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Balenciaga sues production company over outrage-inducing ad campaign

French fashion brand Balenciaga has filed a $25 million lawsuit against a production company it hired to produce one of two advertising campaigns that have drawn condemnation online. 

The ad in question ran on Instagram and showed a purse on top of a document-strewn desk. One document in the background was a partially visible page from a court ruling related to child pornography. Balenciaga on Monday confirmed the document was from a 2008 Supreme Court case, United States v. Williams, which held it is not unconstitutional to forbid the promotion of child pornography.

According to the company’s lawsuit, Balenciaga hired independent production company North Six and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins, both of New York, to create the ad for the company’s spring/summer 2023 collection. The North Six ad “included certain documents in the campaign photographs, including an excerpt from a court decision upholding a criminal prohibition against child pornography” without Balenciaga’s knowledge, claims the suit, filed late Friday in state court in Manhattan.

A representative from North Six confirmed with CBS MoneyWatch Monday that the company managed the ad shoot that included the court document, but didn’t comment further. 

Last week, the ad including the page from the Supreme Court case circulated online at the same time as another Balenciaga campaign — not produced by North Six — which featured children holding teddy bear bags dressed in bondage-style garb. A social media firestorm erupted over the images, with critics saying the ads normalized child abuse. The teddy bear campaign even caused reality-star-turned-entrepreneur Kim Kardashian to reevaluate her relationship with Balenciaga, she said on Sunday

Balenciaga released a statement on Monday describing the images as the result of two concurrent but separate ad campaigns, and apologizing for both.

The teddy bear bag ad “should not have been featured with children,” Balenciaga said. “This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images,” the company said. “The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone.”

Balenciaga said the North Six ad was supposed to feature random documents in the background and “was meant to replicate a business office environment.”

“All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents” the statement reads. “They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama.”

“Blown out of context”

Balenciaga is suing North Six for “extensive damages” it says the ad caused.

It claims that “members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and horrifically associated Balenciaga with the repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.”

Balenciaga last week deleted all of its Instagram posts, with the brand saying the teddy bear bags “should not have been featured with children in this campaign.”  

A spokesperson representing Des Jardins said Balenciaga was well aware of how the finished “office environment” ad would look.

“Everyone from Balenciaga was on the shoot and was present on every shot and worked on the edit of every image in post production,” Des Jardins’ spokesman said. “This has all been blown out of context and we are hiring a legal team to support Nick on this which is why no one has commented yet.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified North Six as the producer and Des Jardins as the set designer of the teddy bear bag ads as well as the “office environment” ad. In fact, North Six and Des Jardins only worked on the “office environment” ad.

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