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What Is Going On With Balenciaga? The Holiday Ad Campaign Controversy Explained

Aug 05, 2023Aug 05, 2023

The creative director of Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia, known as Demna, has issued an apology taking responsibility for the holiday ad campaign that featured children holding teddy bears dressed in bondage gear, set amongst a pile of documents that included Supreme Court cases about child pornography. Earlier this week, Balenciaga filed a lawsuit against the production company they said was responsible for their holiday campaign after receiving backlash - they have since dropped the lawsuit. Kim Kardashian spoke out about the scandal too, tweeting that she is 're-evaluating her relationship with the brand. Balenciaga also issued an apology last week.

The French fashion label issued a statement on Instagram reading: ‘We sincerely apologise for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.’

The images were originally displayed on Balenciaga's website as part of its ‘Toy Stories’ campaign, showing children holding plush bear bags from their Paris Fashion Week SS/23 collection, photographed by National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti. The bears are dressed in leather harnesses, locked collars, and fishnet tops. Now, Balenciaga is a breakout search term on Google, with many searching for ‘Balenciaga plush bear bag holiday campaign’ and ‘Balenciaga children’.

One of the images, which Galimberti says he did not take, also contains Supreme Court documents from the 2008 United States v Williams case, which criminalised the pandering of child pornography and references the 2002 Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition which ruled that virtual child pornography is protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The latter case concluded that the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) violated free speech having previously prevented the distribution and possession of pornography in virtual images and films where adults were depicted as minors. Naturally, the campaign has received widespread backlash online.

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Balenciaga issued another apology for including the court documents in the campaign. ‘We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,’ the company said. ‘We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring ‘23 campaign photoshoot. We strongly condemn the abuse of children in any form. We stand for children safety and well-being.’

Galimberti has also since posted on Instagram clarifying that he had no creative direction over the products or models and did not take the photograph with the Supreme Court documents as is being reported.

On Tuesday 29th, Balenciaga filed a lawsuit against production company North Six Inc - and it's agent, Nicholas Des Jardins -, accusing them of engaging in 'inexplicable acts and omissions' that were 'malevolent, or at the very last, extraordinarily reckless.'

In a statement to The Washington Post, Des Jardins's agent, Gabriela Moussaieff, said 'Everyone from Balenciaga was on the shoot and was present on every shot and worked on the edit of every image in post production.' She also said that the documents used in the ad 'were obtained from a prop house that were rental pieces used on film [and] photo shoots' and claimed that Des Jardins is 'being used as a scapegoat'. She confirmed he is hiring a legal team.

Balenciaga initially sought $25m in monetary damages, claiming that the defendants 'included certain documents in the campaign photographs' without its knowledge or authorisation. As a result, Balenciaga alleged that 'members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and horrifically associated Balenciaga with the repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.'

But today, following an apology by creative director Denma, the lawsuit has reportedly been dropped.

Denma wrote on Instagram, 'As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.'

Kim Kardashian tweeted her response on Sunday evening, stating that she has spoken to the team and is now re-evualating her relationship with the brand.

'As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,' Kim said. 'The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period. I appreciate Balenciaga's removal of the campaigns and apology. In speaking with them, I believe they understand the seriousness of the issue and will take the necessary measures for this to never happen again.

'As for my future with Balenciaga, I am currently re-evaluating my relationship with the brand, basing it off their willingness to accept accountability for something that should have never happened to begin with — & the actions I am expecting to see them take to protect children,' she continued.