Numerous cultural figures have condemned fashion house Balenciaga after it pulled a Christmas campaign that contained alleged sexualised images of children.
As Cosmopolitan reports, the series of adverts featured children holding the French brand’s ‘plush bear bags’, which wore S&M-style harnesses. Another commercial, meanwhile, displayed Supreme Court documents related to child pornography cases.
Balenciaga faced widespread criticism from across the fashion industry and beyond, and has since shelved the campaign.
“We sincerely apologise for any offence our holiday campaign may have caused,” the company wrote on social media. “Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign.
“We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”
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
Later, Balenciaga issued a second apology – this time referring to the child pornography papers seen in the second ad. “We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” that message read.
“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.”
Photographer, social activist and Chair of Southbank Centre Misan Harriman is among those to have hit out at Balenciaga online, calling the campaign “unacceptable”.
“As a photographer that’s worked with many brands in the fashion industry, I’m utterly horrified,” Harriman said in a two-minute video on Twitter. “And I’m angry.”
This is unacceptable! pic.twitter.com/Rdfskqfp5U
— Misan Harriman (@misanharriman) November 23, 2022
He continued: “I know how many steps you go through as a photographer to get the client to approve the images. I know how many adult eyes have to look at images for them to be printed – especially for a retail campaign where you’re selling the product online.”
Harriman went on to call the axed adverts “abhorrent”, and said the children involved “were not protected”. He then stressed that Balenciaga and the wider fashion industry need to take action.
“To my friends that have any contacts in the fashion industry: do the right thing and speak to the people that can do something about this,” Harriman said. “An Instagram apology – and yes, [Balenciaga are] investigating – is not enough.
“This is an alarm for the industry. Where are we going? Where our most precious are being used… for what? At what cost? No. Unacceptable.”
Elsewhere, US conservative activist, political advisor and commentator CJ Pearson noted how Balenciaga last month severed ties with Kanye West over the rapper’s recent antisemitic comments.
“Yet they expect us to just ‘accept their apology’ after they get caught up sexualising children?” he wrote. “They’re not apologising because they’re sorry. They’re apologising because they got caught.”
Balenciaga severed their ties with @kanyewest due to a tweet.
Yet they expect us to just “accept their apology” after they get caught up sexualizing children?
They’re not apologizing because they’re sorry. They’re apologizing because they got caught.
— CJ Pearson (@thecjpearson) November 22, 2022
Lila Rose, who’s founder and president of the anti-abortion organisation Live Action, called the series of ads “absolutely disgusting” in a tweet. “This is criminal & sick,” she said. “Sexualising children must be a redline.”
To conclude, Rose called on Kim Kardashian – who serves as an ambassador for Balenciaga – to “speak out now”. Kardashian is yet to comment on the controversy.
Supermodel Bella Hadid has reportedly deleted an Instagram post promoting her recent photoshoot for the brand amid the backlash. She has not spoken about the pulled campaign at the time of writing.
Many others have criticised Balenciaga, and urged people to boycott the company.
This is absolutely disgusting. Balenciaga features toddlers in ads, holding teddy bears in bondage outfits and with a court document about “child porn” partially hidden in the image.
— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) November 22, 2022
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