Balenciaga Saga: What’s True, What’s not, and What's gross
Everything you need to know about the Balenciaga Saga
**This post includes a voice-over that can be heard on the Thinking Out Loud podcast available on all major podcasting apps.
I have been open about my love-hate relationship with my Twitter feed. One minute I am laughing at a cat video. The next, I’m reading a tweet exposing a billion-dollar fashion house for child exploitation and sexualization.
It’s impressive the firestorm that can ignite because of one tweet from a large and mainly satirical Twitter.
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How it started
The tweet in question that set off the entire saga came from the account Shoe on Head. If you don’t know Shoe I would describe her as a red-pilled socialist, social media shit poster, and an account worth following.
In her tweet, she shared four images from Balenciaga’s website. Two are from the Gift Shop campaign featuring young children, who I would estimate to be 3 to 4 years old, holding teddy bear handbags with BDSM-styled outfits. (Some argue that they are goth outfits, um, okay) The children are surrounded by items you can purchase at Balenciaga’s gift shop, such as wine glasses, flasks, jewelry, and dog collars, to name a few.
The other two images are of an Adidas Hourglass handbag on top of strewn papers. If you zoom into the document under the bag, you can make out a page from the 2008 Supreme Court ruling United States v. Williams.
The ruling upheld the PROTECT Act, a 2003 federal law that criminalizes advertising, promoting, presenting, or distributing child pornography. Its acronym is Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today.
This same case was cited in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, which expanded the definition of child pornography to include any image that “appears to be” of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. This includes computer-generated or -altered depictions of minors.
The tweet went viral and led others to put a magnifying glass on other campaign images, not only on Balenciaga’s website but also on their Instagram and the Gift Shop campaign photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s Instagram.
Balenciaga’s Initial Response
An hour after the tweet was posted, Balenciaga wiped their Instagram, and Galimberti removed all images of the Gift Shop campaign from his Instagram account.
By the following day, the Gift Shop image had been changed, which was an interesting choice considering the image still featured a young child. Although the teddy bear handbag was off to the side this time, the image had even more items hidden in plain sight, which I will touch on later.
Eventually, Balenciaga removed all children’s images, including the hourglass purse image, and released its first statement. In the statement, Balenciaga acknowledges that the bears should never have been posed with children and that they plan on taking legal action. At the time, it was unclear what legal action they would take or against whom.
Galimberti also released a statement clarifying that he was only hired to light and shoot but had no control over what was in the images.
Where were the parents?
Of course, during this debacle, many are asking where the parents are. There is little known about the parents except for an anonymous comment from the parent of one child.
A British man who identified as the father of one of the children told the Daily Mail he was present at the shoot, which was "an enjoyable day out" – and insisted the bizarre pictures had been taken "totally out of context."
'No parent would actively encourage their child to take part in something which was pornographic, and I think the publicity surrounding what happened has been blown out of all proportion,' he said.
He says, "I feel desperately sorry for Gabriele, this had nothing directly to do with him, and he was merely taking the photographs as requested by Balenciaga. The parents of the children were at the shoot, and they approved of what took place.
Gabriele is an accomplished photographer and no way he deserves the abuse he has been getting. The parents knew what they were doing, and the children had a fantastic time on the shoot.
He's innocent and has been drawn into all this unfairly. It was a really enjoyable day, but it has now all been ruined because people have taken it all out of context and created an international media storm.
If I felt at any time that it was inappropriate, I would have stepped in, and I'm sure the other parents would have done the same, but no one did."
Another source revealed to Daily Mail the parents of the children had been 'active participants in the day-long shoot in Paris earlier this month.
Of course, everyone is watching closely and digging into Balenciaga’s images. They replace the Gift Shop images with more from the Spring 2023 collection. This is when eagle eyes spot more interesting props.
Amazon's book description says As Sweet As It Gets, published in 2014 presents, "over 100 works created by the artist over a 14-year period in all media, this publication includes many works not previously reproduced in books or catalogues, offering the most complete overview of Borremans' oeuvre to date."
The example images in As Sweet As It Gets are not nearly as disturbing as those in Fire From the Sun.
Believing that the book was Fire From the Sun many were justifiably upset because of the images in the book.
A description posted on Amazon says that Borremans' artwork in Fire From the Sun features children who are "presented alone or in groups against a studio-like backdrop that negates time and space while underlining the theatrical atmosphere and artifice that exists throughout Borremans' recent work."
"Reminiscent of cherubs in Renaissance paintings, the toddlers appear as allegories of the human condition, their archetypal innocence contrasted with their suggested deviousness," the book's description says.
What are these images that contrast their innocence with "suggested deviousness?" They are paintings of young nude children, some dismembered, playing with the dismembered limbs.
