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The price of provocation: what awaits Balenciaga?

Balenciaga – The luxury firm of the Kering group has admitted to having made a series of “serious mistakes” in the two discord campaigns. However, his decision to sue the producer involved in one of them only fuels the controversy.

Child pornography accusations, conspiracy theories, and calls for cancellation. The Balenciaga firm has been involved in a crisis that teaches a hard lesson on how the taste for provocation that feeds the world of fashion can become a ball of scandal that drags down everyone who walks nearby, from influencers to suppliers and senior executives.

At the epicenter, Balenciaga’s advertising campaigns launched in the same week, whose images have been accused of alluding to pedophilia and child pornography.

Despite the commotion, those responsible for the brand have not yet answered the critical question: who conceived and approved these campaigns?

Generating controversy is nothing new for the Kering group firm. Led by its creative director, Demna, Balenciaga has earned a reputation for taking edgy, satirical, anti-fashion, and even political stances. Some of the brand’s most provocative actions have received mixed responses, sometimes disgust for what some see as an effort to aestheticize situations of suffering – such as the snowstorm at its fall-winter 2022 show, held a week later. that Russia invaded Ukraine, a way of denouncing the refugee crisis that part of public opinion considered in bad taste; or the destroyed Paris sneakers, attacked for turning poverty into a fetish.

Fashion in general, in its attempt to seduce based on provocation, has frequently crossed the line throughout its history. More often than not, products or images that are racially or sexually disrespectful are the results of a lack of diversity in the decision chain.

However, Balenciaga’s campaigns, more than provoking, have gotten out of hand. For absolutely everyone, pedophilia is execrable. The reaction was swift and remarkably wide. Thanks to its ties to popular brands such as The Simpsons, Adidas, and Ikea, Demna has positioned Balenciaga as a more accessible and familiar brand than other luxury companies, but this also opens the doors to criticism from non-fashion circles.

In the statement published by the firm last Monday, Balenciaga claimed to be reviewing the organization and work systems as well as the structures that surround its creative processes, in addition to consulting with specialized child protection agencies while the pertinent investigations are carried out.

“The public wants to know why something like this happened,” says Mike Sitrick, a leading crisis public relations executive from Los Angeles. “In damage control, it’s the nuance that makes the difference. It’s not enough to ask for forgiveness.”

Balenciaga  disaster timeline

The scandal stems from two separate advertising campaigns. The first, the Balenciaga Gift Shop campaign launched on November 16 and shot by Italian Gabriele Galimberti, featured children posing with teddy bear-shaped bags from the brand’s spring 2023 show, on a stage decorated with what many considered BDSM paraphernalia and glasses of wine and beer. The images immediately raised eyebrows, and Balenciaga quickly withdrew them, apologizing “to anyone who might have been offended” by his Christmas campaign.

In a statement on Instagram, Galimberti said: “I am not in a position to criticize Balenciaga’s decisions, but I want to underline that the choice of products or models or the combination of the same did not depend on me at any time. As a photographer, I was only asked to light the scene and take photos according to my style. As usual in a commercial report, the direction of the campaign and the choice of exhibits are not in the hands of the photographer.”

On November 21, the brand launched the Garde-Robe campaign, which, if you look closely, appears a few pages from the 2008 decision of the US Supreme Court in the US case against Williams, which ruled that the promotion of child pornography was not protected by the right to freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment. The digital sleuths then discovered that, in another image, rested a book on the artistic work of Michael Borremans. The Belgian painter’s work is famous for including figurative paintings of naked young children playing with blood and severed human hands. The outrage reignited and the hashtag #CancelBalenciaga was shared hundreds of thousands of times., proof of the power of social networks to raise or tear down a brand in a matter of hours.

After days of wake-up calls asking Balenciaga’s most famous friend to speak up, Kim Kardashian bore the brunt of her opinion on Sunday, sharing with her 334 million Instagram followers that she was “rethinking” her relationship with Balenciaga. The firm’s most important link to a celebrity was officially in jeopardy: “The safety of children must be held in the highest regard and any attempt to normalize child abuse of any kind has no place in our society. Period,” he wrote. Kardashian. “As for my future with Balenciaga, I am currently rethinking my relationship with the brand, based on their willingness to accept their share of responsibility for something that should never have happened in the first place.”

In his apology, Balenciaga used the subject “we,” a majestic plural that dodged the buck as to whom to blame for his creative decisions. “The two advertising campaigns in question present a series of serious errors for which Balenciaga assumes responsibility,” the brand said. “We are reinforcing the structures around our creative processes and validation steps. We want to ensure the new controls mark an inflection point and prevent this from happening again.”

The images of the Gift Shop campaign are so provocative that it is inevitable to wonder how they have passed the filter of the numerous image consultants behind a luxury brand like this, subjected to countless controls. In his statement on Monday about the campaign, Balenciaga said: “Our teddy bear bags and the Gift collection should not have been presented with children. It was the wrong decision on Balenciaga’s part, combined with our failure to evaluate and validate the images. The responsibility for all this rests exclusively with Balenciaga”.

Not so the Garde-Robe campaign. The brand also said that same Monday that it would file a $25 million lawsuit against North Six Inc, the production company that developed the Garde-Robe campaign, and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins: “All items included in this shoot were provided by third parties who confirmed in writing that this prop was fake office documents. It turned out to be real legal documentation most likely from the filming of a TV series. The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a claim,” says Balenciaga. “We take full responsibility for our lack of supervision and control of the prop documents and admit that we could have done things differently.”

A North Six spokeswoman clarifies that the company hired Des Jardins and managed the logistics related to filming permits, location booking, equipment, catering, and staff management, but had no control or input over the process. creative aspect and was not involved in post-production or present on set during final preparations. Des Jardins’ representative told the Washington Post that her client, who rented the items from a prop company, was being used as a scapegoat: “All the Balenciaga people were on set, they were present for all the takes and participated in editing each image in post-production,” he said, before adding that Des Jardins is hiring a legal team.

If what is sought is to continue fueling the controversy, there is perhaps a no better way than a lawsuit with juicy confrontations and a possible trial in which it is carefully detailed who planned and approved the images of the discord.

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