There are many ways to sell a handbag. You can partner with a high-profile celebrity. Shoot a magazine campaign in the desert. Or, if you’re Balenciaga, you can dress it up in a slave suit and give it to a child. Last week, the Spanish luxury label released two photos of child models holding the brand’s plush bear bags, which are designed to look like toys but appear to be wearing leather belts and straps. other BDSM costumes. They were quickly charged with child sexual exploitation. As if that weren’t worrisome enough, the brand’s website has released another dubious image from a separate campaign promoting their recent partnership with Adidas. In it, a bag was placed on top of a poorly disguised document from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding indecent images of children.
The viral tweet highlighted both images and the uproar began. People have called for a boycott. Some are burning their Balenciaga products. And the photographer behind the photos of BDSM bears has made a statement to separate himself from the brand. Celebrities are taking action, too, with Bella Hadid apparently deleting photos of her wearing the brand’s clothing on Instagram. Kim Kardashian, who has regularly worn Balenciaga’s outfits in recent months, also said she is “reassessing” her relationship with the brand. For Balenciaga, the label has removed the campaign images and apologized, and issued a statement strongly condemning the abuse of children and blaming the photos on “a series of serious flaws”. “.
All of these have been rightly condemned. But beyond the obvious criticism, there’s something deeper going on here that helps raise deeper questions around accountability and what’s really driving consumer spending. Because, basically, that’s what these campaigns are all about: sell us everything. Once you remove all the noise and criticism, the big brands almost always succeed in continuing to sell their products, no matter how much the backlash.
Consider the fact that this is just the latest in a series of major fashion brands embroiled in scandals. The most obvious example is Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian label that has been at the center of a number of controversies over the years, revolving around issues of racism, homophobia and misogyny. There was a 2018 video of a Chinese model trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks (they later released a video apologizing to China). The body-shaming comments made by the brand’s co-founder, Stefano Gabbana, were directed at Selena Gomez. The trainers have the words “thin and beautiful” written on the side. And such.
The problem is that the brand already exists. In August 2021, it hosts a lavish series of shows featuring Jennifer Lopez, Doja Cat, and Diddy. Since then, it has been worn by the likes of Kaia Gerber, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Hudson on magazine covers. And in May, the label actually sponsored Kourtney Kardashian’s entire wedding. All of which has led one to ask, why hasn’t anyone been able to cancel Dolce & Gabbana?
Turn your attention to other luxury brands and the answer may become obvious. For example, Gucci has faced numerous scandals in recent years. In 2019, the label was accused of favoring blackface after releasing an $890 (£740) collared polo shirt with large red lips. Gucci apologized and later outlined a plan to “embed cultural awareness and diversity into the company”. Later that year, the brand sent a series of white jacket-like outfits straight down the runway. One of her own models protested the topic, writing “mental health is not fashion” on her palm; The jackets were never sold in stores. It was also accused of cultural appropriation by selling $790 (£657) worth of turbines.
Gucci may have apologized for all these incidents – and esteemed creative director Alessandro Michele may have recently resigned – but it continues to thrive, having recently launched collaborations. famous for Harry Styles and Adidas, and its clothes are frequently worn on red carpets and magazine covers. Earlier this year, Vogue France magazine named Gucci “the most influential brand of 2022”.
And in case you think all this is exclusive to European brands, check out Burberry, which faced criticism in 2019 when it released a brown hoodie as a part of the fall-winter collection with a lanyard around the neck. “Suicide is not in fashion,” wrote model Liz Kennedy, who attended the Burberry show that season.
Burberry removed the product from its collection and apologized, admitting that the design was “insensitive” and that the brand made mistakes. In January 2022, it predicts a 35% increase in annual profits. Its most recent fashion shows have been championed by Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.
But back to Balenciaga. The irony is that the brand is no stranger to controversy, having been accused of everything from cultural appropriation to a polite decline just last year. In May, it was accused of glorifying poverty by releasing a pair of heavily distressed trainers for £1,290. A similar sequence of events followed each of these scandals: the brand was named. It issued an apology. Then it will continue to grow or do something else it has to apologise for. All of this raises an important question. If the fashion industry continues to ignore learning from their mistakes, when will they stop making them altogether?
Given the size of Balenciaga as a company, it seems odd to suggest that those court documents were placed in campaign photos without their knowledge, or that it was a simple mistake when the Its plush bear bag is photographed with children. It is, after all, a luxury brand owned by retail group Kering, which also owns Gucci along with a host of brands such as Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. As a result, its campaigns will likely have to go through the rigorous process of being signed off by several executives before launching. There will be meetings, approvals and mockups. How is it possible that all of this has been promoted in the company without a single person asking to make the connection between a designer handbag and child abuse material? For example, the scene designer during an Adidas photo shoot stated that Balenciaga representatives were at the scene and “supervised [the shoot]handling papers and other props”.
However, in all of the above scandals, the brands involved often pretend to know nothing. They crossed the line, so to speak, claiming that something within their ranks must have gone terribly wrong for this mistake to happen. It’s no coincidence that Balenciaga has now filed a $25m (£20m) lawsuit against the manufacturing company behind the Adidas shoot. Kardashian’s surrounding language isn’t in her own statements either – she’s not ruling out the possibility of working with them again, instead just committing to “reassess” her relationship with surname.
Undoubtedly, Balenciaga is now in a position to face the consequences of his actions. It even deleted its entire Instagram feed of posts, except for the one with their official statement. But how long this vow of silence lasts remains to be seen. Besides, do those online who criticize the brand belong to a very small demographic actually spend thousands of pounds on Balenciaga clothing? History would suggest that they weren’t – and even if they were, they don’t seem to care.
The truth is that we will never know what happened, or why “serious errors” were made in Balenciaga or anywhere else. What we do know, however, is that the people who run these fashion brands aren’t fools. Scroll through social media today and chances are you’ll stumble across Balenciaga talks within minutes. Even those who know nothing about fashion will most likely be familiar with this brand by now.
Maybe the reason why fashion goes wrong is because it wants to. In today’s social media-obsessed landscape, scandals are a way to maintain cultural relevance. It starts a conversation. Whether it’s a positive or a negative doesn’t matter much. Because for better or worse, everyone is talking about you. In Balenciaga’s case, only time will tell whether this was a close-of-business move or a sign of a very successful marketing campaign.
https://www.independent.ie/style/fashion/fashion-thrives-on-backlash-the-balenciaga-scandal-wont-change-that-42186070.html Fashion thrives on backlash – the Balenciaga scandal won’t change that