A review of the 2018 exhibition on the website Elephant.art said, "In the most evident terms, Fire From the Sun portrays children aged two or three in various stages of play with fire and what appear to be human limbs, even hair. The children are all light-skinned Sistine-style cherubs, sometimes covered in blood. The children do not appear distressed or disturbed (though some viewers at the gallery may be)."
Other works of Borreman include images that depict satanism, bondage, and cannibalism. Some images are similar to Balenciaga designs worn by Kim Kardashian.
In another image of the Spring 2023 collection, there is a framed document in the background with the name John Phillip Fisher.
Many have tied this to a Michigan man by the name of John Phillip Fisher who was convicted of molesting his granddaughter between the ages of 4 and 16.
A tail of two campaigns
The initial thought was that the first four images that started this entire saga were from the same campaign and shot by the same photographers.
That is not the case, and it is essential to point out, not only for transparency but also because it matters when we evaluate the actions of Balenciaga.
Gift Shop Campaign
The Gift Shop images featuring children with teddy bear handbags and gift shop items were photographed by Gabriele Galimberti.
Galimberti is a National Geographic photographer and has done projects titled The Ameriguns and Toy Stories. Both of which feature individuals and children staged with their belongings.
Balenciaga collaborated with Galimberti for the Gift Shop campaign to photograph images inspired by his Toy Stories project, which features children posing with their arranged toys.
In "Galimberti's statement, he says, "As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to light the given scene and take the shots according to my signature style. As usual, the direction of the campaign and the shooting is not in the hands of the photographer."
He emphasized that he had nothing to do with the Spring 2023 campaign that featured the SCOTUS document.
Spring 2023 campaign
Balenciaga confirmed to DailyMail.com that Chris Maggio shot the Spring 2023 campaign and that they were not taking legal action against Galimberti, nor would they be taking legal action against Maggio. Instead, the company will target the creative teams behind both shoots, none of whom are full-time employees.
The Spring 2023 campaign was produced by North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins. North Six has produced many of Balenciaga’s campaigns and has previously worked with photographer Chris Maggio.
Chris Maggio has yet to comment or release a statement.
Balenciaga files suit and releases a second statement
The Friday following Balenciaga’s initial statement, they file a lawsuit in the Manhattan Supreme Court against production company North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins for $25 million.
The lawsuit states the following as the reasons for the suit.
“Upon information and belief, Defendants, without Balenciaga’s knowledge or authorization, included certain documents in the campaign photographs, including an excerpt from a court decision upholding a criminal prohibition against child pornography. Balenciaga believes that the Defendants’ inexplicable acts and omissions were malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless. As a result of the Defendants’ misconduct, members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and horrifically associated Balenciaga with the repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision. Defendants are liable to Balenciaga for all harm resulting from this false association.”
The New York Times reports that the attorney for set designer Nicholas Des Jardis said the legal document in the Spring 2023 campaign came from “numerous boxes” rented from a prop house.
In her statement, Mr. Des Jardins’s lawyer said, "there certainly was no malevolent scheme going on.” Balenciaga representatives were on set during the shoot, “overseeing it and handling papers and other props, and Des Jardins as a set designer was not responsible for image selection from the shoot.”
Ultimately, image selection would have fallen to the brand.
As Balenciaga stated, no lawsuit has been filed concerning the Gift Shop campaign, nor does there appear to be any intent to do so. According to their latest statement, I assume this is because the Gift Shop campaign was produced in-house. You can’t exactly sue yourself.
Statement from Balenciaga’s CEO
Where is Kim K?
Eight days after the initial tweet went viral, six days following Balenciaga’s initial statement, and three days after Balenciaga filed suit Kim Kardashian, one of Balenciaga’s most recognized ambassadors, released the following “placeholder” statement.
Why do I call this a placeholder statement? Because it is just enough to acknowledge the firestorm, it is also an attempt to buy time to determine if the scandal will blow over so she doesn’t have to forfeit the very lucrative brand deal with Balenciaga.
Yup! Kim K., a mother of four children, is hoping this whole thing will blow over so she can keep her money at the expense of the innocence of other children.
Note that other prominent ambassadors, such as Justin Bieber, Nicole Kidman, and Bella Hadid, have yet to comment or release statements.
Symbolism was hidden in plain sight?
Many professional fashion photographers have commented on the rigorous process a campaign must go through before it is published. And that excruciating detail goes into every single item in an image and the placement of every item. Not to mention that the concept has to be approved before it is even shot.
In a situation such as this, we are hyper-focusing on every item, and it is fair to ask why it is there. There has been speculation on the images of both campaigns and the common themes that tie the two together.
