Balenciaga apologises for using children in bondage teddy bear advert

Balenciaga - Wachiwit / Alamy Stock Photo
Balenciaga - Wachiwit / Alamy Stock Photo

The renowned fashion house Balenciaga has become embroiled in a row with a photographer after they threatened to sue him for shooting a campaign featuring children holding x-rated teddy bears.

The cuddly toys featured in the Christmas campaign are scantily clad in bondage gear prompting calls for a boycott on social media. The brand’s “plush bear” handbags feature in its Paris Fashion Week spring/summer 2023 collection.

Balenciaga issued a full apology for the campaign, saying it “strongly” condemned child abuse in all forms.

Shot by Gabriele Galimberti, a renowned photographer, the Gift Shop campaign was intended to be a statement on the giving and receiving of gifts, inspired by Galimberti’s own “toy story” photography series.

Mr Galimberti told Newsweek: “I am not in a position to comment [on] Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither choose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same.”

Social media calls to #cancelBalenciaga

In the photos, the bears can be seen wearing collars with padlocks, fishnets and leather harnesses. In one, a child is standing on a pink bed holding a teddy bear wearing a fishnet top, collar with lock, and ankle and wrist restraints.

The campaign prompted social media calls to #cancelBalenciaga. On TikTok alone, the hashtag received over 105,000 views, with most of them attributed to content creators explaining why the holiday campaign was deplorable.

“We sincerely apologise for any offence our holiday campaign may have caused,” said Balenciaga, which was founded in Spain in 1919 and moved to Paris in 1937. “Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”

“We stand for children’s safety and wellbeing,” said Balenciaga after pulling its campaign.

A separate advertising campaign, not involving Mr Galimberti, for Balenciaga’s “hourglass bag”, included documents alleged to be an extract from a United States Supreme Court ruling that ratified the Protect Act, a federal law that criminalises the advertising, promotion, presentation or distribution of child pornography.

The photograph allegedly featuring the court document does not appear in Balenciaga’s “Toy Stories” campaign but was taken from a separate campaign for the brand.

Responding to the 'hourglass' bag advert Balenciaga said via Instagram: “We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign. We take this very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 photoshoot. We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children’s safety and wellbeing.”

Kim Kardashian keeps quiet

The images prompted some social media users to ask whether Kim Kardashian, an ambassador for Balenciaga, would condemn them.

“This is absolutely disgusting,” Lila Rose, an anti-abortion campaigner, tweeted.

“Balenciaga features toddlers in ads, holding teddy bears in bondage outfits and with a court document about ‘child porn’ partially hidden in the image. This is criminal and sick. Sexualising children must be a redline. @kimkardashian - speak out now.”

The reality TV star has so far kept quiet. Bella Hadid, a model who has also worked with Balenciaga, has deleted her recent Instagram post promoting the label.

The decision to pull the campaign and to make an apology followed a tweet by June Nicole Lapine, whose @shoeonhead account has more than half a million followers: “The brand Balenciaga just did a uh . . . interesting . . . photoshoot for their new products which featured a very purposely poorly hidden court document about virtual child porn — normal stuff.”

In recent years, Balenciaga has become synonymous with unconventional fashion campaigns but never courted this much controversy.

CLARIFICATION: This article has been amended to include additional clarification that Mr Galimberti was not involved in the 'hourglass' bag campaign.