Balenciaga campaigns sparked a firestorm, featuring child pornography and exploitation

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Milana Pogretskaia, Contributor

Balenciaga presented a new collection, “Objects,” on the company’s Instagram page on Nov. 16. As part of this campaign, children took part in a photoshoot while holding BDSM elements. Because of this, a scandal broke out, after which the brand had to apologize. 

The release of two ad campaigns has flipped the fashion world upside down and instigated public outrage. One of the campaigns featured photos of children, who were handling handbags that look like teddy bears in bondage gear. Another campaign featured photos that presented paperwork about child pornography laws. These campaigns led people to consider Balenciaga as a company that condones child exploitation. 

Balenciaga has since presented an apology for their campaign which stated, “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.” 

The apology didn’t have much effect on the public and, after the scandal gained momentum, subscribers of Balenciaga decided to take a closer look at other campaigns. They were especially interested in the Spring-Summer 2023 collection with the participation of Isabelle Huppert. In the photo, the actress threw her legs on the table. If you look closely, you can see an album by the Belgian artist Michael Borremans. Among his works are paintings of naked children. 

Later, a second apology appeared on the social networks of Balenciaga and Demna Gvasalia, the creative director of Balenciaga: “We apologize for the image of these documents in our campaign. We strongly condemn violence against children in any form. We are for the safety and well-being of children.” 

Photographer Gabriel Galimberti, who took pictures of children for this collection, decided to break the silence. Gabriel stated that he, as a photographer, fulfilled his duties as commissioned and did not choose who and how to shoot. “I was only asked to illuminate this scene and take pictures by my corporate identity,” he said. “As always in the case of commercial filming, the direction of the campaign and the choice of objects displayed in it were outside the photographer’s area of responsibility.”

Later it became known that Balenciaga sued the production studio North Six Inc., as well as their agent and set designer Nicolas de Jardin, who were responsible for carrying out the photoshoots. The fashion house claimed that the appearance of those court documents in the frame was not coordinated with them. The fashion house demanded $25 million for damage to its reputation. 

Creative Director for Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière, who worked at Balenciaga from 1997 to 2012, also spoke on this topic. He wrote that when he left Kering (the conglomerate that owns Balenciaga), he felt “alienated and traumatized by values and the level of honesty.”After two meaningless apologies, the brand finally posted an Instagram story, taking all the responsibility for the situation with the campaign. 

Balenciaga’s chief ambassador Kim Kardashian had remained silent for a long time. There was rage from users on her Instagram page because of this. “Hey, we’re waiting for you to say something about Balenciaga. It’s terrible, and you know it, don’t you want to fight for the right things?” and more comments like this began to appear on her page. As a result, on Nov. 28 Kardashian published a story, stating that she was shocked and outraged by the brand’s latest campaigns. 

“After talking to the brand, I saw that they are aware of the seriousness of the situation and are ready to take all necessary measures so that this will never happen again,” Kardashian added. She also spoke about further possible cooperation with the brand, “Now I’m reviewing my relationship with the brand, based on their willingness to take responsibility for what happened and take the actions I expect from them to protect children.” 

Meanwhile, Bella Hadid, who starred in one of the brand’s latest campaigns, hastily deleted the photo from her Instagram. However, she left other collaborations up like her campaign for Balenciaga x Adidas. Under these posts, subscribers ardently urge the celebrity to delete these pictures as well.

It seems that the angry public is in a hurry to “cancel” not only the brand but also everyone associated with it. Many influencers and bloggers on their Tik Tok accounts burnt brand items in protest. Balenciaga boutiques around the world are empty—people no longer want to buy the brand’s items. 

The public has spoken: Balenciaga is the one to blame. As such a big and luxurious brand company, Balenciaga should control and check every detail before releasing their products to the public. As for now, things don’t look good for Balenciaga. However, the cancellation of the brand won’t be long-term. In a few months, and after several efforts of the Balenciaga brand to apologize, the scandal would be an additional advertisement for the brand, as Balenciaga tries to look like a victim.