Balenciaga has apologised after backlash over a recent ad campaign, which featured children holding teddy bears dressed in bondage gear and an image of a Supreme Court opinion on a child pornography case.
On Tuesday, the French fashion label issued a statement to its Instagram story. “We sincerely apologise for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused,” the statement read. “Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”
The recent photoshoot, which was displayed on Balenciaga’s website as part of its “Toy Stories” campaign, featured child models posing with the brand’s teddy bear handbags from its Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2023 collection. However, critics pointed out that the plush toys appeared to be dressed in bondage and BDSM gear, including fishnet tops, studded leather harnesses, and collars with locks.
Many people took to social media to criticise Balenciaga for the controversial photoshoot. “i understand that a lot of Balenciaga’s marketing is the ‘shock factor’ of it all but this is just disgusting,” one user tweeted.
The photos – which were taken by National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti – also received widespread criticism after many people noticed one of the campaign images used a Supreme Court opinion in a child pornography case as a prop promoting a handbag.
The court papers displayed are from the 2008 Supreme Court case, United States v Williams, which criminalised the pandering of child pornography. The ruling reaffirmed the constitutionality of the PROTECT Act, a federal law that increased penalties for sexual exploitation and other abuse of children.
“The brand Balenciaga just did a uh…interesting…photoshoot for their new products recently which included a very purposely poorly hidden court document about ‘virtual child porn,’” one person tweeted.
i understand that a lot of balenciaga’s marketing is the “shock factor” of it all but this is just disgusting https://t.co/5ftuK2ZG6W
— tori (@voguepearls) November 21, 2022
the brand "Balenciaga" just did a uh..... interesting... photoshoot for their new products recently which included a very purposely poorly hidden court document about 'virtual child porn'
normal stuff pic.twitter.com/zjMN5WhZ0s
— shoe (@shoe0nhead) November 21, 2022
Others claimed that a visible portion of the court documents displayed next to the Balenciaga handbag make reference to another Supreme Court case, Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition. In the 2002 case, the court struck down a portion of the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) of 1996, deciding that virtual child pornography is protected speech.
“There is NO acceptable reason to be exposing children to BDSM,” tweeted one critic. “The court document in the ad appears to be a case known as ‘Free speech coalition vs Ashcroft’ (look it up) this is sick & now Balenciaga has deleted all posts on IG & changed the photo on the site.”
“I cannot believe Balenciaga just – who signed off???? Who’s idea was it even because they need to be in jail. This is concerning. Horrifying,” another user wrote.
There is NO acceptable reason to be exposing children to BDSM. The court document in the ad appears to be a case known as ‘Free speech coalition vs Ashcroft’ (look it up) this is sick & now Balenciaga has deleted all post on IG & changed the photo on the site. More info in thread https://t.co/EBQqk1POXL
— Tori Nicks 2.0 🛰 (@MajestyRia) November 21, 2022
I cannot believe Balenciaga just- who signed off???? Who’s idea was it even because they need to be in jail. This is concerning. Horrifying.
— 𝓐𝓷𝓰𝓮𝓵 ☁️🏹 (@angelmillk) November 21, 2022
In a separate statement posted to their Instagram story, Balenciaga also apologised for including the court documents in the ad campaign. “We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” the company said. “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 photoshoot.”
“We strongly condemn the abuse of children in any form,” they continued. “We stand for children safety and well-being.”
The apology comes after Balenciaga deleted its Twitter account last week. The fashion brand quietly removed its Twitter account a few days ago, and confirmed to the Business of Fashion on 14 November that it had deleted its page. Balenciaga did not elaborate further on why it removed its page from the platform.
The bondage teddy bear handbags were debuted last October at Balenciaga’s Spring 2023 runway show in Paris, when models wearing bruised faces and bloody noses carried the teddy bears down the catwalk. Former collaborator Kanye West also made his modeling debut walking Balenciaga’s mud-track runway, but the luxury fashion label has since severed all ties with the rapper following his series of antisemitic remarks.
The Independent has contacted Balenciaga for comment.