Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia ‘dragging house down’ amid campaign scandal – New York Post


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As Balenciaga’s creative director since 2015, Demna Gvasalia often wears a black fabric full-face mask, especially when being photographed.
Now, with backlash growing over two controversial Balenciaga campaigns, Demna, as he is known, may need the mask to hide from a growing number of people in the fashion industry who said he’s failing to take real responsibility for the fiasco — despite an apology from the brand Monday.
One of the now-notorious ads, which have inflamed the internet, features sad-eyed toddlers toting teddy-bear handbags adorned with what looks like bondage gear. Another shows a ladylike $3,000 Balenciaga x Adidas Hourglass purse next to a pile of papers that includes a Supreme Court document questioning if laws against the promotion of child pornography limited the First Amendment.
The Business of Fashion rescinded its Global Award — due to have been presented to Demna at the website’s annual gala on Thursday — describing the Balenciaga images as “wholly inconsistent with our values.”
Kim Kardashian, a Balenciaga brand ambassador who wore one of the designer’s famous face masks to the 2021 Met Gala, was hounded until she issued a statement: “As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” she said, adding that she is “re-evaluating [her] relationship with the brand.”
But one big question remains: How in the world could such bad taste have happened, given the multiple layers of people who work on a fashion campaign?
Olga Liriano, who’s spent years in the fashion industry as a model booker, photo director and top magazine editor, said it is ridiculous to think Demna and the top echelon at Balenciaga didn’t know what the campaigns were going to look like once they were photographed. (The teddy-bear ad was shot by Gabriele Galimberti, who has said he was told the theme was “punk.”)
“Oh please,” Liriano said. “Demna doesn’t put out one image that he hasn’t approved. Demna is not only the creative director, he’s driving all the imagery behind the campaigns. To blame a production company is nuts.”
And yet, last week Balenciaga filed a $25 million lawsuit against North Six, the producers of the ad campaign that included the child pornography court ruling.
A spokesperson for North Six, hired to organize Balenciaga’s 2023 Garde-Robe campaign with models including Nicole Kidman, Isabelle Huppert and Bella Hadid, told The Post that it was ludicrous for the fashion brand to sue as if it had been in the dark about the campaign.
“We’re not talking about some Joe Schmoe tractor company in Brooklyn,”a source with knowledge of the situation told The Post. “This is Balenciaga — where they have a top-of-the-line team when it comes to line retouchers, editors everything. They’re playing (North Six) for fools, throwing a summons their way and expecting people to believe the head of Balenciaga didn’t know what was going on. The lawsuit threat looks like a performative stunt to distract from what really happened.”
If it’s a stunt, it wouldn’t shock veteran fashion industry insiders who say that creative directors like Demna have too long gotten away with dabbling in shock and trash culture.
“He’s gotten too big for his britches the way a lot of them have,” said a Paris-based fashion insider who has worked in the industry for 35 years. “All these [creative directors] think they can walk on water and can do no wrong. No one says boo to them. They’re too scared. Now this guy is dragging the house down. It was one of the most elegant in the business but now he has Balenciaga bringing out leather trash bags.
“It’s scandalous to me what’s happened to this house.”
The North Six rep pointed out that Balenciaga has only served the company with a summons, not an actual lawsuit, but in so doing has effectively smeared its name.
“North Six has a stellar reputation and they’ve worked with Balenciaga in the past,” the rep said. “They are in charge of production and logistics. North Six was not there when the papers and props and all the final arrangements were put together on the set. They contracted out to the set designer [Nicholas San Jardins] for that — but this isn’t about throwing the set designer under the bus either.
But, other insiders said, Demna and his team may be so insulated from the realities of the outside world that they may think they can get away with using companies they outsource to as a scapegoat.
“These houses are run by conglomerates and men and women in suits,” Liriano said. “They tiptoe around the ‘creative geniuses’ because they don’t want to upset their fragile egos. And Balenciaga under Demna has been very successful the past couple of seasons. There’s no one reining anyone in.”
A lot has changed in the great Paris fashion houses since Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga founded his couturier, now owned by the giant conglomerate Kering, in 1919.
The rise of so-called fashion “geniuses” like Demna, 41, are enabled by the fashion press, industry insiders told The Post, reinforcing the “Zoolander” bubble that top designers and their teams live in. In the past two years alone, The New York Times has published fawning stories with headlines like “The Triumphant Rebirth of Balenciaga Couture,” “Balenciaga Goes Where Fashion Hasn’t Dared Go Before” and “The Year of Balenciaga,” as well as a profile of Demna in its “The Greats” series.
“He uses fashion to communicate the world at this time,” Nicole Kidman said about Demna earlier this year, comparing him to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. “Stanley would always say to me, ‘Don’t ever put me on a pedestal. Let me have bad ideas and make mistakes, otherwise, we’re done for.’”
Because of the cult of personality in fashion, photographers also are sometimes given the kind of creative control that no one questions — and may be why controversial photographers like Terry Richardson have been able to get away with questionable on-set behavior for decades.
And whether it’s an underage Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein, a waifish Kate Moss walking the runway or even models miming doing drugs for Sisley, fashion loves to push the limits of taste.
“People in the industry often want to push the envelope and be what they think is cool and edgy — but they don’t think things through and nobody will tell them no,” Lorin Cole, a veteran makeup artist and former Paris-based model told The Post.
Those working under anointed stars like Demna fear criticizing anything because they might lose their positions or be blackballed, insiders said.
Cole, who has worked for some of the biggest photographers and fashion houses in Europe and the US in front of and behind the camera, said the average fashion industry employee would not dare speak up or raise questions about a bondage-theme teddy bear or the message seemingly sent by using a child-pornography document in an ad.
“When you have a high-end job like that you’re not going to say anything to rock the boat because you’ll lose your job,” Cole said.
Its hand seemingly forced by social media and headlines, Balenciaga released a mea culpa in an Instagram post on Monday afternoon.
“We strongly condemn child abuse; it was never our intent to include it in the narrative,” the luxury company wrote in the statement.
The brand pulled the ads, and now is condemning the campaign, writing: “Our plush bear bags and the gift collection should have not been featured with children.
“This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images,” the fashion label added. “The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone.”
Elsewhere in the apology, the company addressed the inclusion of the Supreme Court document.
“The second, separate campaign for spring 2023, which was meant to replicate a business office environment, included a photo from a page in the background from a Supreme Court ruling ‘United States v. Williams’ 2008 which confirms as illegal and not protected by freedom of speech the promotion of child pornography,” Balenciaga wrote. “All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents.”
They added, “They turned out to be [real legal] papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama.”
All excuses aside, some insiders believe it comes down to fashion’s competitive need to be seen as provocative and creating a constantly new art form.
“They want to do something that’s never been done,” Cole said. “But everything pretty much has been done before.”


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