Balenciaga suing production company for $25M over controversial ad campaign

ByParija Kavilanz, CNN Business | Lianne Kolirin, CNN and Toyin Owoseje, CNNWire
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Balenciaga suing company for $25M over controversial campaign
Monday, the fashion house apologized for the campaign which also shows a child holding toys in bondage attire.

Luxury fashion house Balenciaga is suing the production company behind its Spring 2023 ad campaign after paperwork about a Supreme Court ruling on child pornography was identified in one of the images.

The label, which is already facing condemnation over a different campaign involving children, initiated the lawsuit Friday in the New York State Supreme Court. Balenciaga is seeking at least $25 million in damages from production company North Six, Inc., set designer Nicholas Des Jardins and his company

Balenciaga hired North Six and Des Jardins to develop and produce its Spring 2023 campaign, according to the court summons.

It said the campaign, which featured actor Nicole Kidman and model Bella Hadid, among others, was meant to replicate a corporate environment, with shots staged in a "Manhattan office space."

On a messy desk featured in one image, however, the clutter visibly included a page from the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Williams, a case "which confirms as illegal and not protected by freedom of speech the promotion of child pornography," according to a statement Balenciaga provided to CNN Monday.

The court document claims Balenciaga, which is owned by French luxury group Kering, had no knowledge of and did not authorize the inclusion of this particular piece of paperwork.

In its statement to CNN, Balenciaga said "all the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama."

Balenciaga said in the summons it believes the defendants' "inexplicable acts and omissions were malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless."

The court filing alleges that, as a result of the defendants' actions, "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." North Six and Des Jardins, it states, should be held liable for "all harm resulting from this false association."

Amelia K. Brankov, an attorney for Nicholas Des Jardins and his company Nicholas Des Jardins LLC, said in an emailed statement to CNN that "there certainly was no malevolent scheme going on. As Balenciaga is aware, numerous boxes of documents simply were sourced from a prop house as rental items."

"Moreover, representatives from Balenciaga were present at the shoot, overseeing it and handling papers and props," Brankov's statement continued, "and Des Jardins as a set designer was not responsible for image selection from the shoot."

A representative for North Six said the production company "did not have creative input or control over the shoot. North Six was not on set during the final set arrangements."

Bad judgment

As it continues with its own investigation into the matter, Balenciaga said it is taking accountability for its lack of oversight and control of the campaign images.

"We are reinforcing the structures around our creative processes and validation steps. We want to ensure that new controls mark a pivot and will prevent this from happening again," it said in a statement. "Balenciaga reiterates its sincere apologies for the offense we have caused and extends its apologies to talents and partners."

Balenciaga also addressed widespread outrage and condemnation of another recent campaign that featured children cuddling teddy bears dressed in fetish clothing.

"We strongly condemn child abuse; it was never our intent to include it in our narrative," the company said. "Our plush bear bags and the Gift collection should not have been featured with children. This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images. The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone."

Kim Kardashian, who has been an ambassador for the fashion label, addressed the campaign Sunday after receiving a barrage of messages from fans and commentators urging her to denounce the brand.

Kardashian said she is "re-evaluating" her working relationship with Balenciaga and that as a mother, she was left "shaken by the disturbing images."

"The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society - period," she told her 74.2 million Twitter followers.

Balenciaga had apologized for the campaign last week, saying it had "immediately removed the campaign from all platforms."

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti told CNN in a statement last week the direction and shooting of the campaign featuring the teddy bears were out of his hands.

"I am not in a position to comment (on) Balenciaga's choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose (sic) the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same... as usual, the direction of the campaign and of the shooting are not on the hands of the photographer."

Both North Six and a representative for Nicholas Des Jardins LLC said they were not involved in the plush bear campaign.