“We will do what we always do – deny, half-apologize, and then go silent a while.” – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

What do we expect from a luxury brand? Whichever way you slice it – be it quality and exclusivity or transparency and sustainability, consumers of today want it all. And fashion houses big and small are now rushing to check things off a list that’s quite likely never-ending. Pushing boundaries, coming up with the next it-accessory, striking the delicate balance between visibility and over-exposure while also entertaining social dialogue – the burden on the brands is harsher than ever.

But what happens when there’s a slip-up – a failure to fulfill said expectations? Thanks to social media, consumers quickly pinpoint a brand’s faults (rightfully so). And if enough voice their disapproval, the brand may even be canceled in the court of public opinion!

Welcome to the era of cancel culture, everybody.

Now, boycotting is nothing new, and the cancel culture, a modern outgrowth of boycotting, essentially arises from good intentions. But can it go too far? The Balenciaga scandal that unfolded recently goes to show that it might, with the brand’s former fans going so far as to engage in dramatic displays of protest.

Could it, however, spell the end for Balenciaga?

Balenciaga Isn’t the Only One

The house’s initial half-hearted response, its attempt to deflect blame with a lawsuit against the production designers, and on the whole, trivialize a serious issue, have since prompted a wave of denouncements, with a trending #cancelbalenciaga hashtag. That is only to be expected. What seems somewhat out-of-proportions, however, is consumers going out of their way to destroy their Balenciaga merchandise – slicing up handbags and burning sneakers – live on social media. And even then, many have claimed that the brand hasn’t received the outrage it deserves.

Balenciaga Controversy Apology

© @BALENCIAGA

But it isn’t the first time the brand has rubbed people the wrong way. Its ultra-distressed sneakers and $1,790 luxe trash bag have been deemed to be an appropriation of poverty and homelessness. In fact, Balenciaga isn’t even the first brand to engage in transgressive behavior. Dolce & Gabbana has had a long, problematic history of promoting homophobia, anti-Asian sentiments, fat-shaming, and more. And designer Alexander Wang has been accused of sexual abuse.

Yet, the backlash towards Balenciaga has been the fiercest so far. Is it because we draw the line at children, or are we not canceling it right?

Is There a Right Way to Cancel?

I recently saved up and finally acquired a Balenciaga Work from the brand’s Nicolas Ghesquière-era – a special purchase that I religiously carried until late last year. In the wake of the controversy, however, as all social media seemed busy purging their closets of the brand, it made me pause. Was I expected to destroy it too, or give it away, despite it not being a product of the brand’s present designer?

In fact, the scandal briefly triggered a surge of older Balenciaga styles at artificially low prices on resale, no doubt from sellers spooked by the future prospects of the brand. Instagram handle @balenciaga_files, an online archive of the house’s historical designs also issued a statement condemning Gvaslia and reassuring hesitant followers.

LFW Street Style Bags Day SS23 Day 2 11

A LFW Spring 2023 attendee carries the Balenciaga Le Cagole Bag

Now, the reputational damage that has resulted from the brand’s cancellation is an inevitable consequence. But in an attempt to be morally righteous, the crowd of critics, which some have likened to an angry mob, have also stifled those who, like myself, prefer the brand’s older designs. It’s not only problematic that one must stop using something possessing intrinsic value for them that surpasses the logo, but also being pressured by others to dispose of it simply generates more waste.

And eventually, the question remains – why is the brunt of the cancel culture particularly harsh on Balenciaga. In contrast, many of its contemporaries have seemingly redeemed themselves, at least in the eyes of the glitterati?

What Does the Path to Redemption Look Like?

Since its initial failed responses, Balenciaga has promised safeguards to evaluate “the nature of content from concept,” partner with children-focused organizations, and halt litigation procedures. Its biggest spokesperson, Kim Kardashian, called it out, too, deciding to “re-evaluate her relationship with the brand.” But while the brand appears to be taking responsibility through these measures and revisions, will it be forgiven anytime soon? With its Steroid boots continuing to sell out, perhaps.

And past brands have successfully maneuvered such crises. John Galliano, for instance, was dismissed by Dior in the face of his anti-Semitic tirade. At the same time, Chanel has also largely distanced itself from its founder since her Nazi affiliations came to light. But it’s also true that onwards of 2020, both Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander Wang have made a comeback, fronted on both occasions by Kardashian herself, despite having done little to redeem themselves. Welcomed by the likes of Condé Nast, Hearst, and Hollywood, D&G has recently found a significant audience in the East as well, even though its racist campaign was directed toward China.

