A Full Report of Balenciaga’s Controversial Campaigns
By Melania Morelli
The last weeks have been a nightmare for luxury brand Balenciaga and its creative director Demna Gvasalia, after accusations of promoting child pornography through their campaigns.
Here’s a recap of everything that happened:
Controversial Balenciaga Campaigns
Images from two Balenciaga campaigns are under fire. Their Gift Collection campaign portrayed two children holding two teddy bears wearing BDSM outfits.
The brand’s spring 2023 campaign featured a Balenciaga bag over a pile of documents, one of which was the States vs. Williams 2008 Supreme Court sentence. In this sentence, the Supreme Court upheld part of a federal child pornography law that criminalized distributing child pornography even if the underlying material does not constitute child pornography.
In the background of other pictures from the same campaigns, a book by Michael Borromeans can be seen. Borromeans is a photographer known for his work representing naked children and acts of violence.
Balenciaga’s initial apology for controversial campaigns
In a first statement, Balenciaga officially apologized for both campaigns, announcing investigations were to be made to find out who agreed and approved the campaigns’ pictures.
However, it’s impossible to ignore that campaigns for brands are not easily approved. It can take weeks to months for campaigns to be approved and signed off on by a hierarchy of people within the company.
Once the pictures are taken, they end up in another round of approval. This makes it hard to believe the brand was uninformed and uninvolved in approvals.
Kim Kardashian’s statement regarding Balenciaga controversy
After the Balenciaga controversy went viral, many were waiting for reality star and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian to speak up, as she’s been collaborating with the brand for years.
Kardashian, after a few days of silence, released a statement on her social media channels saying: “I have been silent the past few days because I wanted to talk with the brand and understand how all this could happen.”
Concerning her relationships and projects with Balenciaga, she said she’ll be taking some time to think and evaluate this collaboration and figure out how and whether it might continue.
For many people, her words not only came in late (too late, indeed!), but they didn’t represent a definitive break with the brand as they expected.
A new statement from Balenciaga
At the beginning of December, the brand released another statement. In the first part of it, Balenciaga blamed themselves for using children in their Gift Collection campaign, describing it as a “terrible error of judgment.”
In the second part, they said that in the SS 2023 campaign, the Supreme Court ruling document was provided by a third party that supplied props for the photo shoot. For this reason, Balenciaga announced they will be filing a legal complaint against their props supplier.
Latest statements from Balenciaga
Recently, both Balenciaga and Demna released two new separate statements.
The latest statement from Balenciaga said they intend on taking new actions to learn from the mistakes made during the making of these campaigns.
Regarding content validation and approval, they are going to introduce new control measures. The brand will nominate an image board, “responsible for evaluating the nature of our content from concept to final assets.”
They will also appoint an external agency to evaluate their content.
They added they have decided not to go forward with any legal complaint against their external props supplier.
Balenciaga’s CEO Cédric Charbit, said he and his team are going to engage with advocacy groups who aim to protect children.
Demna’s message stated: “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have the intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.”
He then added that he needed to learn [from this] as well as listen and engage with child protection organizations to know how he could contribute and help on this terrible subject.
The poor management of these campaigns is undeniably damaging for Balenciaga as a historical fashion and luxury brand. With plenty of changes going on in the fashion world, it’s unclear what the future holds for both the brand and its creative director.