After fashion shows mud and snow, very expensive broken shoes and handbags that look like the blue IKEA shoppers, the luxury fashion house Balenciaga has once again managed to draw attention to itself with a new campaign.
This time not because of the collection itself, but because of what the accompanying campaign images showed: young girls with teddy bears wearing bondage items such as braces and bdsm collars. One of the ads would also show a document that — after zooming in significantly — appears to refer to a child pornography lawsuit.
The campaign material sparked a storm of criticism online, prompting Balenciaga to remove all promotional images. In a statement, the originally Spanish fashion brand apologized, among other things, for the “disturbing documents” in the ads. According to the fashion house, “plush teddy bear handbags” should also not have been photographed with children.
Balenciaga is no stranger to a little controversy. In the past, the company has attracted attention with a pair of sweatpants where another piece of fabric was sewn on top, so that it looked like boxer shorts were sticking out of the elastic. According to critics, the fashion brand was guilty of cultural appropriation because low-rise pants became fashionable in the hip-hop community and were also used to criminalize black people.
The much talked about ‘broken’ shoes:
“Balenciaga likes to kick sacred cows,” says Georgette Koning, editor-in-chief of fashion and beauty magazine Mirror Mirror. “They keep coming up with different ways to bring the brand to attention.”
A decisive player in this connection is the fashion house’s creative director Demna Gvasalia. The Georgian took office in 2015 and has brought about many changes since then. “That man is a marketing genius,” says Koning. “His ideas are always picked up.”
For example, in 2017 Balenciaga came out with a blue leather bag – price tag: over $ 2100 – that looked a lot like the well-known shoppers from IKEA:
The fact that Balenciaga works together with Kim Kardashian also contributes to the marketing success, Koning believes. “Other fashion brands would have turned their noses up at that, and perhaps still do. They more often reach for models or actresses who have ‘achieved’ something. And in the eyes of many, Kim Kardashian has only become known for her looks. and connections .”
Some critics are now calling on Kardashian to speak out against Balenciaga’s latest campaign. In the Netherlands, the organization Free A Girl, which frees underage girls from the sex industry worldwide, is calling on De Bijenkorf to take action. De Bijenkorf is one of the few Balenciaga stores in the Netherlands.
Marketing professor Willemijn van Dolen, associated with the University of Amsterdam, suspects that the luxury fashion brand deliberately wanted to shock in order to gain attention. “This brand was already used to standing out, so they have to go step by step. They clearly succeeded, but with very negative reactions as a result. I can’t imagine that was the goal.”
Rather no riots
According to Van Dolen, more and more brands speak out about, for example, political and social issues, and anticipate their supporters and detractors. “But I can’t find any positive association in this campaign. I’m surprised no one has said: it’s not a good idea.”
But if it has been Balenciaga’s goal to gain attention, has the brand failed? “It’s really no longer the case that all publicity is good publicity,” Van Dolen knows from research. “Negative publicity damages the image people have of a brand. And it certainly applies to this brand, because it is already very well known. You still prefer not to have a riot with unknown brands, but then everyone will hear about you .”
Kim Kardashian turned heads at last year’s Met Gala with her (literally) head-to-toe black outfit:
Fashion publicist Koning looks at Balenciaga’s campaign from a different perspective. According to her, a fashion brand cannot go far enough. “It’s artistic freedom,” she says. “And something like this is not just done, it comes from a concept.”
As an example, Koning cites Balenciaga’s ‘kicked’ shoes. In a statement at the time, the fashion house said the sneakers were deliberately worn and dirty to show they were meant to be “worn for a lifetime”.
“Even if the brand pushes the boundaries, it is thought about,” says Koning.