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Balenciaga had to apologize for one of its campaigns

Between conspiracy theories and tasteless choices

Balenciaga had to apologize for one of its campaigns Between conspiracy theories and tasteless choices

UPDATE 28/11/22: In a public statement, Balenciaga has again apologized for the controversy that arose last week. In particular, it emphasised its culpability for showing children with "BDMS-inspired dolls" in the Balenciaga Objects campaign and took full responsibility for the gesture. Regarding the Balenciaga x adidas campaign, and in particular the 'fake court papers' - which later turned out to be real - seen in the background on the desks, the brand stressed that it had contracted the set design to a specialised company, but apologised for its negligence in publishing the images. In any case, Balenciaga stated that internal and external investigations were ongoing and assured that the company was reviewing its organization and working practizes and would strengthen controls around the creative process and the approval of each step. In conclusion, the brand states that it has started to work with associations specialized in the protection of children and that it is willing to learn from mistakes and make amends.

Although Balenciaga has left Twitter, the luxury fashion house cannot escape the conspiracy theories that have animated the web. On 21 November, June Nicole Lapine, also known as @shoe0nhead, took to Twitter to insinuate that the brand is conspiring to exploit children. Triggering the controversy were photos from the 'Balenciaga Objects' campaign, taken by photographer Gabriele Galimberti, which featured children clutching teddy-bear bags in BDSM harnesses, the stresses seen in the brand's latest show. Lapine, mistakenly linking the campaign images of Balenciaga's collaboration with adidas, pointed out a peculiar fact: enlarging the documents scattered on the table in Joshua Bright's shots of the Three Stripes bag, one of the papers turns out to be a commentary on United States v. Williams, a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the PROTECT Act, the federal law that criminalizes the advertising, promotion, presentation or distribution of child pornography.

A bizarre choice in dressing the set, which immediately ignited the controversy and made Lapine's conspiratorial tweets go viral. After the first mistake on the two campaigns, Lapine was wrong again, interpreting the brand's move to delete the campaign images from its Instagram profile as an admission of guilt. In reality, the brand usually cleans up its Instagram feed between campaigns to make room for new releases, in this case, images from its Garde-Robe spring 2023 collection. Yesterday, however, Balenciaga, which had already disabled comments on its Instagram page, posted an Instagram Story apologizing for the incident. «Our plush bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign - the statement read - we immediately removed the campaign from all platforms. Two hours later, the brand posted a further story: 'We are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign shoot. We stand for the safety and well-being of children.»

The two stories have served little purpose; indeed, they have further fuelled the fire of controversy. Certainly, whether the choice of the document in the background of the campaign photo is the result of chance (difficult, but possible), or whether it is the umpteenth provocation by Balenciaga, - this time decidedly beyond the limits of common sense - it is difficult to think that the photo could constitute proof of 'pedophilia trafficking' perpetrated by a 'brand that glorifies pedophilia', as the most extreme commentators have gone so far as to affirm. In the case of the bondage puppet, the protagonist of the SS23 campaign, the choice of making it the protagonist of a campaign starring children may be in bad taste, but certainly not offensive, since the scruffy toys are more reminiscent of punk teddy bears than of the world of BDSM. And, in general, if something is disturbing, immoral, or blatantly wrong, social media does not wait a week after release to mobilize and destroy it, as happened in this case.

The two stories have served little purpose; indeed, they have further fuelled the fire of controversy. On the other hand, two controversial figures, Candace Owens and Carlson Tucker, both avowedly pro-Trump and close to the American Republican wing, are the spokesmen for the story. Owens, who took part in the Yeezy show in Paris wearing the now infamous White Lives Matter shirt, posted a video on her Instagram profile lashing out at Balenciaga and Kim Kardashian, who she said were complicit in what she called 'pedophilia'. Owens herself is no stranger to such statements have made similar accusations against Walt Disney &Co. last April. The same can be said of Tucker, the face of Fox News and definitive in the past as 'Donald Trump's spokesman, no stranger to such stances. He had previously praised the policies of Hungary and President Orban, declaring that the US should take a cue from the Hungarian Prime Minister's actions. The thesis put forward by the two, together with a large group of online commentators, is closely reminiscent of another conspiracy theory, Pizzagate, which in 2016 convinced thousands of users across 4chan and Reddit that Hilary Clinton was part of a group of political and showbiz personalities who used to meet in a Washington D.C. pizzeria to carry out their trafficking of underage sex slaves. There too, as in this case, the evidence came from crackpot theories and misrepresented messages. If in that case, the theories contributed to Clinton's electoral defeat in favor of Trump, today it is impossible not to think of this new case as a revenge move by the American right against a brand that in their eyes has unjustly abandoned Kanye West, newly elected symbol of that same political wing from which most of the accusations come.