In the Spring 2023 campaign, we see the US Supreme Court case United States v. Williams. The case challenged the definition of child pornography, Michael Borremans, whose artwork depicts nude, mutilated children playing with their dismembered limbs and a diploma that possibly has the name of a convicted child molester.
But let's also look closely at the Gift Shop campaign images. I will point out a few things that have stood out to people that you likely wouldn't think twice about but, within the context of this entire saga, seems to say more.
On the bookshelf to the boy's right is a drawing of what appears to be a little demon. On the bottom left-hand corner of the mat is Balenciaga caution tape with Balenciaga spelled with two "A" s. Meaning Balenciaga starts Baal. Nowhere else is Balenciaga misspelled.
Baal has a different meaning depending on the context and religion. The Hebrew Bible includes the use of the term about various Levantine deities, often with application to Hadad, who was decried as a false god. That use was taken over into Christianity and Islam, sometimes under the form of Beelzebub in demonology.
Beelzebub or Beelzebul was identified by the writers of the New Testament as Satan, the "prince" of the demons.
Some believe Baal is another name for Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice.
It just creepy, AF.
If you divide “Baal-enci-aga” and translate it from Latin to English it translates as “Baal is the king”
I will be honest. This one could be a stretch, and a heart pillow is common. The stitching creates the “bowl,” and it’s hard to see fully see the stitching because of the angle. However, some have mentioned it, and it was close enough I thought it worth pointing out. The black heart pillow or dog bed in the bottom left-hand corner has stitching that is very similar to a symbol used to signify “girl lover.”
Another thing to consider is the source of the image below featuring the symbolism does not have a source.
But when you look at all these themes as a whole is it really that much of a stretch? Should we not be questioning everything?
Who is working at Balenciaga?
The idea that both of these campaigns made it to print and distribution with unintended consequences is laughable. There are simply too many people on set who approve the concepts and final product before publication. It is hard to believe it was not intentional. If it wasn't intentional, then it was gross negligence.
There has also been much speculation about who was on set, what is Balenciaga's process, and who was ultimately responsible for the campaign. I am not going to add to the speculation, and considering that there has been a suit filed, that information will eventually come to light.
Who is Balenciaga’s Creative Director Demna Gvasalia?
I am, however, going to bring one individual front and center because in every fashion house, there is one top dog for branding, campaigns, and esthetics, and that is the creative director.
Demna Gvasallia is the creative director of Balenciaga and has been in the position since October 2015. If anyone had a say in these two Balenciaga campaigns, Demna would be suspect number one.
It also would not be a stretch that he was responsible for the bizarre, what I would describe as swag bags that featured baby dolls and accessories covered in blood. This can be seen in this video; if you pay attention, the man standing next to the person describing the bag's contents is also featured in an image on Demna's Instagram page.
Demna is one of three Russian creatives who have made a name for themselves in the fashion industry. Gosha Rubchinskiy, Demna Gvasalia, and stylist Lotta Volkova have worked together through the years, including with Balenciaga and Adidas.
In 2014 Demna founded the fashion brand Vetements. In a Vice article titled Vetements Nation, featuring the global, diverse, and influential sphere of Vetements, Demna is quoted as, "Someone wrote that Lotta, Gosha, and I grew up on child pornography and radiation from Chernobyl, which is why we're so fucked up," Demna laughs. A quote that is posted on his Instagram still today.
Let's also take a quick look at some of Demna's closest affiliations.
Demna has issued a personal statement as Creative Director
Who is Lotta Volkova?
First Lotta Volkova has worked closely with Demna on styling at Balenciaga when he joined in 2015, but was also in charge of "the casting, the styling and... also consulting Demna with the collection," Volkova told 032c magazine in 2016.
Lotta received a lot of attention after a Twitter thread pointed out some disturbing images on her Instagram page.
Lotta has put her Instagram page to private since this thread went viral.
But let’s take a moment and talk about her Instagram page and what she herself has said about her Instagram feed.
Lotta’s posts are disturbing and when you look closer there are some common themes that make it more disturbing, such as images of violence, disturbing images of children, bondage, teddy bears, and satanic imagery.
Including an image with #Moloch which is a pagan god to who children were sacrificed.
In 2016 Hypebeast did a profile on Lotta and described her Instagram as “equal parts mood board and resource; Volkova has used the social networking app to cast shows for both Gvasalia and Rubchinskiy in the past.”
Lotta said, “I am really into Instagram, for example. I really like it when people write to me that they like my work and that they find it new and different because I am taking the side of different cultures and am mixing subcultural codes rather than just being glossy and glam.”
In the viral tweet thread, an image of a woman dressed all in red holding red dolls was identified as Lotta Volkova. However, later in the thread, it was clarified that this was not Lotta Volkova but a model who appeared on the catwalk of the Mercedes-Benz China Fashion Week on March 31, 2016, according to Getty Images. The model displayed fashion by Sheguang Hu, a Beijing-based haute couture designer who posted a similar photo to his Instagram account on April 2, 2016.
