In 2017, the French magazine L’Officiel announced the creation of an American edition, L’Officiel USA, promising coverage of haute couture, art and travel through an international prism.
Over the next four years, that coverage included a series of beauty video interviews; dispatches from men’s fashion shows in Florence, Italy; articles about a vegan restaurant in SoHo and a national chain of marijuana dispensaries; and the profiles of singer Chaka Khan and writer Elizabeth Wurtzel.
But this week, those articles were among many cited in a lawsuit brought against L’Officiel USA Inc. by New York City, on behalf of writers, producers, photographers, illustrators and more. ‘others who said they were not paid for their work, or not paid on time. Peter Hatch, the commissioner of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, called the case a “corporate theft against industrious creatives in New York City.”
Combining the experiences of two dozen workers, the lawsuit is the first major so-called practice model case in New York City, said Hatch, brought under a 2017 law called the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. A provision in the law allows self-employed workers to prosecute late payments by filing complaints with the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
When the department receives a complaint, it responds by sending a written notice to the company named in the complaint, which gives it 20 days to respond with either proof that the freelancer has been fully paid or acknowledgment that the freelancer has not. was not paid (and an explanation of why).
Often this is enough for freelancers to get paid the money they are owed, Hatch said. But when the department started sending notices to L’Officiel USA in 2018, it “kept quiet about us,” he said. There are 24 complaints cited in the lawsuit; in all but two, the city said, the magazine did not respond to notices sent by the worker protection service.
Senior executives at the magazine – the president of L’Officiel USA, the managing director of L’Officiel Inc. in France and the creative director of L’Officiel USA – did not respond to several mailed requests for comment. electronic for this article.
Freelancers who filed complaints against L’Officiel said they felt ghost. Many consider late payments to be an overwhelming but quite typical aspect of their working life. Sometimes publicly naming an overdue business can speed up payment. But that wasn’t the case here, said Natasha Stagg, a writer who said she was owed $ 1,000 for her article on Ms. Wurtzel.
“I tweeted about L’Officiel,” she said. “Instead of getting paid, I just got a ton of DMs from people who hadn’t been paid either.”
It was also demoralizing, Ms Stagg said, to see the fashion magazine undergo some sort of rebranding in 2020 – which was reportedly boosted by several million dollars from a U.S. investment firm – when some freelancers were already fighting L ‘Official in French courts.
In recent years, the fashion industry has come under intense scrutiny for its long-standing practice of low wages for interns, entry-level workers, and contractors or freelancers. This practice often created conditions that only allowed people who were wealthy or with a strong safety net to enter the field.
“I think the industry is full of people who don’t work for money but for weight, or even the joy of being involved in fashion or publishing, and therefore not getting paid is not the biggest problem for them, ”Ms. Stagg said. “They don’t want to ruffle the feathers or make it look like they need the money because it’s contrary to the image they’re trying to project.”
Dean Quigley, who worked under contract as artistic director for L’Officiel USA in the fall of 2019, is named in the lawsuit as owed $ 15,320 – money, he said, which could have provided more stability at the start of the pandemic or helped him pay off his student debt or medical expenses.
Now that he has a full-time job at a large retailer, joining the lawsuit was “less about being compensated, which I would obviously love to do,” Mr Quigley said. “But especially since I don’t want companies like this to operate that way.”
The lawsuit calls for freelancers to be awarded double their unpaid salaries, in addition to civil penalties paid to New York City and the establishment of a judicial reviewer to ensure L’Officiel changes its practices.
Mr Hatch, the commissioner, acknowledged that court resolutions can come slowly, but bringing a lawsuit would help put “this industry on guard,” he said.
“If such a company can afford to maintain a luxurious brand image, it is all the more unreasonable for it not to pay the real creators of the content it sells.