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What Demna said in his first interview since the Balenciaga scandal

The designer told Vogue about himself, anticipating the brand's future

What Demna said in his first interview since the Balenciaga scandal  The designer told Vogue about himself, anticipating the brand's future

«I would never want to mess around with a subject like that. I mean, who would?» This is how Demna Gvasalia commented on the scandal involving Balenciaga and the designer himself last November, in a very long interview for Vogue ahead of the next 5th March show in Paris. It all started as a conspiracy theory with little foundation, from the not-very-crediblee claims of Layah Heilpern,a  bitcoin expert and Andrew Tate fan, who called the punk puppets in the Gift Shop campaign associated with children «a pro-pedophiliaa message from a paedophile company». Subsequently, the matter escalated, amidst conspiracies yes, but also through details and inconsistencies that the brand itself could not explain. «I was shocked when I heard about their presence on the set of the Spring 2023 campaign. It was a set of negligent and unfortunate but not intentional coincidences. At first, we were told the documents were confirmed to be fake. The Gift Shop campaign was different because the inappropriate nature of associating kids with those objects was our mistake. When the scandal was sparked [by the documents and props], I was like, everybody, my tea, was shocked. I don’t know how they ended up there. They were not supposed to be there. I was completely stunned,» Demna commented.

In November last year, Balenciaga launched two advertising campaigns: one to promote its Christmas capsule entitled Gift Shop; the other, released five days later, in support of its SS23 collection presented at the New York Stock Exchange. Within days of publishing Gift Shop, described by Demna as «a huge, stupid mistake» and condemned by detractors for showing children holding teddy bear-shaped bags - according to the 'bdsm' crowd, according to Balenciaga Punk - accusations of sexualising minors began to spread. Days later, the campaign for SS23 revealed the presence of three totally unexpected props: the Supreme Court ruling in the case of United States v. Williams regarding the promotion of child pornography; a book by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans, whose work has sparked controversy in the past for depicting young children in violent scenes (although that volume specifically contained no such images); and a fake university certificate framed on the wall belonging to a convicted child abuser. At that point, even the most rational people began to have doubts about the apparent randomness of the presence of such objects on the set: «What I can definitely say is that it was not intentional by me or Balenciaga. If it was intentional by someone else, I don’t know,» Demna implied.


Balenciaga in fact immediately filed a $25 million lawsuit against those responsible for the set design and production of the shoot, which was withdrawn shortly afterwards. On 28th November, after removing the campaigns, the fashion house apologised for what it called 'a series of serious errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility'. Initiatives to make amends have been many and frequent, yet although the furore of the first TikTok videos in which customers burned, destroyed or threw the brand's garments has slowly faded, the same cannot be said of the social hatred.

« 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. (...) We are partnering with a nonprofit organization called National Children’s Alliance (NCA) for a multiyear partnership, which I find absolutely amazing 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»

Demna told Vogue about the difficulties he has experienced in recent months, his desire to make amends by creating something concrete for children through his project with the National Children's Alliance, the introspection work that led him to review the direction of his future work, and his difficult relationship with fame, which was so difficult that he shortened his name to Demna last year. «I have always believed that I have grown and evolved through the hardships in my life, and this has been the very biggest one. What I realized of this situation is that making clothes is what makes me most happy. I was cutting and sewing garments with my team throughout most of December last year. I reconnected with where I started, and I realized the importance of it to me. It’s a serious job, you know, to make clothes. It’s not about creating image or buzz or any of those things. I am back to making jackets. That’s where this house started, and that’s where I started as a designer.» The future of the brand promises to be much less about mainstream culture than in the past. Demna's intention to take up and celebrate Cristobal's aesthetic had already been leaked with the archive video featuring the famous Spanish designer via Instagram because indeed Balenciaga's past seems far less problematic than his present. «I am not interested in pop culture, to be very honest. It came to us and not the other way,» Demna explained.

From the campaign scandal to the end of relations with Kanye, recent events have shown how complex it is nowadays to communicate with mainstream audiences while remaining provocative and the need for greater control at all stages of the work if one is to avoid running into very unpleasant incidents.