Balenciaga’s Sexualization of Children


Gabriele Galimberti with Balenciaga

Are Balenciaga’s campaigns sexualizing children?

Balenciaga is a luxury fashion brand founded by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga in 1919. The company is currently owned by the French corporation Kering, with its headquarters residing in Paris, France. Balenciaga is known for its quality craftsmanship and innovative designs and is said to be the master of haute couture. The brand is renowned for revolutionizing women’s fashion during the mid-20th century with unusual shapes that utilized sleek and linear lines, deviating from the rounder shapes of clothing from the time. Balenciaga’s current Creative Director is Demna Gvasalia, who has worked to maintain the label’s artistic integrity as fashion continues to evolve. Gvasalia, in particular, has been receiving criticism for two recent campaigns released this past year, getting the brand into yet another controversy.

The first ad campaign that has been sparking debate lately was released on November 16th, titled Balenciaga Gift Shop. The campaign featured a photoshoot starring children holding teddy bear handbags that were, unfortunately, anything but innocent.  The bears were adorned with black eyes, fishnet tops, and leather harnesses. Many critics agreed this was clearly intended to allude to sexual themes, despite the subject of the photos being children. It doesn’t take long to spot the bondage paraphernalia and fetish gear, and the clear glorification of child sexualization and abuse. Not only that, but in the photos, the children were surrounded by adult objects such as wine glasses, beer koozies, and other homeware. According to the photographer, Gabriele Galimberti, all aspects of the shoot had been selected by Balenciaga, and multiple Balenciaga staff members were present during the entirety of the photoshoot.

Another Balenciaga campaign coming to light for similar reasons is the Garde-Robe campaign that was shot in July, months before Gift Shop. The photos were set in an office setting, with one of a Balenciaga handbag on a desk surrounded by paperwork. If you look closer at the documents, you can see a printed copy of the Supreme Court’s decision in the U.S. v. Williams case. This case examined whether laws banning the promotion of child pornography infringed upon the 1st amendment, specifically the right to free speech. The inclusion of this document angered many, as it was perceived as a nod to pedophilia. Critics only could assume that two offenses of this nature were not a coincidence. The Garde-Robe and Gift Shop campaigns both containing less-than-subliminal messages pointing to the sexualization of children was enough for many to start speaking out against Balenciaga and its presumable pedophilic agenda. A-list actress Nicole Kidman and supermodel Bella Hadid were both featured in the Garde-Robe photoshoot, and are now being called by many to cut ties with Balenciaga in light of these recent revelations.

Balenciaga is currently suing production company North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins and his company over the Garde-Robe photoshoot. They are seeking at least $25 million in damages for the inclusion of unapproved props in the photoshoot, such as the printed Supreme Court case. In a statement to CNN, Balenciaga said “all the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama.” Balenciaga also stated that the defendants’ “inexplicable acts and omissions were malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless.”

Concerning the Gift Shop campaign, Balenciaga released a statement on Instagram about a week after it was published. “We sincerely apologize for any offense 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,” read the acknowledgment. These measures that Balenciaga has taken, both by taking legal action against those responsible for the Garde-Robe photoshoot props, and taking accountability for the inappropriate inclusion of children in Gift Shop are causing some critics to question if the brand actually does endorse pedophilia, or if it has just acted carelessly in an attempt at being edgy and controversial.

This issue seems to be one of few that individuals on both ends of the political spectrum can agree on. Both left and right-leaning media outlets are denouncing Balenciaga’s actions, but are pointing the finger at different causes. Right-wing outlets are assigning blame to conspiracy theories such as QAnon, the internet conspiracy theory that “a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.” The prime time Fox News show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has helped to publicize QAnon in the past. “Here you have a major international retail brand promoting kiddie porn and sex with children,” Carlson told viewers on November 22, “and not promoting it subtly but right out in the open.” Many Fox News viewers are linking those behind the Balenciaga scandal to this supposed pedophilic cult of elites.

Left-leaning news outlets seem to be assigning blame to Balenciaga themselves, viewing their outrageous campaigns as an isolated issue. They aren’t exactly sure of why but are speculating that this is an attempt by Denma Gvasalia to normalize the sexualization of children and garner the attention that comes with publishing controversial content. Despite right-leaning and left-leaning individuals not exactly agreeing on why this happened, almost everyone can agree that what Balenciaga did by publishing these campaign photoshoots was wrong. When a company of Balenciaga’s notoriety does something that angers not one, but both ends of the political spectrum, it’s clear that there’s little chance of coming back from it.

In terms of celebrity statements, Nicole Kidman and Bella Hadid have yet to comment on the Balenciaga controversy, but Hadid has deleted some of her Instagram posts associated with the brand. Kim Kardashian, who is a notable brand ambassador for Balenciaga has made a statement on both Twitter and Instagram that she is disturbed by the brand’s actions and is re-evaluating her partnership with them. Julia Fox, the ex-girlfriend of Kardashian’s former husband Kanye West, has come to her defense in a TikTok video, where she alluded to how everyone is pointing fingers at Kim for not immediately releasing a comment more than they are at the men behind the Balenciaga campaigns. “I couldn’t help but think, damn, the women who are associated to the brand professionally are getting so much pushback, it’s almost as if they’re the f***ing child molesters.” she continues, “This isn’t an issue with Hollywood. This isn’t an issue with the fashion world. This isn’t an issue with celebrities. This is an issue with men, goddamn it. Men.” She received much praise from her followers, and her statements pushed many away from directing their anger at celebrities associated with the brand, calling for people to instead blame the brand itself.

It’s unclear how Balenciaga will move forward from this controversy, but its impact on our culture will continue to become evident. Despite the insensitive and repulsive nature of the images published by the brand, they have served to ignite conversations about pedophilia in our society and shed light on issues that were previously uncomfortable for many to speak on. It’s important to discuss topics such as child abuse and the sexualization of children, so as to not brush them under the rug and allow actions such as those of Balenciaga to become normalized.