While fashion is meant to break barriers, and often a campaign is intended to invoke feelings and more profound thoughts, what happened with the latest Balenciaga campaigns is something few would have expected. The images of children with teddy bear bags with leather BDSM-like straps were jarring, to say the least, yet there was more.

Balenciaga under Demna has been filled with plenty of controversial moments. Still, those were typically seen as ways that Demna and the brand looked to create conversation about current events and the fashion world. There was the overpriced Ikea bag, the Boot Bag, the dystopian Trash bag, and more. There were a lot of ironic pieces being made, seeing just how far the consumer could be pushed to buy fashion that looked like anything but.

The first campaign, titled Balenciaga Gift Shop, is the one that featured the child with the teddy bear and was first shared on November 16th. A handful of days later, a completely separate campaign was released, and these two campaigns, being featured back to back, made this appear far more than a coincidence.

A Second Ad Campaign

As the second campaign, Balenciaga’s 2023 Garde-Robe advertising campaign, was released and inspected further, the subtle yet incomprehensible was found. An image with an adult model was set in an office space. The paperwork behind her included Supreme Court rulings on child pornography laws and a book with a photographer’s work that shows children in lewd and suggestive scenarios.

These back-to-back campaigns were brought further to light and picked up by outlets across the globe in print, text, and television. The main topic and controversy became what many called Balenciaga’s condoning of child exploitation.

Balenciaga’s Response

Balenciaga Controversy Apology

© @BALENCIAGA

Balenciaga’s response has not helped the situation. In fact, it took over a week for Balenciaga to state that it would remove the images of the child with the teddy bear campaign. On November 24th, Balenciaga took to Instagram and shared,

“We sincerely apologize 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.”

A few hours later, on its Instagram stories, a second apology came regarding the next campaign, and this is where Balenciaga did not take the blame. The brand stated,

“We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign…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 photo shoot. We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children’s safety and well-being.”

Balenciaga filed a $25 million lawsuit in New York against the production company and set designer of the Garde-Robe campaign, further stating that the documents and books included were not approved and, because of their inclusion, led to the malevolent association with the brand and child pornography.

Too little, too late

While Balenciaga has wiped its Instagram page clean and issued further apologies, the latest at least taking more specific blame, for many, it feels like too little, too late.

As a relatively small company that also produces advertising campaigns for our brand partners, we know the checks and approvals required before a set, models, art direction, and content are greenlit for publishing. For a brand like Balenciaga, part of the Kering Group of luxury brands, it would mean several layers of approvals from a Balenciaga art department executive on set during production. Likely, the legal department was involved from start to finish as well.

The idea of the brand making a sloppy mistake seems far less likely than this being intentional. And that has far more significant repercussions. Fashion can aim to provoke, but children should absolutely be off-limits.

What we now will see is what the brand, and celebrities who promote the brand, do in the coming months? Will this mean long-lasting repercussions for the brand, or will people forget and move on?

There is a long discussion on the Balenciaga forum that you can join in with others talking about now.

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lala
lala
2 months ago

I went down the rabbit hole on this one, because I wanted to see for myself. It goes so far beyond just this campaign and the details are highly disturbing. Something is terribly amiss in the underworld of this brand. I’m not an advocate for cancel culture and I, too, believe we vote with our dollars; so, I’ll never spend a dime of my money on Balenciaga and will never carry or wear anything from the brand ever again. Again, it reaches well beyond just Balenciaga, though…

Sam
Sam
2 months ago

I feel that their “apology” is weak and the fact that this campaign was released, without their approval, is ludicrous. No established design company operates on such an absurdly haphazard level. It just doesn’t make sense.

Also, time will tell if they can right their wrong and consumers are willing to accept their apology and move on from this. However, in order to do this the company has to take full responsibility and accountability and I don’t feel that they are.

Olivia Penzey
Olivia Penzey
2 months ago

Thanks for addressing this in such a clear, direct way, Megs. I appreciate Purseblog’s integrity here. The silence of many of the other handbag-focused media and accounts I follow is rather baffling.

Laura
Laura
2 months ago
Reply to  Olivia Penzey

Whoops! I wanted to give your comment a “like”, but I accidentally flagged it. That’ll teach me to wear my glasses!

Admin
2 months ago
Reply to  Laura

No worries; your report had no negative implications! 😉

Alisa Gabriel
Alisa Gabriel
2 months ago

As a now-retired advertising creative director for many years, it is incomprehensible to me that a production company would go “off script” and include any element that was not previously approved in the multiple meetings that precede any shoot.

Moreover, in my experience there was always at least one client at any tv commercial or print shoot.

“Passing the buck” is reprehensible and does nothing to restore the brand’s reputation or integrity.

Hera
Hera
2 months ago

Since I saw the campaign, Balenciaga gives me the chills. I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable with them again, that is going to stick with me! Using actual children at a disturbing set and then publishing a separate campaign showing subtle pro-pedophilia props is just sinister and implies that everybody who has a say at Balenciaga is on board with normalising child abuse. You must be really interested in this, to know about this gross artist and child pornography cases in such detail to be able to pull them up and integrate them into the campaign. Kind of as a “if you know you know” message to the public – unfortunately for them sombody picked up on it that would call them out.
In my opinion they were testing the waters to see how far they can go. I also wonder where adidas’ statement is, they must have approved the campaign as well I guess?

