In his first interview since the controversy, Demna told Vogue that having child models pose with suggestive set props — including what was thought to be a bondage-inspired teddy bear — was an "error of judgement," saying that he deeply "regrets" his team not being able to "spot what was problematic" while producing the holiday "gift shop" and Spring 2023 campaigns.
"We learned from this now and there are going to be closer and more attentive checks and validation steps applied before any image goes out," he said in the piece, published shortly after Balenciaga announced its new partnership with the National Children's Alliance. "For this I want to say I am sorry; I sincerely apologize for what happened and to anyone who has been hurt by it.”
Additionally, Demna went on to clarify that the teddy bears featured in the holiday campaign weren't inspired by BDSM but "punk and DIY culture." He also said that they were similar to the bears he used in his October 2022 show before explaining that he originally wanted the campaign to combine multiple different products, which was his "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," the Georgian designer continued, adding that he took responsibility for the mistake and would never condone child abuse.
He continued, "We should not have featured kids in images that included objects that were not related and inappropriate to them."
As for the Spring 2023 ads, Demna said that the props — including a controversial book by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans and an excerpt from the United States v. Williams ruling on child pornography — was a complete "coincidence," which "shocked" his entire team.
"I don't know how they ended up there. They were not supposed to be there," he said, while noting that the two campaigns were shot months apart. "I was completely stunned."
And with Balenciaga's upcoming show, Demna outlined his vision for the future of the fashion house, saying that he no longer wants to operate as a fashion provocateur but go back to the brand's original ethos, which 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 labelled as something we’re not at all," he continued before promising 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. “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."
Demna added, "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.”
You can read everything Demna told Vogue about the campaign controversy here.
Photo via Getty / Taylor Hill / FilmMagic