Balenciaga Creative Director Opens Up About Brand's Future in First Interview Since Ad Campaign Scandal

Demna told Vogue that Balenciaga is partnering with National Children’s Alliance on its Mental Health Institute going forward

Balenciaga Creative Director Demna Gvasalia
Photo: Getty (2)

Demna, the creative director of Balenciaga, is opening up for the first time since the fashion house came under fire last year for two controversial ad campaigns.

Speaking to Vogue earlier this year for an interview published on Thursday, Demna opened up about the backlash the brand received for the campaigns and what the entire team is doing moving forward.

One of the campaigns to come under fire was a holiday campaign that featured children and BDSM-like teddy bears. Demna told Vogue that the bears were inspired by "​​punk and DIY culture," not BDSM, and were an offshoot of similar bears used in his October 2022 fashion show.

He said he selected a photographer whose work he liked because of his past work with toys: Gabriele Galimberti. Needing to include a variety of products and gifts for the campaign, Demna said he felt he could combine several aspects in the photos, because they wouldn't have the capacity to shoot a ton of photos for "all the products" they need to feature.

courtesy balenciaga

"This is where my error comes in," he continued. "That was my big mistake. I didn't realize how inappropriate it would be to put these objects [in the image] and still have the kid in the middle. It unfortunately was the wrong idea and a bad decision from me. We should not have featured kids in images that included objects that were not related and inappropriate to them."

Demna, 41, added that though the brand had a process in place to check for something like an inappropriate message, the campaign was not flagged as a problem.

"I regret this a lot," he said.

After the campaign was released in November, it was called out on social media for its inappropriate nature. Galimberti issued a statement on Instagram to defend himself, writing, "The direction of the campaign and the choice of the objects displayed are not in the hands of the photographer."

Demna told Vogue that he knows he's considered provocative with his work, but the backlash for the holiday campaign shed a different light on the classification — one that upset him, because he said he would never want to convey a message of child abuse.

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TOPSHOT - A picture taken on September 1, 2020, shows a billboard of the Balenciaga fashion brend featuring its new icon, US singer Cardi B, on a wall of the Louvre museum in Paris. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP) (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

"These are the mistakes we have made, and we have to be responsible for them. I would never want to mess around with a subject like that," he told Vogue.

Balenciaga quickly faced another controversy with its Spring 2023 campaign, released around the same time, which featured an office-like setting and had papers strewn about the room that made a reference to the Supreme Court case United States v. Williams on child porn.

"At first, we were told the documents were confirmed to be fake," Demna told Vogue. "The [holiday] campaign was different because the inappropriate nature of associating kids with those objects was clearly our mistake. When the scandal was sparked [by the documents and props], I was like, everybody, my team, was shocked. I don't know how they ended up there. They were not supposed to be there. I was completely stunned."

In the wake of these controversies, Balenciaga made two statements, first on Nov. 24 and then on Nov. 28, saying the fashion house "takes responsibility" for the "series of grievous errors."

Demna followed with his own personal statement on Dec. 2, writing on Instagram that he wanted to offer an apology for the "wrong artistic choice" for the holiday campaign.

"I apologize to anyone offended by the visuals and Balenciaga has guaranteed that adequate measures will be taken not only to avoid similar mistakes in the future but also to take accountability in protecting child welfare in every way we can," he concluded.

Kim Kardashian attends the 2022 LACMA ART+FILM GALA Presented By Gucci at Los Angeles County Museum of Art on November 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for LACMA) ; The exterior of a Balenciaga store photographed on March 22, 2022 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images)
Kim Kardashian and Balenciaga. Presley Ann/Getty; Jeremy Moeller/Getty

Several celebrities publicly destroyed their Balenciaga clothing or denounced the brand following the scandal, including Brittany Aldean — who took her things out for the trash — and Kim Kardashian, who frequently wore the brand but called out the campaign for its "disturbing images."

Now Demna has had a chance to further examine what happened with Balenciaga, telling Vogue that as a result of the controversy, the "whole Balenciaga family was put into trouble."

Now, he said, all ad materials will go through more rigorous checks within the company to prevent a mistake like this from happening again. He also said that he's going to hold himself to a higher standard as creative director — focusing less on being buzzy and more on making quality clothes.

"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," he said.

Another big step Balenciaga is taking is partnering with the nonprofit ​​National Children's Alliance in its Mental Health Institute for a multiyear partnership. Demna said he's looking forward to the work they'll do together, "because it will 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."

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