The Fox News set is positively furious about a recent ad campaign that prominently featured—get this—kids and teddy bears. Ugh, these people! Well, OK: In a bone-chilling example of the worst people you know making a good point once in a while, it should be noted that the teddy bears in question are dressed, for reasons unknown, in bondage gear. And it should also be mentioned that there was actually a second ad campaign from the same brand, and this one used documents from a Supreme Court case about child abuse as a prop (??). It’s all got one high-fashion brand scrambling to appease the right, disavow the ads, and find someone to blame for sneaking so-called unapproved items into its ads. Here is the deal with the holiday season’s worst controversy.
Uh, what are these ads for, exactly?
In mid-November, Balenciaga, the high-end fashion retailer owned by the French conglomerate Kering (which also owns Gucci and Saint Laurent), rolled out an ad campaign it called Balenciaga Gift Shop. In the ads, kids clutch Balenciaga teddy bear handbags that had previously been seen in the line’s Spring 2023 fashion show. The bears were dressed in what looked like leather harnesses, fishnets, and other racy attire.
A few days later, Balenciaga put out another advertising campaign, this one called Garde-Robe and featuring high-profile models like Nicole Kidman and Bella Hadid. In one image (of several in the campaign), a handbag was seen sitting on a desk strewn with lots of paperwork, some of which turned out to be print copies of a 2008 Supreme Court decision, U.S. v. Williams, which just so happened to have concerned child pornography and free speech.
Huh. And Fox News did not like this?
It did not. On his Nov. 22 show, Tucker Carlson accused Balenciaga of “promoting kiddie porn and sex with children … right out in the open.” It’s since become frequent outrage fodder for Fox. Some people—at least one congresswoman, even—are taking this as a sign that Balenciaga is part of the liberal conspiracy project to groom and indoctrinate children into a morally repugnant woke/LGBT/insert-evil-of-your-choice-here lifestyle.
How bad are these ads, really?
The original images have been scrubbed from Balenciaga’s social media, but if you want to judge for yourself, screenshots can still be found online. The kids merely holding the bags don’t seem so bad, but the toddler lying down on a couch surrounded by wine and champagne glasses does seem … a little off—probably a bad idea, but at the same time, perhaps not worthy of starting a crusade over. And then the Supreme Court document just seems bizarre. Maybe it’s a coincidence; maybe it’s not. One does have to zoom in quite a bit to read the corner of it that appeared in the ad.
People care about Balenciaga?
Very much so. The year Kim Kardashian wore that all-black ninja suit to the Met Gala, that was Balenciaga. The brand has also made headlines for its exorbitantly expensive Ikea bags and high-heeled Crocs. It’s the epitome of fash-un. If this means anything to you, remember, on the Ryan Murphy show American Horror Story, when that one witch was burned at the stake and her dying words were to shout “Balenciaga”? That’s Balenciaga.
Is the brand in real trouble here?
Some! Balenciaga apologized for the ads on its Instagram on Nov. 24, issuing a separate apology for each campaign. (It has since issued further statements of apology.) Kim Kardashian, formerly one of its biggest boosters, says she is reevaluating her relationship with the brand. An award the company’s creative director was to receive from the industry site Business of Fashion has been rescinded. (Kardashian’s ex Ye had a relationship with Balenciaga as well, but it was ended by the brand in response to the rapper’s recent outbursts of antisemitism. It’s for the best, as that would give Fox yet another thing to rail against.)
And now the company is … suing itself over the ads?
Not exactly. But Balenciaga is looking a whole lot like a high-fashion take on the hot dog suit guy meme as it declares about its own campaign, “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this!” The company ended up suing North Six, the production company it worked with on the second ad, the one with the Supreme Court documents, as well as a designer, Nicholas Des Jardins, who worked on its sets. North Six has countered that Balenciaga representatives were on set during the shoot and seemed to fully approve of the ads when they published them on their social channels.
How would a Supreme Court case printout find its way into an ad like this, anyway?
It does seem very, very weird! The ad’s set designer, through a lawyer, indicated that he rented boxes of what were supposed to be fake documents from a prop house. So, one side says accident, the other says negligence.
Is anyone suing over the BDSM teddy bears?
No, and that’s gotten a bit lost in the chaos of all this, but the photographer behind the campaign featuring the photos of children, Gabriele Galimberti, is not facing any legal action from Balenciaga. However, he claims that he has still suffered negative consequences due to the controversy: According to the New York Times, “Mr. Galimberti said he has been inundated with hate mail and death threats, has had jobs canceled and has had personal details, including his phone number, published online.”
For the time being, maybe you should leave your Balenciaga in your closet. Or maybe you should wear it, to spite Tucker Carlson! Or maybe you should just continue wearing your Old Navy jeans and keep in mind that almost all of us are making some kind of moral compromise every time we get dressed.