Balenciaga launches first collection at Paris Fashion Week since advert controversy

Spanish fashion house Balenciaga has made its first runway appearance following its controversial advert scandal last year.

In November, the fashion house found itself embroiled in controversy over two ad campaigns – one with a child model holding a “BDSM teddy bear”, and another featuring a Supreme Court decision on child pornography and a book about Michaël Borremans, a Belgian artist whose works includes castrated children.

The luxury fashion house faced backlash from fans and celebrities, who accused the brand of sexualising children and normalising child abuse. At the time, Kim Kardashian condemned the luxury label in a social media post, writing that she was “shaken by the disturbing images” of the campaign as a “mother of four”.

Balenciaga presented its autumn 2023 ready-to-wear collection in Paris on Sunday (6 March), launching its latest collection, and making its first fashion week appearance, since the controversy.

“There will be nothing to see but clothes,” said Demna, Balenciaga’s artistic director before the show. “I need to be the radical antidote – to not be in that conversation at all. That’s what Cristóbal Balenciaga would do.”

The show presented minimal tailoring, with jackets made from trousers and a trenchcoat made from dissected chinos. There were some more playful pieces, like puffy dresses and sculptural tracksuits.

In attendance was America Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, but not Kardashian, or her Jenner sisters. There was also no external branding, in an effort to prevent protests from breaking out.

In February, artistic director Demna gave his first interview following the controversy, telling Vogue Paris that the widely condemned props like lawsuit papers related to a child pornography case, along with the casting of children holding a teddy bear that appeared to be dressed in bondage, were meant to reference “punk and DIY culture”.

The brand’s artistic director told guests there would be ‘nothing to see but clothes’ (Getty Images)
The brand’s artistic director told guests there would be ‘nothing to see but clothes’ (Getty Images)

Demna Gvasalia, who has gone by his first name since 2021 and is also the co-founder of the designer label Vetements, apologised for the two campaigns in the interview, calling the creative decision an “error of judgement”.

“There were control processes in place, people involved – internal and external – but we just did not spot what was problematic,” he told the publication.

“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 apologize for what happened and to anyone who has been hurt by it.”