What Is Going on with Balenciaga?

Mitia Bernetel - Madame Figaro


What Is Going on with Balenciaga?

Controversy on social networks. Following the publication of three advertising campaigns of the brand led by the artistic director Demna, the label is facing an unprecedented storm.

After making headlines for its most expensive garbage bag in the world, tattered sneakers, or a bag shaped like a bag of potato chips, Balenciaga finds itself in an unprecedented turmoil. The luxury brand, which belongs to the Kering group, has been hit by a wave of indignation and boycotts following the publication of advertising campaigns that have been criticized by the American far right.

The affair erupted with a series of photos unveiled on November 16, signed Gabriele Galimbreti, a documentary photographer known for staging his subjects with their personal belongings. On behalf of Balenciaga's Objects line, the Italian photographer immortalized children surrounded by the label's accessories, including bags in the shape of teddy bears dressed in straps, harnesses and chokers evoking the sadomasochistic fetish aesthetic.

The campaign is pinned a few days later on Twitter. First, by the American antifeminist YouTuber June Nicole Lapine, known as Shoe On Head, describing herself as a "populist bimbo". On November 21, she expressed herself in a tweet: "The Balenciaga brand just did an um... interesting photoshoot (...) that included a very intentionally poorly hidden court document on "virtual child pornography". Normal...". All illustrated by the photos from the Objects ad. But the YouTuber also refers to another series featuring the Balenciaga x Adidas collection. The publication does not take long to set fire to the fire.

The subject of pedocriminality in question

Childhood and BDSM universe: the association makes stain. Quickly, details of the other campaign, Balenciaga x Adidas, published a few days earlier, on November 9, make the case grow. The Hourglass bag is presented on a desk, placed on top of a mess of documents. One of them happens to be the record of a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision on child pornography. It rules that speech by an individual claiming to be in possession of child pornography is not free speech. According to the brand, these documents, chosen to recreate a law office setting, would come from the shooting of a television series.

In the same campaign, another element challenges some Internet users determined to hunt for all the clues that would incriminate the brand: a diploma framed in the background, in the name of John Phillip Fisher. This name appears in the judicial section of a local newspaper in Michigan. The man, charged with seven criminal sex offenses in 2008, was convicted of incest, the article reports.

On November 24, a week after the release of its Objects campaign, the brand apologizes in an Instagram story. "Our teddy bear bags should not have been associated with children," Balenciaga concedes, announcing that it is removing the visuals from all its platforms. In the aftermath, it issues another apologetic statement, regarding the Garde-Robe campaign, this time pointing to the responsibility of a third party. "We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved elements for the photo shoot of our Spring 23 campaign," the brand posted on its Instagram account.

Words quickly followed by actions, with a lawsuit filed against production company North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins, in charge of the set elements for the photo shoot. The brand points to "malicious or, at least, extraordinarily reckless" actions by the production company and the American, whose clients include Zara, Versace and Beyoncé. And claims 25 million euros in damages.

Balenciaga is facing an unprecedented wave of indignation. On Tiktok, users filmed themselves burning their pieces. The hashtag #BoycottBalenciaga quickly reached nearly 50 million views, as #CancelBalenciaga. The label's muse, Kim Kardashian spoke out on November 27, telling her 334 million followers in a story on Instagram, "I've been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven't been disgusted and outraged by Balenciaga's recent campaigns, but because I wanted the opportunity to talk to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened." And to conclude that she is re-evaluating her "relationship" with the brand.