Balenciaga’s creative director Demna speaks out over scandal for the first time

·3 min read

Balenciaga’s creative director Demna has given his first interview following the brand’s “BDSM teddy bear” scandal last year.

In December, the Spanish fashion house found itself embroiled in controversy over two ad campaigns – one with a child model holding a “BDSM teddy bear”, and another featuring a Supreme Court decision on child pornography and a book about Belgian artist Michaël Borremans.

The fashion house received backlash as fans and celebrities accused the luxury brand of sexualising children and even normalising child abuse.

In a new interview, Balenciaga’s creative director Demna has publicly spoken about the scandal for the first time.

He told Vogue Paris that the widely condemned props like lawsuit papers related to a child pornography case, along with the casting of children holding a teddy bear that appeared to be dressed in bondage, were meant to reference “punk and DIY culture”.

Demna Gvasalia, who has gone by his first name since 2021 and is also the co-founder of the designer label Vetements, apologised for the two campaigns in the interview, calling the creative decision an “error of judgement”.

“There were control processes in place, people involved – internal and external – but we just did not spot what was problematic,” he told the publication.

“This was an error of judgment. I regret this a lot. We learned from this now and there are going to be closer and more attentive checks and validation steps applied before any image goes out. For this I want to say I am sorry; I sincerely apologize for what happened and to anyone who has been hurt by it.”

Demna, who has gone by his first name since 2021, said the scandal was an ‘error of judgement’ (AFP via Getty Images)
Demna, who has gone by his first name since 2021, said the scandal was an ‘error of judgement’ (AFP via Getty Images)

At the time of the scandal, Balenciaga “strongly condemned” child abuse and said the brand never intended to “include it in our narrative”.

As many fashion commentators and celebrities called for the boycott of the brand, Kim Kardashian condemned the luxury label in a social media post, writing that she was “shaken by the disturbing images” of the campaign as a “mother of four”.

She added: “The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalise child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society – period.”

Kim Kardashian spoke out against the Balenciaga campaign (Getty Images)
Kim Kardashian spoke out against the Balenciaga campaign (Getty Images)

In January, just a month after the scandal, it was reported that Kardashian was selling a number of her personal Balenciaga items at a reduced price.

After the fallout from the controversy, Demna also issued an apology for the brand’s “wrong artistic choice,” while president and CEO Cédric Charbit apologised “for the offence” the campaign caused. However, this is the first time Demna has explained how the campaign was allowed to run.

Elsewhere in the interview, the designer opened up about how the backlash has impacted the brand’s business and reputation.

“I have seen a lot of drama in my life, but this was particularly hard to live [through], a mistake to learn from. It was mostly painful for me because I could not explain all of this, but also, the name of Balenciaga and the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga is one I cherish and have the utmost respect and fascination for,” he said.

“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 labelled as something we’re not at all.”

Demna revealed that internal policies inside the fashion house have changed following the scandal, saying that Balenciaga has established new rules “of checks and validations that go through multiple channels, internal and external, for the image to be checked and approved”.