The original ad campaign, which has since been pulled from the designer’s social platforms and website, featured two young girls holding teddy bears that appear to be wearing BDSM bondage gear.
Upon further digging, others on social media noticed that one still shot of a Balenciaga bag on a desk featured a document from the court case Ashcroft vs. Free Speech Coalition, which ruled in favor of virtual child pornography.
A third image showed a red-haired woman sitting on a desk with a view of New York City, featuring a book on her desk by Michael Boerrman which displays nude images of children.
Livid viewers and shoppers took to the internet to bash the company and shame them for their now-viral campaign.
This is absolutely disgusting. Balenciaga features toddlers in ads, holding teddy bears in bondage outfits and with a court document about “child porn” partially hidden in the image.
— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) November 22, 2022
Balenciaga using photos of little girls playing with teddy bears dressed in bondage gear on their website. Lovely. pic.twitter.com/mYnt0CJuif
— Slarty Bartfast (@DatCatDer) November 20, 2022
Following the backlash, Balenciaga issued an apology via social media.
Instagram via Balenciaga
“We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign. We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our spring ’23 campaign photoshoot,” the company’s story read. “We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children safety and well-being.”
Following Balenciaga’s statement, the photographer of the campaign, Gabriele Galimberti, penned a lengthy statement to his own Instagram account attempting to absolve himself from the creative decisions that were made in styling and itemizing the campaign.
“As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style,” he said. “As usual for a commercial shooting, the direction of the campaign and the choice of the objects displayed are not in the hands of the photographer.”
He also noted that he has been receiving “hundreds” of instances of hate mail and negative messages.
“I am not in a position to comment Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same,” he insisted.
This isn’t the first scandal to rock the designer this year.
Amid Kanye West’s slew of antisemitic rants and hate speech last month, the company announced that it would be severing ties with the rapper after partnering with him on the now-defunct Yeezy Gap line.