The Balenciaga debacle

One of the handbags in the form of a teddy bear in bondage gear
 from Balenciaga’s summer 2023 collection Photograph: Balenciaga.
Reposted from The Guardian 29/11/22

Over the past few days I have been  quite perturbed by the Balenciaga debacle which I followed in disbelief, so much so that I feel the need to write a post about it.

Balenciaga's new festive campaign involved children photographed with teddy bear bags, where the teddies were dressed in BDSM gear and had 'panda eyes' - look it up if you do not know what that is, but it is part of pedo slang. This campaign was shot by Gabriele Galimberti referencing his well known 'Toy Stories' series which won him an award. Concomitantly, Balenciaga released other images for another campaign, not photographed by Galimberti, in collaboration with ADIDAS, with Isabelle Huppert and Bella Hadid with the same teddy bear bag but this time among the props there were papers relating a Supreme Court ruling on child pornography. Bizarre, to say the least, and profoundly disturbing.

There was an immediate backlash. Galimberti was quick to exonerate himself saying the concept was not his - he simply clicked a button. As if he had no understanding of what went on! Balenciaga issued an apology and removed the images from circulation - but the bag can still be bought - and then sued the production company for $25 million.  The parents of the children who modelled said they had been treated well on set - and, between you and me, paid equally well to appear in the global campaign, an offer that the parents could not refuse! Everyone acts as if everything was wholly unintentional. Let's face it, no one imagined that there would be such a reaction, they all thought it was very edgy and avantgarde, Demna (artistic director of Balenciaga)  is such a genius!

Celebrities associated with Balenciaga are now quickly 're-evaluating' their relationship with the brand eg Kim Kadarshian. We can predict that in a few weeks time the 're-evaluation' will translate into them appearing with other Balenciaga gear, this time Balenciaga will be fully forgiven for the earlier 'oversight' and reinstated as a fashion giant.  Balenciaga is owned by Kering by the way who also own Gucci - the recent departure from Gucci by Alessandro Michele spells some trouble of sort.

I think the whole story reveals  how out of touch with reality the fashion industry is and how all pervasive is the idea that advertising is high art - at the service of consumption, however.

All the actions taken by Balenciaga to get out of this tangle - they thought they were creating an edgy campaign, why they are 'commenting' on social issues - sound rather like blame-shifting. They should stop selling those bags which were, in their imagination, good enough for children!  Imagine your child saying 'Mummy I want the bag with the panda eyed bear '. If you can afford to buy it, that is. 

But the law suit, the apology, do not cut any ice. The celebrities taking their time to speak up, the photographer saying he was only obeying orders - really? Please.

Then of course there is the political right using this episode  for its own agenda and accusing everyone of perversion. 

I cannot help feeling really uncomfortable with  the whole thing. A line should be drawn when it comes to children, who do not have a say. There is always the issue of power imbalance and exploitation by adults. This is a case in point.

When my grandaughter was little I wanted to put her forward for a casting for a commercial where we would be grandmother and granddaughter - we had already appeared in a Mother's Day  photoshoot, and I remember  that my daughter in law was not super happy about it. The commercial I was being considered for was nothing to do with such extreme themes for which Balenciaga is now known - earlier Balenciaga  showed models as refugees, in a fashion show, which in my view was a mockery, even though it was greeted as 'capturing a world in crisis'. 

I asked at the time my son and daughter-in-law for permission to appear in the commercial with my granddaughter. They politely refused, saying that even though they knew she would be well looked after, as a toddler she was too little to understand what she was meant to do on set and it might be traumatic for her. In the UK the copyright of images is with the photographer and the commissioning client. Models have no say on what images of themselves are put out there. This is not the case in other countries, by the way.

These days parents often post images of their children online but in fact this might upset the children, who later when they are able to make their views heard can take the parents  to court, as it has been reported some have  done. There was also a ruling in Rome in 2018 where a woman faced a fine of € 10,000 if she posted images of her son on social media without his consent, as reported by the Independent

In the case of the children in the Balenciaga campaign, I think it is totally irresponsible of their parents to say that they were treated well, so we should not condemn anyone. Sure the children - the parents for them - were paid handsomely but when they grow a bit older they may not like having their likeness associated with this disturbing campaign. Images on the internet are there forever and can resurface. The children  are the ones who should sue Balenciaga, not Balenciaga  suing the production company.

The fashion industry is quite broken. As the wonderful Marina Hyde so perceptively comments in her opinion piece in today's Guardian :

'Once again, we find ourselves in the position of wondering how people in fashion are the only ones yet to see Zoolander...".