Kate Middleton in Dolce and Gabanna

Kate Middleton in Dolce & Gabbana in 2020

While this may foreshadow a similar trajectory for Balenciaga – maintaining relationships with A-listers and supplying flashy custom red-carpet looks – the dissonance from morality is glaring. It indicates that a brand on the wrong may simply wait long enough while slyly utilizing its influence and pivot back from the land of the canceled without being accountable.

Only time will tell whether Balenciaga commits to its promises or takes the easy way out to get away with it.

At the end of the day, numerous questions remain. Did Balenciaga’s delayed apology tour indicate its plans to “wait it out,” relying on the news cycle’s short-term memory? Does it plan to portray Gvaslia merely as a misunderstood artist?

However, as conscious consumers, one thing’s for sure: we must learn to move forward sustainably. As history repeats itself, any designer may fall from grace. But its result should neither involve stopping consumption entirely in fear of the brand being canceled nor hastily disposing of them. Just like metamorphosis is key for companies, a shift of mindset is also required of us. As clichéd as it sounds, it does, in fact, start with us.

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Patrice
Patrice
10 days ago

It’s extremely toxic. And I read that disgusting thread in the forum about the situation. From spreading regressive right-wing ideology, making extremely disgusting accusations about people without any proof whatsoever, making crass judgements at innocent people uninvolved with the campaign, spreading Qanon type conspiracy theories.

Karen level 100 for those people.

And make no mistake with my comment. there’s a line between rightfully criticizing a brand (the NYT did a great job criticizing Balenciaga) and devolving into pure unmitigated hatred. The forum crossed beyond that line and the fact moderators made no attempt to calm the thread, but in fact piled on, made me even more turned off.

Wendy
Wendy
10 days ago
Reply to  Patrice

That one mod that REACHED to demonize balenciaga, but then defended Gucci like their life depended on it, while having a David Bowie avi (if you know the type of person he was around underaged girls) is a multi-level hypocrisy I cannot fathom

Highrider9o9
Highrider9o9
10 days ago
Reply to  Patrice

Thank you for saying this! TPF is completely unhinged lately and the moderators only contribute to this.

Lilibet Diana's Sweater
Lilibet Diana's Sweater
10 days ago
Reply to  Patrice

This here makes me grateful that I completely stopped contributing to or reading tPF. It’s getting increasingly depressing how there’s not a single sphere (work, politics, fitness) that doesn’t have QAnon and reich-wing conspiracies.
As an OG I wish we could do better.

Fabuleux
Fabuleux
9 days ago

I feel exactly the same.

V13
V13
10 days ago
Reply to  Patrice

yes queen this

alinedieu
alinedieu
10 days ago

Personally, I didn’t see anything wrong with the Balenciaga ads. But some people love to be outraged by everything—and that’s true on both sides of the political spectrum. I wish we could all approach complex issues with a bit more nuance rather than immediately setting everything on fire and calling our interlocutors names in an effort to shut them down.

Melly
Melly
1 day ago
Reply to  alinedieu

Agree!

FashionableLena
FashionableLena
10 days ago

I’m not getting rid of my Balenciaga bag.

The last few times that I have been to the mall, I’ve seen plenty of women still carrying the bags. There were people shopping in the Balenciaga boutique. Saw people wearing the shoes.

Maybe I’m not “woke” enough because I honestly don’t know what more anyone wants the design house to do. An apology was issued. The ads (?) we’re pulled. Seems like there’s no pleasing the so called outraged masses.

Lilibet Diana's Sweater
Lilibet Diana's Sweater
9 days ago

The word “woke” doesn’t apply here, though. Just saying.
And we know apologies in this day and age mean nothing, because Domenico and Stefano are habitual line-steppers. Their formula is literally controversy + digging in + insults + apology = temporary redemption (dress celebrities, etc.). Lather, rinse, repeat.
Pulling ads and letting the people responsible for them go is a first step, but the parts still being questioned are “…exactly how many people’s eyeballs rested on this campaign from inception to publishing? And all of them thought it was okay?”

Meg
Meg
10 days ago

I’m not a ANGRY/OUTRAGED person, but I can still say this brand NEEDS to disappear. The fact that you’re ok with this brand SEXUALIZING children is filthy and deplorable. I own many luxury bags. I owned a few pairs of Balenciaga shoes/hats.. They were donated immediately. You think a apology will fix this? It’s like what my 2nd grade teacher taught our class said: “sometimes sorry isn’t enough”. I learned that in SECOND GRADE. It’s crazy that you think their sales haven’t declined.. Of course they have! No one wants to be seen wearing garbage that has anything to do with exploiting children.. Except for people that can’t think past their own limited thinking. All of my friends got rid of their Balenciaga stuff too. The brand is DONE. It’ll never recover and I’ll always view anyone that wears Balenciaga as a unevolved freak.. Sorry

FashionableLena
FashionableLena
1 day ago
Reply to  Meg

You appear unhinged. Get. A. Grip.

