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OPINION

The Balenciaga Pedophile Scandal Hits the Parent Company in the Bottom Line

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

In November, the Spanish fashion house Balenciaga became the target of global scorn as it pushed out a couture fashion spread that blatantly was sexualizing children. The reaction to the release of its springtime fashion catalog was swift and loud, leading to numerous public apology statements from the company, attempts at deflection and finger-pointing by those involved in the production, and even a lawsuit was drawn up. Now, the numbers are showing even more bad news for the brand.

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Kering is the French fashion conglomerate that owns the Balenciaga brand, as well as Gucci and other high-end labels. A recent study of the company’s financials is showing that its holiday sales frame was severely impacted by the scandal and that it is facing a 4th Quarter return that is looking “as bad as it gets,” as described by one financial institution. This is encouraging in regard to our culture, as we should see this type of backlash from the marketplace when it comes to the promotion of predatory behavior of children – even if the outrage from within the fashion industry was far more muted.

(Vogue Magazine addressed the controversy with an equivocal approach to it all. It asked if things were getting overblown, with their writer stating they were more bored than offended by the visuals.)

At least there was sufficient public revulsion that the company is absorbing the effects. The entire premise is one of intentional provocation by a company with full corporate support. Already known for its willingness to cross lines of societal norms to generate publicity, the Balenciaga brain trust was in full support of this repugnant campaign, despite its public announcements claiming otherwise.

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The imagery of children posing with provocative items, such as teddy bears in bondage gear and crime scene tape, as well as other questionable items in the frame, was hardly incidental. In another fashion spread, the company positioned its handbags atop documents from Supreme Court cases involving child pornography. In another scene, a model was in a shot with a book visible that contains violent images of children by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. 

The public flailing from within this production lays out the culpability. Even as the company issued repeated public statements taking responsibility, it was clear that deflecting blame was the plan of action as pass-the-buck exercises played out for weeks. Balenciaga filed a lawsuit against the production company behind the layouts, North Six Inc. Photographer Gabriele Galimberti was cited as being responsible, he stated the set designers were the ones who placed the items, and then the blame was placed on the prop house that supplied items to be placed on set.

The desperation to avoid responsibility is countered by the lengthy collaborative process these fashion campaigns require. The shoots for the Spring 2023 line were produced last summer, and they are fed through an involved vetting process involving numerous executives and art departments. The company approves each step in the process, and Balenciaga representatives are on set every day in the shoots. The catalogs are constructed by teams of people, with oversight and approval a constant fixture. For anyone to claim they had been unaware of these controversial elements is desperately ridiculous.

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It has to be for this reason that the lawsuit filed by Balenciaga was quickly withdrawn a week later, with no explanation given. The company could not pretend that it had been duped by a nefarious artistic decision made by a production company, caught unaware of the elements that were displayed in the fashion spreads it was sending out into the marketplace. Likely this suit was for public display, to generate headlines showing the company was not at fault while counting on the ensuing withdrawal of the suit to garner far less press coverage.

This entire drama was intended to provoke a reaction and draw attention to the brand. The backlash this craven plan created was more negative than anticipated, and as a result, Balenciaga pulled the campaign entirely. But, this being the fashion industry, the fallout will likely be impermanent. Few, if any, will lose their jobs, and the company will endure as the hype of the next couture offerings will drown out the fading outrage. The controversy will be swept aside and regarded as passé, like last summer’s line of clothes.

At the least, the public has reacted appropriately and it has cost the company. The best thing that can come out of this is that Balenciaga and Kering were not financially rewarded for their venal ad campaigns. Maybe that will forestall any future efforts to push the standards of propriety and the predatory approach toward children.

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