But it just goes to show how prevalent and common satanic imagery is in the fashion world.
A spokesperson for Lotta told Newsweek "she condemns the abuse of children in any form."
"Lotta Volkova has not worked with Balenciaga or its team since 2018 and she has in no way participated in the brand's recent Instagram or advertising campaigns," the spokesperson told Newsweek.
Who is Gosha Rubchinskiy?
Gosha Rubchinskiy is the final member of the Russian-born fashion trio. His active collaboration is a sneaker line called GR-Uniforma x Adidas which launched on October 30 of this year.
Gosha replied with a wink emoji to a 2015 Instagram post of Lotta’s featuring a bound teddy bear. Lotta has cast shows for both Gosha and Demna.
In December 2018, GQ reported that Gosha had pressured a 16-year-old boy to send him explicit photos of himself. The young boy posted conversations he had with Gosha over Instagram and the WhatsApp messenger app that appear to show the designer prodding for nude photos.
In the conversations, Gosha asks the boy, “Send me now something from the bathroom,” when the boy resists and says he cannot because his mother is in the room, Gosha responds, “You can go to the bathroom and do it quickly please,” the message reads. “I don’t believe your mum comes to the bathroom together with you.”
A representative for Gosha defended the practice, stating that this is how many castings are now done via Instagram. Requisition photos of the face and body, sometimes topless, and “Sometimes photos in underwear are required in order to understand the volume of hips.”
Gosha had denied any wrongdoing.
Some say that if you look hard enough, you can find meaning in anything and that if what you interpret is child sexualization or exploitation, you are too sensitive, and the problem is you.
You bet your butt I am sensitive when it comes to children. And I would argue there is something wrong with you if you are so frivolous with the innocence of children.
The worst possible scenario I have seen floating around is an underground child pornography ring, and the images are coded somehow. I am not saying this is impossible, but does it have to be that bad to merit upset and outcry?
Let’s do a sort of Occum’s razor-type exercise. There are several possible explanations for this scenario. And I typically fall on the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions.
I do not doubt that what is depicted in these images was intentional. Balenciaga admitted it in their latest statement.
But, let’s say the intent was to be tongue and cheek. The objective was not to sexualize these children but to hide easter eggs and juxtapose the innocence of children with the adult themes of the teddy bears.
That alone is jacked! The fact that Balenciaga found amusement in pairing the innocence of children with iconography that is sexually or satanically explicit demonstrates the immorality of the industry. It is well known that the art and fashion world is rampant with sexual depravity and evil. But in this instance, I point the finger at Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia.
Let me remind you the Gift Shop campaign, which featured the children and teddy bear bags, is not subject to a lawsuit. That is because Balenciaga’s hands are all over it. What are they going to do? Sue themselves?
Balenciaga, in their statement, took responsibility for that photo shoot. They thought this was ok, and it wasn’t until they were called out did they attempt to backtrack. But the question is do they see what they did as wrong or are they simply trying to calm the storm?
This leads me to conclude these topics are so common in Balenciaga’s circle, and the fashion industry as a whole, they didn’t even think twice about what was being depicted in these images or exploiting the innocence of these children. Need I remind you of the bloody swag bag with a baby doll?
And unfortunately, the parents were so in awe of the perceived opportunity they also played along.
Everywhere we look, children are being sexualized. Either through media or even in our public school system. And the entertainment and fashion industry is the worst. This is why Gvasalia thought he could get away with exploiting these children and placing sinister easter eggs in these campaigns.
Our society no longer values and protects the innocence of children and is increasingly exposing children to content and ideas before they are mature enough to understand the meaning or consent.
Child sexualization has been allowed to continue to increase under the guise of tolerance, affirmation, or for personal validation and amusement.
I do not support Balenciaga, but many of us are not running to pay $1,790 for a trash bag pouch. However, Balenciaga has a very close relationship with Adidas, and their branding is all over Balenciaga. Should we consider voting with our dollar when it comes to Adidas?
Also, Balenciaga is just a tiny part of an influential fashion group Kering which includes fashion houses Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen, to name a few.
I don’t shop at any of these brands, but I will continue to call them out and not support any partnerships or collaborations. Do the same thing that has been done with Netflix, Disney, and others. Stop giving them your money.
What else can you do? Speak out.
We cannot fear being attacked and called names because we seek to protect the innocence of children. We must be loud and continue to call out child sexualization. And call out those who remain silent in the hope that they can continue to line their pockets with money.
Child innocence is precious and worth protecting.
I would love to hear your thoughts!
**This is a developing story
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