https://www.smh.com.au-By Damien Woolnough
Kim Kardashian at the CFDA Awards in New York wearing Dolce & Gabbana on November 7; Balenciaga creative director Demna at the 2021 CFDA Awards; Demna and Kim Kardashian at the 2021 Met Gala on September 13.Credit:AP, Getty
Luxury fashion is once again a marble-tiled landscape for controversy, following an advertising campaign by French luxury house Balenciaga featuring children posing with teddy-bear handbags decorated with bondage attire.
While recent anti-Semitic comments by Ye, better known as Kanye West, were met with a speedy backlash from celebrities and the musician’s fashion partners, including Balenciaga creative director Demna, the response from boldfaced names to the label’s sexualisation of children has been slow. Today Kim Kardashian turned up the volume.
“As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” Kardashian posted to Twitter. “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.”
“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.”
Here’s how the label best known for designing Kardashian’s hooded Met Gala outfit and casting Nicole Kidman in a haute couture runway show pushed the boundaries into forbidden territory.
Why were kids holding BDSM teddy bears in a fashion campaign?
The images were part of Balenciaga’s Gift Shop campaign, promoting items appropriate for taking the prime position beneath the Christmas trees of the top one per cent, such as $1200 spiked dog bowls and $400 rolls of adhesive tape featuring the brand’s logo.
Italian photographer Gabriel Galimberti, best known for his work with National Geographic, was commissioned to shoot the campaign in the style of his “Toy Stories” series, featuring children from around the world with their prized playthings.
According to Galimberti, who says he has received hate mail following the controversy, the selection of the bondage bear handbags was outside his control.
“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 [sic] the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same,” Galimberti posted in a statement to his Instagram account.
“As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit [sic] 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.”
When did the controversy start?
Last week YouTuber June Nicole Lapine posted to her Twitter account: “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’.” The post featured the controversial images of children with teddy bears and another advertisement with an hourglass handbag.
The handbag advertisement was part of an earlier campaign promoting Balenciaga’s collaboration with Adidas, who were also once partners with Ye. The document in the advertisement was a copy of a 2008 Supreme Court ruling related to child pornography.
So what has Balenciaga done?
Following outrage on social media (the #cancelbalenciaga hashtag has had 25 million views on TikTok) an apology was issued on Balenciaga’s Instagram account.
“We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused,” the statement said. “Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”
In response to the earlier handbag campaign featuring the court documents, a further statement said the label is taking legal action.
“We apologize 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,” the company said.
What’s the backlash?
Kardashian, who has featured in advertising campaigns for Balenciaga, and walked in the same runway show as Nicole Kidman, has kept the door open for future work with the brand on her terms.
“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 concluded on Twitter.
There has been no comment from Kidman who last week posted her campaign image for Balenciaga, wearing a black trench coat, to her Instagram account.
Kering, the luxury conglomerate that owns Balenciaga, along with Gucci and Alexander McQueen, is yet to issue a statement. Former employee Nicolas Ghesquière, who was the creative director of Balenciaga before moving to Louis Vuitton in 2013 got in first.
“When I left @kering in 2012 I felt disconnected and hurt by [their] values and dishonesty,” Ghesquière posted to an Instagram Story.