The Balenciaga ad controversy explained as Kim Kardashian says she's 'disgusted' with the brand

Following a controversial ad campaign, high-fashion brand Balenciaga has issued an apology - as has ambassador Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian returns to her hotel on November 03, 2021 in New York City.
(Image credit: Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, high-fashion brand Balenciaga came under fire for a controversial ad campaign that prompted a message from ambassador Kim Kardashian.

The images under scrutiny are part of the label's Gift Shop campaign and feature child models holding stuffed animals wearing fetish gear - think harnesses and handcuffs - reminiscent of BDSM-like practices. 

The images, which were shot by photojournalist Gabriel Galimberti and support the brand's holiday products, also featured a document featuring a Supreme Court case involving child pornography.

Thousands of social media users noticed the photos and called on fans to #cancelBalenciaga. 

The high-fashion brand eventually removed the pictures and put out a statement regarding the matter. 

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"We sincerely apologize for any offense our Holiday campaign may have caused," reads Balenciaga's statement. "Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms."

Photographer Gabriele also explained his stance on the matter with a statement that he released on Instagram.

"Following the hundreds of hate mails and messages I received as a result of the photos I took for the Balenciaga campaign, I feel compelled to make this statement. 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," wrote Gabriele. "As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style. 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. [...] Also, I have no connection with the photo where a Supreme Court document appears. That one was taken in another set by other people and and was falsely associated with my photos."


But social media users have also been criticizing high-profile celebrities associated with the brand, including Kim Kardashian and Bella Hadid, for staying quiet about it all.

About a week after news first broke out, Kim spoke up about the controversy by releasing a message on her Instagram account.

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"I have been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven't been shocked and outraged by the recent Balenciaga campaigns, but because I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened," the reality TV star wrote in her Instagram Story and on Twitter this past weekend. "As a mother of four, I have been shaken by those disturbing images. The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and anything against it should have no place in our society - period. I appreciate Balenciaga's removal of the campaigns and apology. In speaking with them, I believe they understand the seriousness of the issue and will take the necessary measures for this to never happen again."

Bella supposedly removed a post promoting the brand but has yet to speak up about the issue or denounce Balenciaga’s actions.

The New York Post (opens in new tab) reports that Balenciaga actually filed a $25 million lawsuit against the production company behind the campaign, North Six, Inc., claiming it included "unapproved items" in the photoshoot and seeking to "redress for extensive damages defendants cased in connection with an advertising campaign Balenciaga hired them to produce."

"As a result of Defendants misconduct, members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and horrifically associated Balenciaga with the repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision," read the court papers, according to the New York Post. "Defendants are liable to Balenciaga for all harm resulting from this false association."

As fans of the French luxury brand know, Balenciaga has been putting out unconventional campaigns for quite a few years now, although this latest one seems to have pushed the envelope a bit too far. Add to it an apology that doesn't much sound heartfelt and a lawsuit that seems to function as a sort of scapegoat, and you've got yourself a pretty angry set of former fans demanding immediate change.

Anna Rahmanan is a New York-based writer and editor who covers culture, entertainment, food, fashion and travel news. Anna’s words have appeared on Time Out New York, the Huffington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Us Weekly, Bon Appetit and Brooklyn Magazine, among other outlets.