Balenciaga have never shied away from the power of shock value.
I mean, we only have to go back as far as last year when Kim Kardashian wore a full body – and face – ensemble from the luxury fashion house to the Met Ball to see they’re happy to cause a bit of controversy. Obscuring the identity of one of the most famous faces in the world was always going to get people talking.
However, they moved from shock to downright shocking with their latest ‘Gift Shop’ campaign, which featured a small children holding onto bags designed to look like a teddy – wearing a bondage ensemble, with studded collars, fishnets, chains and leather harnesses.
Not only this, but a separate ‘Garde-Robe’ campaign, shot in July, included an image of their $3,000 Balenciaga x Adidas Hourglass Handbag on a desk, along with printed copies of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in US vs. Williams – a case that examined whether laws banning the promoting of child pornography curtailed First Amendment freedom of speech rights – and a book about Belgian artist Michaël Borremans, whose earlier work included portrayals of castrated children.
As a mum, I was horrified. Children should be in no way be associated with any sexual activity. In no way. And certainly not in a promotions campaign for a fashion brand.
Because, before signing off the advert, I’m sure they argued it was just a picture, no harm was done, etc, etc. In the real world it links to a far more terrifying problem.
Although there are no definite figures, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) estimated in March 2021 that around one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. Over a third of all police-reported sexual offences are against children. These are truly appalling statistics, ones we should be doing everything we can to combat.
Because, although the act itself is no doubt a terrifying, degrading and corrupting experience, the lasting impact of child abuse is also catastrophic, and can leave children suffering for their whole lives. The NSPCC lists self-harm, eating disorders, post traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, pregnancy, among other effects that being sexually abused can have. Suicide is, of course, another, more final one.
I don’t know about you, but reading that chills me to the actual bone. Not just for my two children, Theo and Immy, but for all children. Innocent and vulnerable beings, they need to be protected at all costs.
I, obviously, wasn’t the only one to feel this way.
Twitter user and YouTuber Shoe (@shoe0nhead) was one of the first to point out the disturbing nature of the two campaigns. ‘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,’ she posted, attaching four pictures.
The tweet quickly went viral and people on Twitter and TikTok were equally outraged, many threatening to boycott the brand – others going as far as burning their Balenciaga belongings.
The photographer behind the ‘Gift Shop’ shoot issued a statement distancing himself from the brand and Bella Hadid has reportedly deleted a post of herself wearing the brand’s clothes from her Instagram.
Kim Kardashian, a well-known fan of the fashion house, took her time but eventually released a number of tweets on the subject.
‘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,’ the 42-year-old KUWITK star posted.
‘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.
‘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.
Campaigns like this one aren’t just a last-minute job, pulled together in a matter of days. No, they are properly thought through
‘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 — and the actions I am expecting to see them take to protect children.’
Seemingly strong words – but only time will tell if she walks the walk. Sadly, other celebrities associated with the brand, including Nicole Kidman, who was actually featured in the July ‘Garde-Robe’ campaign and a mum herself, have remained disappointingly silent on the subject.
In response to the backlash to the campaign, Balenciaga, who have withdrawn the campaign and filed a $25million (£20.5m) lawsuit against the production company behind the Adidas photoshoot, has issued a lengthy apology. ‘We strongly condemn child abuse,’ they wrote on Instagram. ‘It was never our intent to include it in our narrative.’
Now, the first section of that part of the statement, I can happily believe. I should hope – at the very least – that they do condemn such vile actions. However, the second, I’m not so sure of.
Campaigns like the one featuring several images of children posing with BDSM teddy bears aren’t just a last-minute job, pulled together in a matter of days. No, they are properly thought through, the potential impact will have been discussed at length. I believe they very definitely meant to ‘include in (their) narrative’.
Because look at all of the commotion this has caused. Twitter has been awash with talk of it, headlines have been screaming about it – and what do people generally say? No publicity is bad publicity. If they wanted to get people talking about the brand, the advertising team has achieved their goal with flying colours.
Am I being too cynical? I don’t think so. Their explanation of a ‘series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility’ just doesn’t ring true for me. They’re no fools, they knew exactly what they were doing – at least with the ‘Gift Shop’ campaign.
The thing is, it makes no difference. Because either way, children are being sexualised, objectified and ultimately, exploited by this big brand to draw attention to themselves. And that is ethically and morally wrong.
So please, Balenciaga, keep your hands off our children.
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