Thursday, February 19, 2009

UPDATE: More Puff Pieces On Armani, Plus The Designer Disinvites Fashion Critic Cathy Horyn From His Show.

Does the NYT give away free blogging rights to its advertisers?

That's a question the NYTPicker raised last fall about the City Room's Q&A with the artistic director of the Big Apple Circus -- a regular advertiser in the NYT -- and wonders about again today with the launch of a guest blog by regular NYT advertiser Giorgio Armani.

Armani has been advertising in the NYT for as long as there have been shoulder pads in men's suits. But today's so-called "double-truck" ad in the NYT's front section -- a splashy two-page spread smack in the middle, announcing the opening of the Italian designer's new Fifth Avenue store -- represents the kind of ad the NYT loves most: a hefty six-figure purchase by a prestigious client.

Fashion advertising has been a cornerstone of the NYT's business for decades. But in recent years, as other market segments have declined, the major fashion retailers and designers -- who keep buying fancy full page ads in the newspaper and the magazine, along with its still-flush fashion supplements -- have become even more crucial to the paper's bottom line. That means treating those advertisers with the care and attention that befits companies that contribute millions of dollars each year to the NYT's editorial budget.

What else could explain the absurdly self-promotional "Giorgio Armani Takes Manhattan" blog that began appearing on the NYT website yesterday? As part of the T Magazine's blog, "The Moment," the silver-haired Italian design legend has been given space to chronicle his arrival in Manhattan for fashion week -- which just happens to coincide with the opening of his new store, as advertised.

"Ciao, New York!" Armani announced yesterday, in his first post. " I just arrived this weekend for the opening of my new Fifth Avenue store, which I am celebrating on Tuesday night. I am stra-contento to be here. I flew in from Milan, on Alitalia, and I must say that the service was impeccable. The staff was very well mannered and elegant. I was in first class and ate a very nice breakfast and then went right to sleep."

Not nauseous yet? Keep reading.

"My usual driver, Jonathan, was waiting to pick me up outside in a small black Audi," Armani continues. "It was a nice car, but I told him to bring a van tomorrow. Please, I need more room."

And then:

I have an apartment on Central Park West, which makes me feel like a real New Yorker. It’s a penthouse with terraces all around," he writes. Sounds good, but wait -- there's drama ahead!

"I sleep very well in that house, but there’s one big problem: too much light," the designer moans. "I’ve noticed that Americans never block out the light properly in bedrooms. In Europe we like to close ourselves off in the dark. I took care of that problem by putting in black-out curtains and now I sleep like a baby."

Poor Giorgio...too much light in his Central Park West apartment!

Actually, we'd be more depressed to learn that the NYT didn't deal Armani this blog in return for advertising. To think that editors at "The Moment" blog consider his poor-little-rich-boy ramblings worthy of a home on the NYT website -- purely as journalism -- is a notion even more frightening than the idea of Giorgio Armani waking up to blinding sunlight through his Central Park West window.

[UPDATE: The NYT's fawning, blanket coverage of Armani has continued all week, including a City Room blog post about his $1 million contribution to the NYC public schools; a Dining section story about the restaurant opening in his new Fifth Avenue store; his continuing, ghost-written journal on "The Moment" blog; and a Diner's Journal blog entry that covered the restaurant in sumptuous detail.

Now comes today's 1,277-word puff-piece profile on the front page of Thursday Styles, by fashion reporter Eric Wilson, that identifies Armani as "one of the wealthiest and most successful designers in the world." How does Wilson know that? Because Armani, whose company is privately held, told Wilson that last July it reported sales of $2.1 billion and profits of nearly $300 million. No further information is provided to put his business into context -- except Wilson's assertion that Armani is "the biggest news of New York Fashion Week."

Of course he is, thanks to the NYT's obsequious and endless coverage of one of its most loyal advertisers.

Meanwhile, the NYT's fashion critic, Cathy Horyn, reported yesterday morning on her "On The Runway" blog that she was disinvited to Armani's runway show this week, because the designer didn't like her negative comments about his January couture show in Paris. This was left unmentioned in Wilson's wet kiss to Armani in today's paper. While it's not unheard of for a fashion designer to ban a critic from a show, the NYT's promotion of Armani seems especially inappropriate in light of the Horyn ban.

Shouldn't the NYT mention in print Armani's attempt to strong-arm the NYT into letting him control its coverage of his shows? Yes. Will they? Doutbful.

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