PARIS — Kim Kardashian is “reevaluating” her relationship with Balenciaga subsequent to the brand’s holiday campaign featuring children posing alongside handbags shaped like stuffed bears dressed in bondage gear, she announced via Instagram Stories late Sunday.
Balenciaga, meanwhile, on Monday issued another statement regarding the campaign, stressing it condemned child abuse and never intended for “it to be included in our narrative.”
The statement continued: “The two separate ad campaigns in question reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.” The fashion house said it is “laying the groundwork with organizations who specialize in child protection and aims at ending child abuse and exploitation.” It did not provide details of what its efforts might involve, however.
Balenciaga also outlined steps it is taking to prevent such errors in future.
“As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” Kardashian wrote on Sunday. “The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society.
“I am currently reevaluating my relationship with the brand, basing it off their willingness to accept accountability for something that should never have happened to begin with — and the actions I am expecting to see them take to protect children,” she said in the two-page statement.
Fans of the reality TV star had called her out on social media during the past few days over her silence on the subject.
“I have been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven’t been disgusted 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,” she wrote. “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 never to happen again.”
Kardashian, who features in Kering-owned Balenciaga’s fall 2022 ad campaign, is a longtime collaborator of the brand, frequently wearing its designs, walking the runway for the label and accompanying designer Demna to the Met Gala in 2021.
During couture week in July, Kardashian scored the Instagram post with the most bang for its buck as she emerged from the Hôtel de la Marine in Paris wearing a sparkly Balenciaga couture gown and a black face shield. It garnered almost 2.5 million likes and generated $935,000 in media impact value, according to data from Launchmetrics.
The controversial holiday campaign showed children posing with bears wearing items such as a leather chest harness, a collar with a lock and ankle and wrist restraints. It was shot by Gabriele Galimberti, a National Geographic photographer whose Instagram page highlights a 10-year project called Toy Stories, featuring images of children photographed with their favorite toys.
The bags were first touted by adult models in distressed outfits walking in the brand’s spring 2023 show during Paris Fashion Week, staged in a giant mud pit.
In its statement Monday, Balenciaga spelled out the two campaigns.
“The first campaign, the Gift collection campaign, featured children with plush bear bags dressed in what some have labelled BDSM-inspired outfits,” the brand said. “Our plush bear bags and the Gift collection should not have been featured with children. This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images. The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone.
“The second, separate campaign for Spring 2023, which was meant to replicate a business office environment, included a photo with a page in the background from a Supreme Court ruling ‘United States v. Williams’ 2008 which confirms as illegal and not protected by freedom of speech the promotion of child pornography. All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama. The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a complaint. We take full accountability for our lack of oversight and control of the documents in the background and we could have done things differently.”
Balenciaga said investigations are continuing both internally and externally but in the meantime it is revising its working methods and organization and putting new controls in place around its creative processes and “validation steps.” The statement provided no further details on these validation steps, nor on its new controls.