Balenciaga's holiday campaign has resulted in the opposite of holiday cheer.
The luxury fashion brand has been receiving backlash since the launch of its recent 2022 "Gift Collection" campaign in support of the Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2023 collection that debuted this fall at Paris Fashion Week.
Controversy surrounded two separate campaigns with different images. One of the ads featured kids holding teddy bears in leather bondage gear and the other "office" themed ad involved a reference to a Supreme Court case on child porn.
While eagle-eyed social media users immediately attacked the brand, accusing it of sexualizing children in the holiday ad, Balenciaga is now suing the production company and set designer involved with the Garde-Robe "office" campaign.
courtesy balenciaga; getty
This isn't the first time the luxury brand has found itself at the center of controversy, particularly since Demna Gvasalia was named Balenciaga's artistic director in 2015. Some of the brand's infamous past decisions have included putting heels on Crocs, selling destroyed sneakers for $1,850 and styling Kim Kardashian in a head-to-toe black bodysuit at the 2021 Met Gala.
Recently, the brand turned heads after cutting ties with longtime collaborator and supporter Kanye West after he wore a "White Lives Matter" shirt and publicly partook in harmful antisemitic rhetoric. But now, celebrities — like Bella Hadid, who modeled in the Garde-Robe campaign — are being called out to cut ties with the brand.
Here's everything to know about the Balenciaga scandal amid the $25 million lawsuit initiation.
Nov. 16, 2022: Balenciaga launches its 2022 'Gift Collection' holiday campaign
The luxury fashion house published a campaign titled "Balenciaga Gift Shop" on Nov. 16 in support of its Spring/Summer 2023 collection. The launch featured two campaigns, both of which received backlash due to their controversial images.
The first "gift collection" campaign, shot by award-winning National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti, featured photos of children holding handbags that looked like teddy bears wearing leather harnesses and spiked collars with wine glasses near in some of the shots.
The second was a Garde-Robe campaign, featuring an "office" theme (not shot by Galimberti), which included a photo with a page from a Supreme Court ruling of United States v. Williams in the background. That ruling deemed the promotion of child pornography illegal and not protected under freedom of speech.
One of Galimberti's most notable collections is called "Toy Stories," which in part laid the foundation for the inspiration behind the holiday shoot. According to Insider, Balenciaga told Galimberti they wanted the "Gift Collection" to be shot in the same style, but they'd provide the "punk" objects.
Nov. 23, 2022: Photographer Gabriele Galimberti issues a statement on Instagram
Amid the backlash, the campaign's photographer, Galimberti, issued a statement on Instagram. He claimed in part that he "was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose [sic] the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same."
Galimberti added, "As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style. As usual for a commercial shooting, the direction of the campaign and the choice of the objects displayed are not in the hands of the photographer.
He went on to emphasize how pedophilia searches on the web are "completely different" from the photos he shot, noting that those are "absolutely explicit in their awful content" and the accusations "distract from the real problem, and criminals."
In conclusion, Galimberti made sure to clarify that the campaign featuring the Supreme Court document was not photographed by him. "That one was taken in another set by other people and was falsely associated with my photos," he wrote on Instagram.
Nov. 24, 2022: Balenciaga issues its first statement amid backlash
Balenciaga received immediate backlash following the launch of their "Gift Collection" campaign from social media users accusing the company of sexualizing the children in the ads. The luxury fashion house issued a response roughly a week later, acknowledging the controversy.
"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," read a statement on Balenciaga's Instagram.
Hours later, the brand issued a second statement acknowledging the Garde-Robe "office" campaign which featured the Supreme Court documents. "We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign," the statement read on the brand's Instagram story.
"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," the statement continued.
Nov. 25, 2022: Balenciaga initiates a $25 million lawsuit against North Six and Nicholas Des Jardins
Balenciaga then filed papers in a New York court, initiating a $25 million lawsuit against campaign production company North Six and the Garde-Robe set designer Nicholas Des Jardins, per the New York Times. North Six has collaborated with the brand in previous campaigns, while one of Jardins' recent gigs includes work on Beyoncé's Renaissance album cover.
The legal document alleged that North Six and Jardins took part in "inexplicable acts and omissions" that were "malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless."
Furthermore, Balenciaga claimed that the Supreme Court papers were placed in the campaign photographs without their knowledge and had led to false associations between Balenciaga and child pornography, the NYT noted.
Nov. 27, 2022: Kim Kardashian condemns Balenciaga on Twitter
Kardashian broke her silence on the controversial teddy bear campaign and condemned the company in a lengthy thread on Twitter. The Kardashians star has been a frequent collaborator with the luxury brand, notably donning its looks at events such as the Met Gala in 2021.
"I have been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven't been disgusted and outraged by the recent Balenciaga campaigns," she began her statement. "But because I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened."
"As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images," she continued. "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," Kardashian concluded in the statement, which was also shared on her Instagram Story. Kardashian also said she would be "reevaluating my relationship with the brand."
Nov. 28, 2022: Balenciaga issues another social media statement, citing 'errors'
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/getty
Balenciaga shared a single photo with its Instagram followers of over 14 million, further addressing the controversies surrounding its campaigns. While the brand rehashed that it condemns child abuse as it was "never our intent" to "include it in our narrative," Balenciaga said that it "takes responsibility" for the said "series of grievous errors," the statement read.
The statement is now the only photo on the luxury brand account, as it appears that all its previously uploaded images have been archived from the company's profile. No caption accompanied the post and comments have been limited.
The fashion house announced ongoing "internal and external investigations" and "new controls" and said in part that it was reaching out to "organizations who specialize in child protection and aim at ending child abuse and exploitation."
The statement concluded: "We want to learn from our mistakes and identify ways we can contribute."
Nov. 28, 2022: The Business of Fashion revokes Demna's Global Voices Award
The Business of Fashion announced at the beginning of the year that Balenciaga creative director Demna would be the recipient of their Global Voices award for 2022. But due to his involvement in the controversial campaign, the fashion authority revoked his honor. On Nov. 28, they released an official statement about the update on Twitter.
An update on BoF VOICES 2022. pic.twitter.com/lb6iTeKsyv
— The Business of Fashion (@BoF) November 28, 2022
Dec. 2, 2022: Creative Director Demna Gvasalia Responds
After a few more days of celebrities jumping into the fray of the controversy (including Brittany Aldean tossing her Balenciaga attire and Arie Luyendyk Jr. and wife Lauren Burnham burning their sneakers), creative director Demna Gvasalia posted a personal response to his Demnagram account.
"I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept ... and I take my responsibility," he wrote. "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. I need to learn from this, listen and engage with child protection organizations to know how I can contribute and help on this terrible subject."