By Olivia Madrid
In November of 2022, Balenciaga released two advertisements, one being their holiday ad campaign Gift Shop, and another being their Spring 2023 campaign that was only published five days after. Critics on social media rapidly tore apart Gift Shop, which featured children holding teddy bear bags accessorized with harnesses, which many had felt referenced BDSM and sexualized the children in the shoot. As for the Spring 2023 campaign shoot, internet sleuths had found three props to add fuel to the fire; pages from the United States v. Williams case – which was a decision by the Supreme Court that upheld federal protections against child pornography, a book written by controversial artist Michaël Borremans, and college certificates of real people – one being that of a convicted child abuser.
The brand withdrew both ad campaigns and issued a $25 million lawsuit against those involved in the set design for the Spring 2023 ad. Days later, Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna, issued an apology on Instagram.
“I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility,” Demna said. “It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them. As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse, which I condemn.”
President and CEO of Balenciaga’s parent company, Cédric Charbit, said in a statement to Vouge, “All this was unintentional, but [Balenciaga] collectively failed.”
Balenciaga announced on February 10th that the brand and the Kering Foundation will partner up with the National Children’s Alliance (NCA) to work on their recent Mental Health Institute for the following three years, aimed to help children with trauma and child protection education.
Demna sat down with Vouge earlier this year, in an interview about the campaign crisis’. In a series of conversations, Demna explained the intent and creative process of the Gift Shop and Spring 2023, explaining that the, “Kidswear was a part of the selection for the ‘gift shop’, as well as the plush teddy bear bags, referencing punk and DIY culture.” The bags were also seen in their October 2022 show, worn by adults.
“ I wanted to shoot it in a typical New York corporate setting, emphasizing the idea of power dressing. Basically, shooting a CEO-style office. [He] saw the example of how the offices could look, approved what type of furniture they would use, and what kind of poses the models would do.” Demna said to Vogue, adding that the campaigns were shot at separate times, one in October and one in July.
In addition, Demna explained that the photographer who shot these ads often included children in the middle of a room of toys, and thought they could use that concept to incorporate items from Gift Shop. Demna admits the fault for allowing kids to be featured in these images, “[The team] learned from this now, and there are going to be closer and more attentive checks and validation steps applied before any image goes out.”
The interview continued with Demna detailing Balenciaga’s future. He shares how making clothes makes him happiest, as he wants to bring the brand back to simply creating clothes. “I cannot explain this in any other way than I sheltered myself doing what I love, making clothes. This is exactly what I will be focusing on at Balenciaga from now on. I want to be more manual and hands-on rather than just directing the process,” Demna said, and also claims he no longer wants to apply any provocative visions for Balenciaga. Revealing that his intentions for the brand were to not be a part of pop culture. Demna also said that he never had thoughts of or really tried to market his designs to celebrities, but it just happened due to the growth of Balenciaga.
The brand’s upcoming show, “Will be intentionally simple, to be able to focus on the collection and really bring attention to [the craft of creating].” Said Denma.
A new collection will be seen on the Paris Fashion Week runway, on March 5th.