Balenciaga distances itself from child pornography associations, but has the damage been done?

Balenciaga directly addressed the controversy over its latest ad campaign, which features teddy bears in leather harnesses and children in the background along with court documents relating to a high-profile child pornography case. In a creeping statement, the Kering-owned luxury house said it wants to learn from its mistakes and identify ways the company can help end child exploitation.

Thrive on controversy

Controversial narratives have long been ingrained in the DNA of art and fashion, and Balenciaga has never been shy about defying opinion or toeing the fine line of good taste. Remember those Crocs heels? Fashion is used to pushing buttons, think back to Tom Ford’s pubic hair-shaved Gucci logos, Sisley’s Fashion Junkie campaign, American Apparel’s images of teenage bedrooms and the Unhate campaign of Benetton, which featured kisses from political and religious leaders, but news of this campaign ricocheted off the US to Europe, from Fox News to the BBC and every social media in between.

When the images were posted a fortnight ago, the artistic merit and perhaps dark humor of a teddy bear in a leather harness as a tongue-in-cheek BDSM pun could be forgiven as such, even if its taste is doubtful. Juxtaposing children side by side was, of course, misguided and myopic. But while some may find the image laden with humour, others were rightly offended at the material referencing child pornography in his office campaign. An earlier apology from Balenciaga failed to resolve the backlash, culminating in a bigger mea culpa and announcing “internal and external investigations”.

Serious misconduct for which Balenciaga assumes responsibility

Balenciaga released a statement on its Instagram account on Monday evening, saying: “We strongly condemn child abuse, we never intended to include it in our narrative. The two separate advertising campaigns in question reflect a series serious errors for which Balenciaga assumes responsibility.

“Our teddy bear bags and gift collection should not have been presented with children. This was a poor choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure to assess and validate the images. Responsibility in rests solely with Balenciaga.”

“The second separate campaign for Spring 2023, which aimed to replicate a business office environment, included a photo with a background page of a Supreme Court decision ‘United States v. Williams “2008 which confirms as illegal and not protected by freedom of speech the promotion of child pornography. All elements of this shooting were provided by third parties who confirmed that these accessories were false office documents. It is proven to be genuine legal papers likely from the filming of a TV series. The inclusion of these unapproved documents is the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga filed suit. We take full responsibility of our lack of monitoring and background document control and we could have done things differently.”

It was the second campaign, however, that led to Balenciaga filing a $25 million lawsuit to “repair significant damage” to North Six, Inc., the production company Balenciaga hired, along with set designer Nicholas Des Jardins. and its LLC. .

The filings state that “Balenciaga believes that the inexplicable acts and omissions of the defendants were malicious or, at the very least, extremely reckless. Following the misconduct of the defendants, members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and gruesomely associated Balenciaga with the repugnant and deeply disturbing subject matter of the court ruling.

Balenciaga went to great public lengths to repair the backlash, blaming the production team and set designer, who likely thought it “funny” to include the filing on the desktop. Ultimately, a brand like Balenciaga, a company that spends millions filming and publishing ad campaigns, is responsible for the images it puts out whether or not a stylist puts an unapproved accessory on a desk. . For all the Photoshop edits and retouching of the models, the image documents could have easily been altered and no backlash would have occurred. Balenciaga failed to make a final edit before release.

Why didn’t Balenciaga retouch the image documents?

Balenciaga said it was “closely reviewing our organization and our collective working methods” and “strengthening the structures around our creation and validation processes. Yet by publicly suing a production company instead of aiming for a quiet settlement, he appears not to accept full responsibility. The brand’s most high-profile ambassador, Kim Kardashian, has publicly distanced herself from the brand, saying she would “re-evaluate her relationship.” While Balenciaga has given kudos to Ms. Kardashian and an affiliation with luxury, its brand personality stretches far and wide, especially in the United States. It remains to be seen how the backlash will affect Balenciaga, particularly in America, a key market for Kering and luxury.

The controversial accessories, while certainly poorly selected and placed, caused a hurricane of condemnations on social media. Publicly suing the production designer may not be enough to mitigate the damage done to Balenciaga’s reputation.

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