Since Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first woman ever appointed to helm the historic house of Christian Dior in 2016, she has made a concerted effort to pull the Parisian maison into the millennial era. There have been conspicuously branded bra straps (co-signed by Bella Hadid) and the Rihanna-endorsed "We Should All Be Feminists" T-shirt (a phrase borrowed from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), as well as an affection for the 'revolutionary' look: Black Panther-esque black berets, proletarian worker caps, and CND logos.
For this season’s statement piece, however, Maria Grazia dipped into the Dior archives to resurrect a handbag style created by John Galliano (the then creative director) at the turn of the millennium: the iconic Saddle Bag. One of the great It bags of modern fashion history, the horse saddle-shaped bag was ubiquitous in '00s paparazzi shots, worn by everyone from hotel heiress and star of The Simple Life Paris Hilton to the fictional Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City.
Relaunching the instantly recognisable Saddle Bag in an extensive range of new patterns and colourways is a savvy move from Maria Grazia – reigniting the luxury lust in those who loved it the first time around (but perhaps didn’t have the salary to buy it), and introducing the style to relative fashion-newbies, Instagram-native millennials ready to jump on every new micro-trend.
Last week, Dior promoted the relaunch with a huge social media campaign, with 100 global 'influencers' posting images of themselves wearing the bag, all at the exact same time. The bag turned up on the feeds of big names including model and beauty entrepreneur Miranda Kerr, and fashion bloggers Susie Bubble, Bryanboy and Chiara Ferragni.
For people who follow a lot of fashion accounts, their feeds were full of images of the bag, each hashtagged #DiorSaddle. It felt like an unofficial takeover – and that’s exactly where the controversy began for Dior. Fashion call-out account @DietPrada quickly noticed all the simultaneous social media posts. "Love the @Dior saddle, but is this a low-key ad campaign or what? No #ad #sponsored or gift indications. Sketchy?" the account asked its more than 600k followers. Under FTC (Federal Trade Commission) laws in the US, and CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) rules in the UK, any posts that are paid for by a brand, or where a brand has gifted the product with an expectation of endorsement, must include a clear notice that the post is an advert, or sponsored post.
As @DietPrada noted, few of the influencers posting images of the Dior Saddle Bag with the campaign hashtag included such a clear notice. Among those who did include a disclosure are blogger Bryanboy, who wrote "Thank you @Dior for the gift!" in his caption, and the blogger Chiara Ferragni and model Lena Perminova, who both opted to use the hashtag #SuppliedByDior. The list of Saddle Bag posts with no clear disclosure is far, far longer, however, and includes influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers (each) and even Instagram’s very own head of fashion partnerships, Eva Chen.
Though Instagram now has a dedicated sponsored posts feature, Eva didn’t use it. When one of her followers questioned the confusing nature of the post (commenting, "Why [have] none of the influencers had specified "[sponsored]" yesterday? Is it not [a hidden] ad campaign from Dior? I though[t] it was supposed to be mandatory now on Instagram?"), Eva responded to clarify: "[I] can’t speak to the other influencers but I actually returned the bag today … This bag post in particular was to help the brand celebrate their big day but no money changed hands."
It remains to be seen whether Dior – and the influencers who posted as part of the #DiorSaddle campaign without including a clear declaration of sponsorship and/or gifting – will face legal action over this controversy. The FTC has previously fined a department store for failing to disclose paid-for posts and, as Quartzy notes, sent a number of letters to Instagram influencers last year warning of the practice.
Taylor Lorenz, a writer who is an authority on influencer marketing, highlighted a completely separate issue in an interview with Fashionista about the #DiorSaddle social posts. "What they've done is completely saturated the market and the bag is going to have a shorter shelf life because of it," Taylor warns. "There's always some fashion item, jewelry item or 'look' on Instagram that every influencer gets, it's really hot and then you're kind of like, 'Okay, I'm bored, I've seen this one million times'." After a hiatus of 18 years, Dior is banking on the iconic handbag hopping right back into the warm saddle of fashion’s favour – the problem is, their horse may have just fallen at the first hurdle.