Balenciaga’s creative director Demna has apologised for an ad campaign that appeared to reference child abuse and vowed to drop his provocative showmanship in an interview with Vogue.
The ads, published late last year, featured children holding bags designed to look like teddy bears, but with studs and harnesses, and surrounded by adult items including wine glasses.
It sparked huge condemnation online, including from celebrities close to Demna and the brand such as Kim Kardashian.
In his first published interview since the furore, Demna (who dropped his last name in 2021), told the fashion bible there was never any intention to reference abuse.
“I have seen a lot of drama in my life, but this was particularly hard… a mistake to learn from,” he said in the interview, published late Thursday.
“I realise that my work has been seen as provocative, but this specific situation would never be part of my, you know, provocative nature,” he added.
Demna told Vogue that the bears were a reference to punk, not BDSM.
But he had no explanation for props used in another series of photographs, including a printout from a US Supreme Court ruling about child pornography.
Balenciaga said it would sue the company that shot the campaign when the uproar happened.
“What I can definitely say is that it was not intentional by me or Balenciaga. If it was intentional by someone else, I don’t know,” Demna said.
The Georgian designer said the episode had fundamentally changed his way of working, which had often involved high-profile celebrity endorsements and stunt promotions, such as a range of trash bags that cost around $1,800.
“I will have to question absolutely everything now. 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,” he said.
His next show, at Paris Fashion Week next month, will be a stripped-down affair that focuses just on the clothes.
“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.”
He did not address the other recent controversy around his ties with Kanye West, who opened Balenciaga’s last show in Paris, walking out into a mud-filled hangar.
Balenciaga cut all links with the rapper after his string of controversial comments, including an outburst denounced as anti-Semitic.