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 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
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.