Amid backlash for ‘sexualising kids’, Balenciaga apologises, files $25-million lawsuit: What is the row

French high-fashion label Balenciaga has recently apologized for two of its ad campaigns and has also sued the producers of one. Amid the backlash, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, known as a Balenciaga fan, has said she is “re-evaluating” her relationship with the brand after being “shocked by the disturbing images”.

What are these ad campaigns and what is all the controversy about? We explain.

The campaigns

One of the ads showed children posing with teddy bear-shaped bags. The problem was that the bears wore bondage outfits. One of the teddy bears had buttons on it, while the other in fishnets and thongs had “bruised” eyes with a chain around its neck. This was posted on the brand’s Instagram account, which currently has 14 million followers.

In the other case, a US court ruling on child pornography was one of the papers used as props on a desk, in an ad for a $3,000 purse.

After outcry over the teddy bears, netizens viewed other Balenciaga ads and focused on the court ruling in the image taken in July.

Public response

Although Balenciaga has now removed the images, several people have taken screenshots and re-uploaded them on Twitter and Instagram.

From referring to the photos as “Pedophilia agenda” and “child abuse” to demanding the cancellation of the brand, social media has been outraged.

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How the industry reacted

After days of silence, Kardashian, who has previously served as Balenciaga’s ambassador, issued a statement Monday saying, “As a mother of four, I am shocked by the disturbing images”.

She said that the safety of children should be held with the highest regard and that attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in society.

Kardashian’s ex-husband and former partner of Balenciaga, Kanye West also drew criticism for the industry’s silence on the controversy. “It shows that all celebrities are being monitored. You don’t see celebrities talking about the Balenciaga situation.”

Despite the outcry, many in the fashion industry haven’t talked about it yet.

What was Balenciaga’s response?

Balenciaga has sued production company North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins for the pocket ad containing the child porn ruling, which was part of the spring 2023 campaign, seeking $25 million in damages.

The Washington Post cited court documents filed Friday in the New York State Supreme Court for the County of New York to report that the fashion house’s alleged “unexplained acts and omissions” made without Balenciaga’s knowledge were “malicious or, at the very least, extremely reckless” ”.

What about the teddy ad?

Balenciaga posted an apology on Instagram saying his bear bags “shouldn’t have been displayed with children”. It said it was no longer selling the items and had removed the images from all web platforms.

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The shoot’s photographer, Gabriele Galimberti, is said to have received hate mail and messages.

National Geographic’s Galimberti, known for his Toy Stories project, in which children are photographed with their “favorite” toys, said: “I’m not in a position to comment on Balenciaga’s choices, but I must emphasize that I was in no way entitled to chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination thereof.”

“As a photographer, I was only asked to light the given scene and take the pictures according to my signature style. As usual with commercial shooting, the direction of the campaign and the choice of objects shown is not in the hands of the photographer,” he said in a statement.

The parents of the children involved in the campaign have not yet made a statement.

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