Also, I like how you have this outrage about wearing Balenciaga, and, yet, you donate it for others to wear. Think about that, or have you not moved on from your second grade education. Tip: stop using what you read online to base your opinions. Do some research and educate yourself.

Sincerely,

Unevolved Freak

Mel
Mel
1 day ago
Reply to  Meg

Separate the art from the artist

kelleypuppy
kelleypuppy
4 days ago
Reply to  Meg

You are correct, Meg. Don’t let the ad hominem attacks get you down. This is filthy and crossing the line in every way imaginable. This isn’t an area of “oh well…my bad…I shouldn’t have gone that far.” This is a hard stop, just say no. It should be shamed and shunned and people should stop making excuses for this.

KittyRFP
KittyRFP
3 days ago
Reply to  kelleypuppy

These are not ad hominem attacks. People are pointing out the hypocrisy of outrage against Balenciaga, not Meg personally. If you’re so upset about the ad exposing kids to supposed BDSM paraphernalia – where is the outrage for Kim Kardashian wearing a gimp mask in front of her young daughter (and getting photographed doing so)? It’s just weird that certain people/groups are supposed to be canceled “full stop” but others can do the exact same thing and no one says boo.

Nina274
Nina274
9 days ago
Reply to  Meg

Imagine calling a person pejorative just because they own an innocuous bag, especially when they could’ve bought it pre-controversy.

Sandy
Sandy
10 days ago
Reply to  Meg

Not an angry or outraged person? Hmm, seems you might be one of the crazy people on the witch hunt. What evidence do you have that promoting child abuse was in any way the intention of the marketing? You have none. Please just stop.

HandbagDiva
HandbagDiva
10 days ago
Reply to  Meg

Way too extreme… I will continue to purchase (and have recently) Balenciaga. I love my new City bag <3

kelleypuppy
kelleypuppy
4 days ago
Reply to  HandbagDiva

Outrage at a corporate campaign to normalize child sexual abuse is “way too extreme?” Just wow.

Winona
Winona
10 days ago

It’s like they want people to be beheaded at this point. But it’s really because the people who are outraged were NEVER balenciaga clients in the first place and couldn’t afford it so it’s easier to cancel Balenciaga as opposed to fashion brands like Gap/Walmart/shein caught with actual, literal child abuse.

Highrider9o9
Highrider9o9
10 days ago
Reply to  Winona

I say this all the time. The people cancelling Balenciaga are still buying shein and forever 21, supporting child labor and child slavery and have no problem with it. The hypocrisy.

Meg
Meg
10 days ago
Reply to  Winona

Not true ..I humbly say I have a extensive luxury bag collection. I had expensive shoes from Balenciaga that I donated immediately. Sexualizing children is unacceptable!

KittyRFP
KittyRFP
10 days ago
Reply to  Meg

The second part of Winona’s comment might not be true for you – but it sounds from your comments that the first part is. And it’s extreme considering the circumstances. There is no evidence that the kid models were harmed. I’ll be honest, until I was ‘told’ that they were anything other than punk, I didn’t look twice – and even now, I don’t see anything sexual about them. (Balenciaga did apologize, but it’s hard to say if that’s due to a guilty conscience (maybe there is something sexual that I just don’t get – I’m not into teddy bears in that way) or due to social pressure.) The doc in the Balenciaga x Adidas (by the way, where’s the outrage for Adidas?) was a Supreme Court CONDEMNATION of CP – so I’d like to know how that amounts to Balenciaga (and Adidas, remember them?) endorsing CP? I still don’t get to this conclusion without making some pretty big leaps in logic (that seem mostly founded in conspiracy theories). I think if we unpack what we’ve seen in the media it becomes easier to understand. A great deal of the outrage has come from right-wing media. And I’m not here to say that just because you come from the right, that you can’t have a legit grievance – but I think we need to unpack the values and social narratives that fuel this particular grievance. Balenciaga was founded by a gay man from Spain. Adidas was formed by German brothers who were affiliated with the Nazi party. Adidas is a more accessible brand – both in terms of availability and price point. Balenciaga is a luxury brand that, while not Hermes, is still more exclusive in terms of both limited boutique locations and a much higher price point than Adidas. Lately, some of the narratives on the right are invested in an “idea” of “elites” engaged in “homosexuality” which is, I guess, supposed to be synonymous with “grooming” minors. Balenciaga – an elite, luxury brand founded by a gay man and currently designed by a gay man (one who has been very vocal in his condemnation of Putin, who many on the right are cool with) makes it the perfect target for this kind of outrage (in my opinion). It hits almost every beat of the narrative. Adidas is none of these things – it’s not an “elite” brand, and its history doesn’t include any recognizable, wealthy LGBTQ+ individuals exerting influence on culture (in a way that “culture warriors” might object), so they get a pass, in spite of their involvement in half of the “outrage” ads. I’ll be honest, I would have given all of this more of a benefit of a doubt if there had been any outrage at all for Adidas. But when that didn’t happen (and still isn’t happening), I have a hard time believing there’s anything really there.

