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

Balenciaga has been sailing on stormy seas these days following the backlash from their (now deleted) images of minors posing with what seems like "bondage" gear.

Posted on the brand’s Instagram account (which currently has 14 million followers) , a set of photos depicts two young girls holding a stuffed teddy bear wearing what many describe as “bondage gear”.

The French high-fashion label Balenciaga has recently issued an apology for two of its ad campaigns, and also sued the producers of one. Amid the backlash, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, known to be a Balenciaga fan, has said she is “re-evaluating” her relationship with the brand after she was left “shaken by the disturbing images”.

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

The campaigns 

One of the ads showed kids posing with teddy bear-shaped bags. The problem was that the bears were wearing bondage outfits. One of the teddy bears had studs on it, while the other in fishnets and leather belts had “bruised-like” eyes with a chain locked on 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 among the papers used as props on a desk, in an ad for a $3,000 purse.

After outrage over the teddy bears, netizens scrutinised other ads by Balenciaga, and zeroed in on the court ruling paper in the image shot in July.


Public response

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

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

How the industry responded

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After days of silence, Kardashian, who has earlier worked as Balenciaga’s ambassador, issued a statement on Monday, saying, “As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images”.

She said child safety must be held with highest regard and attempts to normalise child abuse of any kind should have no place in society.


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

Despite the outrage, many in the fashion industry haven’t talked about the matter for now.

What was Balenciaga’s response?

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For the bag ad featuring the child porn ruling, which was part of its spring 2023 campaign, Balenciaga has sued the production company North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins, claiming $25 million in damages.

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

What about the teddy ad?

Balenciaga posted an apology on Instagram and said its bear bags “should not have been featured with children”. It said it was no longer selling the items and had deleted the images from all web platforms.

The photographer of the shoot, Gabriele Galimberti, has allegedly received hate mails and messages.

National Geographic’s Galimberti, known for his Toy Stories project, showing children photographed with their “favorite” toys, said, “I am not in a position to comment on Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same.”

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“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 said in a statement.

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The parents of the children involved in the campaign have not made any statement so far.

First published on: 29-11-2022 at 05:58 IST
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