'I regret this a lot.' Two months after Balenciaga's controversy, the brand's designer has spoken.

Fashion house Balenciaga is known for its daring fashion and edgy designs, often pushing the envelope. 

But last November, critics said that the luxury brand took things too far in its most recent ad campaign. For context, the Spanish designer brand released a new campaign for its Objects line – which includes items like dog bowls, trinkets, plush furnishings and more. 

One of the new items featured was a teddy bear toy wearing BDSM gear – specifically a leather bondage set and leather cuffs. Another teddy bear available to purchase had two black eyes, as though it had been beaten.

In the campaign photoshoot, these assorted objects – most of which would be categorised as adult in nature – were photographed with kids alongside them. In one of the pictures, a child model was lying on the couch on their stomach surrounded by the objects, a wine glass positioned nearby. Some suggested it looked as though the child model was made to look intoxicated.

The campaign was shot by well-known photographer Gabriele Galimberti, known for his portraits of children surrounded by their possessions. 


When the ad was released to the public, it was swiftly met with criticism, with some suggesting Balenciaga was grooming children, and also highlighting the inappropriate nature of putting a child next to adult material.

Following the backlash, Balenciaga removed the photos from all platforms. But the images had already gone viral on social media.

In a statement, Balenciaga said: "We sincerely apologise for any offence 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."

Now in February 2023, the brand's creative director, Demna Gvasalia (simply known as Demna), has spoken about the campaign and its controversy for the first time.

"That was my big mistake. I didn’t realise how inappropriate it would be to put these objects [in the image] and still have the kid in the middle," the designer told Vogue exclusively. 

"It unfortunately was the wrong idea and a bad decision from me. We should not have featured kids in images that included objects that were not related and inappropriate to them. No one, myself included, raised a question of it being inappropriate.

"There were control processes in place, people involved — internal and external — but we just did not spot what was problematic. This was an error of judgment. I regret this a lot. We learned from this now and there are going to be closer and more attentive checks and validation steps applied before any image goes out.


"For this I want to say I am sorry; I sincerely apologise for what happened and to anyone who has been hurt by it."

Demna admitted that although he and the brand have pushed the boundaries, he never intended to associate the brand with child abuse.

"I realised that the nature of my work before this has been deemed provocative at times. And I think it also played a role in that, you know, in the way that people saw [my work]. Like it might be another stunt," he said. 

"But that was not the case."

There was a second controversy for the brand with their Spring 2023 ad campaign.

In November 2022, Balenciaga did a collaboration with Adidas – the ad showcased models (adults this time) wearing luxury loungewear in corporate offices, photographed by Chris Maggio.

It wasn't this set-up that got the internet talking. Instead, it was the pile of papers positioned in one of the ad photographs. 

When you zoom into the photo, it's clear the pile of prop papers are court documents – legal paperwork from a Supreme Court decision on child pornography laws. The case examined whether laws banning the "pandering" (promoting) of child pornography curtailed First Amendment freedom of speech rights. 

Balenciaga has since said these legal documents were provided as a prop from a third party.


Other props in the campaign included a Michaël Borremans' art book. His work has often featured nude children and adults engaging in acts of violence, including cannibalism.

Balenciaga has said it was an unintentional mistake to have those court documents referencing child abuse material in their campaign, denying a link between their two controversial campaigns.

In a statement following the second controversy, Balenciaga wrote on their Instagram stories: "We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign. We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign photo shoot. We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children's safety and wellbeing."


It continued: "All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents. They turned out to be [real legal] papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama." 

Demna has since addressed that scandal as well.

Speaking to Vogue, the creative director said he was as shocked as the public to hear the documents were in frame.

"I could feel that the whole Balenciaga family was put into trouble. I know that many employees of the house suffered from this situation. I know also this mistake was hurtful for some people who love the brand," he told the publication.

"This experience has forced me to reevaluate a lot of things in the way I, we, work, in the way we create and communicate images, the way we interact with our audiences, and the way we learn from our mistakes and move forward."

He believes the presence of the documents was "coincidental".

"It’s the only explanation that is plausible to me. That’s the only way I can explain it," he said.

"Obviously, if you look for the dots, you can connect anything, but I don’t have any other explanation for it."


Kim Kardashian's comments on the matter.

Kim Kardashian has been one of the fashion house's most vocal allies, often collaborating with the brand, wearing their clothes and appearing in campaigns. 

Even her ex-husband Kanye 'Ye' West worked with Balenciaga regularly before the brand cut ties with him following his anti-Semitic comments

In response to the backlash and the campaigns, Kardashian said she was "shocked and outraged".

She acknowledged that she was slow to address the matter, but said she had "wanted an opportunity to speak to their team" and understand how this occurred.

Watch Kim Kardashian's Justice Project trailer. Post continues below.

Video via Hayu.

"As a mother of four, I have been shaken by those disturbing images. The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and anything against it should have no place in our society – period," she said via her Instagram stories. "I appreciate Balenciaga's removal of the campaigns and apology. In speaking with them, I believe they understand the seriousness of the issue and will take the necessary measures for this to never happen again."


She then released a tweet, saying she was re-evaluating her relationship with the brand.

The social media star hasn't been seen wearing their pieces since.

Balenciaga launches a lawsuit.

In the wake of the whole situation, on November 25, Balenciaga launched a lawsuit in New York against the production company they hired to create the ad campaigns.

The production company and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins are being sued for $25 million by Balenciaga.

The papers filed allege that the production company and set designer engaged in "inexplicable acts and omissions" that were "malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless".

Critics have pointed out, however, that in most advertisement working relationships, the photographer, set designer and production company often don't have creative control over a project – the brand behind the project does.

Des Jardins's lawyer said in a statement that "there certainly was no malevolent scheme going on". Balenciaga representatives were on set during the shoot, "overseeing it and handling papers and other props, and Des Jardins as a set designer was not responsible for image selection from the shoot".

Balenciaga then released a wider statement on the whole situation.


They said they "strongly condemn child abuse" and it was never their intent "to include it in our narrative".

"The two separate ad campaigns in question reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility. All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama."

Balenciaga said that they take full responsibility and accountability for their involvement in the controversy, and for their "lack of oversight and control".

Most recently, the brand has wiped their social media account and announced their partnership with the National Children’s Alliance (NCA) to support children heal from trauma, protect children at harm and raise public awareness on child abuse and child protection.


This article was originally published on November 29, 2022, and has been updated with new information.

Feature Image: Balenciaga/Getty.

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