not loan garments and accessories to you for a given shoot. This is yet another aspect of the magazine cover or editorial-as-advertising.

All of these routine behind-the-scenes considerations go into the selection of garments and accessories that appear on magazines’ covers. And while the FTC has not taken action over the appearance of a brand ambassador in that brand’s wares on a magazine cover run afoul of the law – such as the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) Act, which outlaws the material misrepresentation or omission of information that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably in the circumstances, that does not necessarily mean it is a-ok.