Photo: WireImage

Over the span of a few weeks, Balenciaga released two campaigns that sparked intense backlash, trended on social media, filed a US$25 million (about S$37 million) lawsuit, and issued statement after statement addressing the criticised campaigns and the controversies surrounding them.

Ahead, we break down the luxury fashion house’s ad scandal.

Nov 16: Balenciaga releases Holiday and Spring 2023 campaigns

Lensed by Gabriele Galimberti, the Balenciaga Gift Shop campaign showcases a range of new products—such as homeware, pet wear, scent, collectibles and furniture—”staged around children dressed in the Balenciaga Kids line.” The press release states it is “an exploration of what people collect and receive as gifts,” an extension of Galimberti’s existing Toy Stories series.

Many called out the campaign on social media, accusing the brand of sexualising minors. This was exacerbated by the brand’s office-themed campaign for Spring 2023, which involved the use of documents referencing a case about child sexual abuse as a prop. Balenciaga soon trended online and cancel calls grew louder.

Nov 22: Balenciaga issues an apology

Balenciaga pulled the holiday campaign and issued an apology on Instagram Stories, admitting to “a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.” “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused,” the brand wrote. “Our Plus Bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”

A second apology followed for its Spring 2023 campaign. “We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign. We are taking 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.”

Related article: Review Of Balenciaga’s Spring 2023 Collection

Nov 23: Gabriele Galimberti issues a statement

The photographer behind the holiday campaign posted a statement, where he clarifies that he had no say in the products featured, creative direction and styling choices. He also asserts that he was not involved in Balenciaga’s Spring 2023 campaign.

Nov 25: Balenciaga sues production company and set designer involved in Spring 2023 campaign

Balenciaga filed a US$25 million lawsuit in the New York State Court against production company, North Six, and the set designer, Nicholas des Jardins, that worked on its Spring 2023 campaign. The brand stated that the “inexplicable acts and omissions [were] malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless” and done without the brand’s knowledge.

Nov 27: Kim Kardashian issues a statement

Brand ambassador Kim Kardashian, who walked Balenciaga’s haute couture runway in July and has appeared in its campaigns, posted a statement to social media and is “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house.

Related article: Balenciaga Debuts New Phase Of Its Multi-Tiered Campaign, Featuring Kim Kardashian

Nov 28: Business of Fashion rescinds Demna’s appearance at their annual Voice’s conference

Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna, who was set to appear at Business of Fashion’s 2022 Voices conference and receive the Global Voices Award, turned down the invitation “to take responsibility for releasing these images and offer an explanation.” The publication rescinded the honour, describing the campaign images as “wholly inconsistent with our values.”

Nov 28: Balenciaga issues another statement

Balenciaga Statement
Photo: Instagram (@balenciaga)

Dec 2: Demna issues an apology

Demna issued his first statement on the controversial ads on his Instagram page.

Related article: Unconventional Fashion Moments And Collaborations That Made Us Sit Up And Notice

Dec 4: Balenciaga drops lawsuit and issues action plan

Balenciaga published a second action plan signed by President and CEO Cédric Charbit on Instagram, announcing it had dropped the lawsuit filed against North Six and des Jardins.

The brand also detailed new controls, such as an image board “responsible for evaluating the nature of our content from concept to final assets” and an agency to “assess and evaluate our content,” re-organisation of its image team, setting aside “a significant fund for grants to organizations so that we can help make a difference in protecting children.