Pam
Pam
10 days ago
Reply to  Meg

yikes @ you donating. So that means other less fortunate people will be wearing goods by a company that you claim support child abuse.

absolutely tone deaf and disgusting of you.

pinksky777
pinksky777
10 days ago

So wait… you saved up to buy a bag that you loved for the longest time, and then finally when got it you didn’t wear it because of OTHERS opinions?! Sorry but what a loser. Cancel culture is for the weak. If your going to stop wearing your balenciaga merch then you should stop wearing all designers because 95% have their hand in the cookie jar! Wake up people. Balenciaga made rlly cool bags that I’m nvr gonna stop wearing because they’re amazing pieces. Why would I punish myself for a grave mistake made by a handful of ppl in a company? It’s also not right to cancel them because the majority of the ppl working for Balenciaga are good and did nothing wrong. I’m so tired of this clown world we live in where everyone is offended by the littlest thing. Oh and btw, while it was stupid and wrong from a marketing standpoint, no children were ACTUALLY harmed or scarred from these campaigns you morons.

Lara
Lara
10 days ago

Why the heck isn’t adidas held accountable too then? You think a company that big wasn’t going to green light balenciaga’a ad campaign to make sure it wouldn’t jeopardize their brand?

KittyRFP
KittyRFP
10 days ago
Reply to  Lara

This. When Adidas got a pass, I knew there was more of an “agenda” here than just wanting to “save the children.”

Mia
Mia
11 days ago

I am in favor of cancel culture as it is simply the public’s response to egregious words and actions. Individuals in the public eye and companies need to be held accountable for their actions and or harmful speech.

That said, I think it’s tough when the actions of a few affect the livelihood of all those who work for a company. I am more forgiving if accountability is accepted, apologies are issued and actions are immediately taken to ensure the incident will not happen again.

Renee Melo
Renee Melo
10 days ago

Are you for real? This is not about cancel culture. This is about standing up against a brand that has a history of sexualizing children. Do you have children? How would you feel if brands sexualize your kids? Would you stop supporting their products? Why would we support a brand that has been sexualizing children in the open?? I think you need to educate yourself on all the information regarding Kering so you present a holistic picture of the brand.

Lara
Lara
10 days ago
Reply to  Renee Melo

HISTORY? It was a dumb campaign. The hell? More misinformation.

Yolanda
Yolanda
10 days ago

The only reason balenciaga is getting this much backlash is almost all of the people angry at this can’t afford balenciaga in the first place, so they have nothing to lose.

I said what I said.

Like Chanel’s nazi ties, Gucci and Prada black face, D&G all around horrible behavior in general, etc etc

Meg
Meg
10 days ago
Reply to  Yolanda

Omg . That’s so dumb to say. I can well afford luxury and high humbly say I have a extensive collection of luxury bags. I donated everything I owned from this company. Just because you can afford nice things, that doesn’t make you STUPID. A stupid person would continue buying or support this brand that has CROSSED THE LINE by sexualizing children. Wake up

Tara
Tara
10 days ago
Reply to  Meg

You need to work on your diction, you sound unhinged.

Otter
Otter
11 days ago

I hope they can recover

Sandy
Sandy
11 days ago

I am actually disappointed that this format decided to add an article about this witch hunt. I think people just need something to be outraged about. I just find it difficult to believe that Balenciaga decided a campaign promoting child abuse was a good idea. The marketing was odd certainly, promoting child abuse no!

Nicon
Nicon
10 days ago
Reply to  Sandy

Child abuse???? So narrow mind. I haven’t stop buying collections from Balenciaga and don’t think their sale not much declined.
I buy things I like and don’t count on other’s opinions. It’s my own money 💰 Lol

GG Pastel