Owning up. Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna, broke his silence on the brand’s controversial teddy bear ad, which featured children posing with stuffed animals dressed in BDSM-like attire.
After weeks of backlash, Demna, 41, released a statement via Instagram on Friday, December 2, calling the campaign “inappropriate.”
“I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids,” he began. “I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.”
He went on to explain that while he often tries to “provoke” thought through his work, he “would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn. Period.”
He added: “I need to learn from this, listen and engage with child protection organizations to know how I can contribute and help on this terrible subject. I apologize to anyone offended by the visuals and Balenciaga has guaranteed that adequate measures will be taken not only to avoid similar mistakes in the future but also to take accountability in protecting child welfare in every way we can.”
Earlier this month, the luxury label released a “Toy Stories” campaign on its website, which showed young children from different backgrounds photographed with Balenciaga’s plush bear bags. The accessories were seen strapped in harnesses and other inappropriate items, causing immediate backlash online.
Demna’s apology comes after the fashion house addressed the ad on November 28.
“We strongly condemn child abuse,” the memo read. “It was never our intent to include it in our narrative. The two separate ad campaigns in question reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility … This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images. The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone.”
The company also spoke on the campaign image that included Supreme Court documents from the 2008 United States vs. William case, which criminalized child pornography.
“The second, separate campaign for spring 2023, which was meant to replicate a business office environment, included a photo with a page in the background from a Supreme Court Ruling ‘United States V. Williams’ 2008, which confirms as illegal and not protected by freedom of speech the promotion of child pornography,” Balenciaga wrote in the statement. “All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these papers were fake office documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama.”
Balenciaga explained that the inclusion of the legal papers was “unapproved” and announced the launch of internal and external investigations as well as plans to further protect children.
“We are closely revising our organization and collective ways of working,” Balenciaga explained. “We are reinforcing the structures around our creative processes and validation steps. We want to ensure that new controls mark a pivot and will prevent this from happening again. We are laying the groundwork with organizations who specialize in child protection and aim at ending child abuse and exploitation.”
Balenciaga removed the images from its website on November 22.
Still, the harmful ad has been met with criticism. Kim Kardashian, who became an ambassador for the brand in February, denounced the ad and shared that she’s “currently re-evaluating” her “relationship” with Balenciaga.
Bethenny Frankel also spoke out, calling the incident “egregious, outrageous and symbolically damaging.” Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Lauren Burnham voiced their disappointment by setting their Balenciaga items on fire. Brittany Aldean, meanwhile, threw out bags of clothing from the brand.