Balenciaga campaign: controversy over child teddy bear bag ad explained - what has Kim Kardashian said?

As a result of the scandal, Balenciaga has launched a lawsuit against the production company behind the campaign

Kim Kardashian has said that she is currently “re-evaluating” her relationship with fashion label Balenciaga, following backlash sparked by a controversial campaign featuring children and teddy bears dressed in BDSM gear went viral earlier this month

Balenciaga has issued an apology regarding the campaign, and has since pulled all the pictures from the photoshoot from its social media and online presence. The company has said that it is “taking legal action against the parties responsible”, and added that it “strongly condemns the abuse of children in any form”.

The fashion label has officially launched its lawsuit against the production company responsible for the ad campaign.

This is everything you need to know.

What did Balenciaga do?

The photoshoot in question was part of Balenciaga’s “Toy Stories” campaign on its website, and featured child models posing with the French fashion label’s teddy bear bags from its Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2023 collection.

The teddy bears, however, appeared to be dressed in bondage and BDSM gear, including things like a leather chest harness, ankle and wrist restraints, fishnet tops and collars with locks.

Balenciaga has pulled the campaign from its social media and website (Photo: Balenciaga)

Also included in the photographs, which were taken by National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti, were documents placed next to a handbag, one of which looked to be from the 2008 United States v Williams Supreme Court case, which criminalised the “pandering” (offering or requesting to transfer, sell, deliver, or trade) of child pornography.

The case involved Michael Williams, who posted messages online offering to swap child sexual abuse images with other users. He was caught as part of an undercover operation in 2004 designed to tackle child exploitation online.

Users online have also pointed out that another document that can be seen in the photoshoot appears to reference another Supreme Court case - Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition, a 2002 case in which the court struck down part of the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) of 1996 that banned “virtual child pornography”, and instead deciding that it was protected speech.

What did Balenciaga say in its apology?

Balenciaga issued a statement on its Instagram story regarding the campaign.

The brand wrote: “We sincerely apologise for any offence our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”

It added: “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.”

Joseph Holland is seen wearing a necklace by Balenciaga x Gucci during New York Fashion Week at Spring Studios on September 11, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Since posting its apology, the entire Balengiaca Instagram page has been wiped of all of its pictures. The move comes shortly after the brand deleted its Twitter account following concerns over new owner Elon Musk’s visions for the platform.

Photographer Galimberti also addressed the backlash in a statement shared on Instagram which said that he had “no connection” with the Balenciaga photos in which “a Supreme Court document appears”.

He wrote: “I am not in a position to comment [on] 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. 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 was falsely associated with my photos.”

What has the response been like?

Balenciaga has sparked backlash online for the controversial campaign, with many taking to social media to discuss the photoshoot.

One person wrote: “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.”

Another person tweeted: “The kids don’t know it’s fetish gear but the adults seeing these pics sure do.”

“Balenciaga bringing pedo chic to the masses. Very on-brand for 2022,” commented another.

Another person wrote: “So BALENCIAGA, a brand belonging to Kering which has a market cap of about 70 billion, posted children with bondage gear teddy bears and had an easter egg supreme court document about children pornography… and then deleted all their Instagram posts when called out for it…”

What has Kim Kardashian said?

Kim Kardashian has said that she is “re-evaluating my relationship” with Balenciaga, stating that she was “shaken by the disturbing images” used in the campaign. Kardashian said she had remained silent in the days since the campaign was first posted online because she wanted to speak with the brand to “understand for myself how this could have happened”.

“I have been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven’t been disgusted and outraged by the recent Balenciaga campaigns, but because I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened,” she wrote online.

Kim Kardashian of ‘The Justice Project’ speaks onstage during the 2020 Winter TCA Tour Day 12 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 18, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

“As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images. The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period.”

She continued: “I appreciate Balenciaga’s removal of the campaigns and apology. In speaking with them, I believe they understand the seriousness of the issue and will take the necessary measures for this to never happen again.

“As for my future with Balenciaga, I am currently re-evaluating my relationship with the brand, basing it off their willingness to accept accountability for something that should have never happened to begin with — & the actions I am expecting to see them take to protect children.”

Kardashian and her ex-partner Kanye West are known for their links to Balenciaga, and recently walked her first Paris couture show with the brand, describing it as “a dream come true”.

What’s the lawsuit?

Balenciaga has revealed its intentions to sue the production company for the $25 million campaign, with the lawsuit claiming that the Supreme Court documents were included in the photoshoot without Balenciaga’s knowledge or authorisation.

The suit was filed on 25 November in the New York State Supreme Court, and accuses 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”.

According to the court documents, Balenciaga is suing the production company and Des Jardins, who was also the set designer, in order to “seek redress for extensive damages caused in connection with an advertising campaign Balenciaga hired them to produce”. The fashion label are seeking $25 million in monetary damages.

Balenciaga claims that the production company “included certain documents in the campaign photographs” withouts its consent, and that due to the “misconduct” in designing the spring 2023 campaign in question, “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”.

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

Moussaieff said: “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 added that Des Jardins is being “used as a scapegoat” and is hiring a legal team.