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Balenciaga apologises after ‘disgusting’ ads of children holding ‘bondage’ teddy bears spark backlash

Critics also noticed documents from Supreme Court cases on child pornography were used as props in another campaign

Meredith Clark
New York
Wednesday 23 November 2022 16:42 GMT
Related: Kim Kardashian gets wrapped in layers of tape for Balenciaga show

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 Spanish 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, which was photographed by National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti.

“i understand that a lot of Balenciaga’s marketing is the ‘shock factor’ of it all but this is just disgusting,” one user tweeted.

Balenciaga also received widespread criticism after many people noticed a separate ad campaign, for the brand’s collaboration with Adidas, which 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.

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.

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.”

Balenciaga apologises for featured children holding teddy bears dressed in bondage gear in recent ad campaign (Instagram / Balenciaga)

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

Many people pointed out Supreme Court cases on child pornography were used as props in the campaign (Instagram / Balenciaga)

On Wednesday, photographer Gabriele Galimberti addressed the criticism in a statement posted to his Instagram. The photographer said he felt “compelled to make” the statement following the “hundreds of hate mails and messages I received as a result of the photos I took for the Balenciaga campaign”.

He also clarified that he has “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.”

“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,” he continued. “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.”

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.

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