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Balenciaga designer vows to be less 'instinctive' after ad campaign featuring toddlers, teddy bears in bondage


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Balenciaga’s creative director admitted to an "error in judgment" over controversial ads from last year that involved children, saying in his first interview since the scandal that going forward he will have to rely less on his instincts and take a "more mature and serious approach" to designing campaigns. 

"From my personal point of view, as creative director, I will have to question absolutely everything now," he added. "It really changes my way of working, which has previously been more instinctive; doing something that would be seen as maybe provocative just because I was thinking, Oh, that’s fun," Demna Gvasalia said in an interview with Vogue. 

Balenciaga scrapped its holiday campaign that featured imagery of children holding teddy bear bags in sexually suggestive costumes late last year after they sparked outrage. In the ads, the teddy bears wore leather harnesses that appeared to reference BDSM but Demna Gvasalia, the company’s creative director, claimed they were meant to be punk. 

He explained to Vogue in an interview published Thursday that the photographer they chose often took photos of kids surrounded by toys, adding, "we thought we would be able to include the variety of products and items of the gift shop assortment into each picture." Some of the pictures also included other adult items like wine glasses. 

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"This is where my error comes in," he told the magazine. "That was my big mistake. I didn’t realize how inappropriate it would be to put these objects [in the image] and still have the kid in the middle. It unfortunately was the wrong idea and a bad decision from me. We should not have featured kids in images that included objects that were not related and inappropriate to them."

Demna said that his work has been called "provocative" in the past but "the issue with the campaigns was absolutely not in any way part of my provocative design language—never, ever would I have an idea to mess around with such an awful and horrible thing as child abuse."

The artistic director previously apologized last year over the campaign, saying it was "inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them."

He told Vogue going forward he would have to be more "objective" in his work and wants to focus more on the clothes than the campaign’s art design. 

"The show will become more about showing the collection than creating a moment," he said. "I’ve realized that that can take a lot of attention away from my actual work, which is making clothes. I want to make sure that’s what people are looking at, because I think my value as a creative is designing the product and not being a showman."

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He said the image department would be restructured to allow for more checks and necessary approvals of images going forward. 

"This is part of my learning: I will have a more mature and serious approach to everything I release as an idea or an image. I have decided to go back to my roots in fashion as well as to the roots of Balenciaga, which is making quality clothes—not making image or buzz."

Regarding a spring 2023 ad campaign that was released around the same time and showed a Supreme Court opinion in a child pornography case as a prop promoting a handbag, Demna called it a "coincidence" saying it wasn’t connected to the other campaign and had no idea how that particular document would have ended up in the ad.

"I was shocked when I heard about their presence on the set of the Spring 2023 campaign," he said. "It was a set of negligent and unfortunate but not intentional coincidences." 

He said his team had originally been told all of the documents in the ad were fake. 

"I have seen a lot of drama in my life, but this was particularly hard to live [through], a mistake to learn from," adding that he reveres the legacy of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga.

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"Balenciaga is a house that is over one century old and is based on strong and beautiful creative values, and I have been busy doing all in my creative power to bring it to its modern relevance, and suddenly we were under attack and labeled as something we’re not at all," he said. "We certainly made a huge and stupid mistake with the gifting campaign, and we certainly have learned from it."

Fox News Digital has reached out to Balenciaga for comment. 

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