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Balenciaga sues production company for $25m over controversial ad

The lawsuit claims the production company included Supreme Court documents in their campaign without Balenciaga’s knowledge or authorisation

Meredith Clark
New York
Monday 28 November 2022 20:04 GMT
Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa, and Nicole Kidman walk at Balenciaga Couture show

Balenciaga has filed a lawsuit against the production company responsible for a controversial ad campaign in which court documents from a Supreme Court opinion on child pornography were visible.

The suit, which was filed on 25 November in the New York State Supreme Court, accuses production company North Six Inc – and its agent, Nicholas Des Jardins – of engaging in “inexplicable acts and omissions” that were “malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless.”

Balenciaga is seeking $25m in monetary damages.

According to court documents obtained by The Fashion Law, Balenciaga is suing the production company and set designer Des Jardins to “seek redress for extensive damages [they] caused in connection with an advertising campaign Balenciaga hired them to produce.”

The fashion label claims the defendants “included certain documents in the campaign photographs” without its knowledge or authorisation. Excerpts from a 2008 Supreme Court decision United States v Williams – which ruled on the constitutionality of prohibiting the pandering of child pornography – were scattered across a desk in an ad for Adidas’ Hourglass handbag, as part of Balenciaga’s spring 2023 campaign. Adidas is reportedly not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Due to the production company’s “misconduct” in designing the spring 2023 campaign, Balenciaga alleges that “members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and horrifically associated Balenciaga with the repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.”

As a result, Balenciaga alleges the production company is liable for “all harm resulting from this false association,” and is seeking monetary damages of “no less than $25 million.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, Des Jardins’s agent, Gabriela Moussaieff, said the legal papers used in the ad “were obtained from a prop house that were rental pieces used on film [and] photo shoots.”

“Everyone from Balenciaga was on the shoot and was present on every shot and worked on the edit of every image in post production,” Moussaieff said, adding that Des Jardins is “being used as a scapegoat” and is hiring a legal team.

Balenciaga’s spring 2023 campaign was the second ad to be pulled by the fashion brand this week. Previously, another photoshoot for Balenciaga’s holiday campaign received widespread backlash because it featured children holding teddy bears dressed in bondage attire.

The recent photoshoot, which was displayed on Balenciaga’s website as part of its Gift Shop campaign, showed child models posing with the brand’s teddy bear handbags also from its spring 2023 collection. Critics soon noticed 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 Gift Shop photoshoot, which was photographed by National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti.

Galimberti addressed the backlash in a statement posted to Instagram, clarifying that he had “no connection” with the Balenciaga photos in which a “Supreme Court document appears”.

“I am not in a position to comment 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,” he said. “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 continued: “I suspect that any person prone to pedophilia searches on the web and has unfortunately a too easy access to images completely different than mine, absolutely explicit in their awful content. Lynching like these are addressed against wrong targets, and distract from the real problem, and criminals. Also, I have no connection with the photo where a Supreme Court document appears. That one was taken in another set by other people and and was falsely associated with my photos.”

Balenciaga also issued its own statement to social media last week, announcing they removed the holiday campaign from all platforms and apologised for including the Supreme Court documents in the spring 2023 campaign.

“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. 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 photoshoot. We strongly condemn the abuse of children in any form. We stand for children safety and well-being.”

The Independent has contacted Balenciaga, North Six, and Nicholas Des Jardins for comment.

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