Balenciaga boss says holiday campaign was a ‘huge and stupid mistake,’ vows to change

Three men in black outfits posing for photos
Balenciaga artistic director Demna Gvasalia, center, with BFRND, left, and Eliza Douglas at the 2021 CFDA Fashion Awards in New York.
(Evan Agostini / Invision/Associated Press)

Luxury clothing brand Balenciaga is still reeling from the backlash over two of its recent ad campaigns.

Months after the fashion house came under heat for promotional images that critics said sexualized children, Balenciaga artistic director Demna (full name Demna Gvasalia) said he’s still sorry for the images in an interview with Vogue published Friday.

“I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility,” he told Vogue, echoing a previous statement he posted to social media in December.

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In November, the brand shared photos for its “The Gift” collection, which featured child models posing with teddy bears that were dressed in bondage attire. Shortly after, Balenciaga dropped photos for its spring 2023 campaign that featured a page from a 2008 Supreme Court case involving “virtual child pornography” in the background.

Parents, including reality TV star and longtime Balenciaga fan — and brand partner — Kim Kardashian, spoke out against the brand and its “disturbing images” on social media. Days later, Balenciaga released a statement apologizing for the photos and outlining the changes it would implement to avoid similar “mistakes” in the future.

“This experience has forced me to reevaluate a lot of things in the way I, we, work, in the way we create and communicate images, the way we interact with our audiences, and the way we learn from our mistakes and move forward,” Demna told Vogue.

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He detailed the postbacklash changes at Balenciaga: “restructuring the image department,” conducting more internal and external checks for campaign imagery, and partnering with the National Children’s Alliance to help “thousands of kids in the process of overcoming trauma and dealing with their mental health.”

“It’s the one thing that makes me happy about this whole horrible situation: to do something good out of it,” he said of that partnership, which was announced Wednesday.


Also teaming up with the NCA is Balenciaga’s parent company, Kering, which oversees other luxury brands including Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. Under the Kering umbrella is Gucci, which faced backlash in December for a campaign featuring Harry Styles that some social media critics alleged also sexualized children.

‘Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist,’ the brand’s parent firm Kering said in a statement.

Oct. 21, 2022

In the interview, Denma said he plans to move away from the brand’s “provocative” ways.

“This is part of my learning: I will have a more mature and serious approach to everything I release as an idea or an image,” he said. “I have decided to go back to my roots in fashion as well as to the roots of Balenciaga, which is making quality clothes — not making image or buzz.”

Speaking of the brand’s origins, elsewhere in the interview Demna said one of the most “painful” parts of the backlash was tarnishing “the name of Balenciaga and the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga.”

“Balenciaga is a house that is over one century old and is based on strong and beautiful creative values, and I have been busy doing all in my creative power to bring it to its modern relevance, and suddenly we were under attack and labeled as something we’re not at all,” Demna said. “We certainly made a huge and stupid mistake with the gifting campaign, and we certainly have learned from it.”