GRAYcee
GRAYcee
2 months ago

For those of you saying that everyone should get over it, and that you won’t stop wearing Balenciaga, I will remind you that something influenced you to buy their goods. Unless you just hang out at the store frequently when merch is dropped, it was most likely advertising of some sort. So no, people will not just get over it because advertising has power. And what that means is that companies do have a responsibility to the consumer and they should not put out advertising that passes off child abuse as fashion. Have you heard the phrase “representation matters”? Well, this is very similar to that, this was an attempt to push boundaries by sanitizing child abuse through the use of a big fashion label.

I am not a firm believer in cancel culture. I don’t believe that we should all just stop wearing Balenciaga because of this ad.  But the designer responsible for this should have their legacy impacted greatly, and they should not make money off of this horrendous idea. And we should all care and follow this closely. We should press for the people responsible to be held accountable. The designers, executives, and everyone who had a hand in this should be let go and maybe be investigated. 

For my last note, please stop using the term child pornography, and start using ‘child abuse imagery’ or ‘child exploitation materials’. Children have been exploited for fashion in sweat shops, by being hyper sexualized through advertising, and by actually being physically abused by people in the industry. This is a very real problem, and it deserves our attention. 

Catherine
Catherine
2 months ago

I spent years in print media, specifically advertising and as Megs says, there are many eyes on a campaign. To blame anyone besides themselves for a glaring MESS like this one, is shifting the blame. Balenciaga obviously thinks we end consumers are idiots and I for one am finished with them.
The onus is on Balenciaga, and no one else.
The buck stops with them.

pinksky777
pinksky777
2 months ago

Forget and move on like everything else that went left. Yea some ppl screwed up majorly but it’s not worth “canceling” an entire brand for I’m sorry. There are many more innocent ppl who work for this company than there are guilty ones. At the end of the day it was wrong, yes, but no children were actually harmed so if they move it along in a positive manner than why not give them a second chance? They’re not going anywhere, they’re Balenciaga! Cancel culture is for squares. Campaign aside, the ones who rlly should be terminated for their weird/gross behavior and beliefs are demna and lotta, and anyone who’s attached to them. Oh! and can we address the complete MORONS who are legit cutting up and putting their Balenciaga merch on fire in light of all this?! So you’re going to essentially waste thousands of YOUR hard earned dollars and you can think that’s somehow punishing THEM?! This goes to show you how pathetic and just plain naive our society is quite frankly. You vote with your dollar. If you want to hit them where it hurts then just don’t buy anything further from them. But to not continue to wear/love the stuff you already own is just stupid.

Shelby33
Shelby33
2 months ago
Reply to  pinksky777

I think it’s weird AF to have a small child holding a bear in bondage gear. Sure, these children were not hurt, but the photos are suggesting IT IS OK.
And maybe tell Balenciaga to get over it, they are the ones busy deleting photos, issuing apologies, and filing lawsuits.

PrayForPrada
PrayForPrada
2 months ago
Reply to  pinksky777

This is such a strange response, and so dismissive of the issues raised and the journalism that went into this piece. Why do you have to call people “morons, pathetic, stupid and naive” because you don’t approve of their outrage? There’s no need for that at all.

Donna
Donna
2 months ago
Reply to  PrayForPrada

Par for the course with pinksky777. Would you expect anything else?

pinksky777
pinksky777
2 months ago
Reply to  PrayForPrada

Hmm perhaps because it’s illogical???… yeah I think that’s it. Having outrage is a fine! But to be essentially destroying all your merch that you bought with your own money is STUPID. Yes I’ll say it again and again for the ppl in the back. Sorry the truth hurts.

Bieber
Bieber
2 months ago

I actually think both add campaigns were great. I’m certainly not looking at Balenciaga for politically-correct com. And I don’t care that people get offended. Get over yourselves.

Meblackfem
Meblackfem
2 months ago
Reply to  Bieber

So true right. Feel like our society is heading to the wrong direction. You really can’t express your opinion nor careful with your words lately. Meanwhile certain group of people us to accept who they are which I don’t care and keep their mouth shut up 🤐
In addition, there are so socialists especially young generation….it doesn’t help this world better living.

Kvsa
Kvsa
2 months ago
Reply to  Bieber

But if this was say racism instead of child P related you would still feel that way? It’s on the same level in my book.

Bieber
Bieber
2 months ago
Reply to  Kvsa

if if if… well, it’s not racism so your response is pointless. Also, it’s not “child P”, as you call it, either.

Common sense
Common sense
1 month ago
Reply to  Bieber

Really? That’s how you view this. Documents displayed regarding the argument for pedophilia, you know, that one’s under the ugly black croc hourglass bag (so tacky) THAT my narrow minded, careless friend, is the issue. Balenciaga will have court cases for a years to come, especially with their CEO having child mannequin with genitals on their faces….. remember how people tried to defend “Cuties” on Netflix? This is grooming society, slowly, allowing pedophilisim to enter acceptably

pinksky777
pinksky777
2 months ago
Reply to  Bieber

Omg thank the heavens for someone who can actually speak reasonably. I do not think we as a society should be looking to fashion brands as the moral police! Period.

Antonia
Antonia
2 months ago

First time hearing about this (had to Google it) but OMG what were they thinking!?

GG Pastel