French luxury brand Balenciaga apologized for its advertising campaign that showed two young children posing with bears wearing BDSM-style harnesses and featured court documents that mentioned “virtual child porn.”
“We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign,” the company said in a statement posted to its Instagram story on Tuesday. “We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”
Two hours later, a second statement appeared on the company’s Instagram story: “We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign. We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign photoshoot. We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children safety and well-being.”
The advertisements, which promoted Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection, have been removed from the company’s website and wiped from social media.
Conservative commentators were quick to sound the alarm on Monday, accusing the company of platforming “groomers,” sexualizing children, and producing “child pornography.” Some Twitter users pointed out “demonic” elements, like blacked-out eyes and the name of the demon “Baal.”
Right-wing personalities were also quick to use the Balanciaga photos to make anti-trans and anti-gay remarks. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson said he thought the ad was part of a larger trend of “adults crossing the line…into deep involvement with the sexuality of children,” adding a hateful comment about trans children. In a tweet, Ben Shapiro tied the ads to the presence of BDSM gear at Pride parades.
The anti-LGBTQ reaction on right-wing media to the Balenciaga campaign comes after months of focus by conservative media on dismantling LGBTQ rights. It also comes just days after someone stormed into a gay club in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, shooting and killing five people and injuring another 18. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime. Two of the dead were trans.
As the backlash against Balenciaga continued, the company’s apology directly condemned the content of the ads and detailed the brand’s plans to investigate how they came to be. Many of the 130,000 tweets about Balenciaga that have been posted in the past few days show that people don’t think the apology is good enough, however.
“Balenciaga is very much cancelled in my eyes, I don’t care what explanation they come up with. don’t mess with children,” one Twitter user wrote on Tuesday.
Exodus Cry, a Christian advocacy group that opposes sex work and pornography, said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News that Balenciaga’s apology was a “collective win for everyone who called out the billion dollar company.”
“It’s clear that Balenciaga got the message: it’s NEVER OKAY to sexualize children,” the statement said. “We know this will serve as a lesson to many other companies, whether large or small, who are tempted to introduce similar disturbing themes into their products or advertising.”
Balenciaga was one of many companies to cut ties with Kanye West in October after he made antisemitic remarks, which conservative commenters brought up. Some people, like conservative commentator Candace Owens, called on longtime Balenciaga fan Kim Kardashian to speak out. Others implied that what West did was not as bad as this.