Kim Kardashian is reevaluating her relationship with Balenciaga, claiming that in speaking with Balenciaga, she believes they understand the seriousness of "the issue."
If they do, it’s because they’ve been canceled. By "the issue."
All of this hit the fan this week because of a new Balenciaga campaign, in which the French uber-luxury brand launched their holiday gift campaign, which included a teddy bear in bondage gear. If that wasn’t bad enough, Balenciaga said hold my chardonnay and ran an ad campaign for the sale that included highly inappropriate imagery of children.
From there, it was a week-long finger-pointing excise between Balenciaga and the creatives behind the campaign as to who knew and approved what details and when they did so. That’s when the celebrities and influencers began to pile on. As of today, Friday, the brand still has not been able to come up for even a quick breath of fresh air.
As I followed this in real-time, I questioned how a brand as powerful (before this week) as Balenciaga could even argue that they did not have the final say over the exact final version of what ads get released. Of course, they do. Yet this is where Balenciaga is pointing the finger of blame and digging themselves an even deeper hole in so doing.
As Attorney Krenar Camili points out:
“For any large company to claim that advertising they released wasn’t ultimately approved by them is unrealistic. There are contracts that bind the creatives, any agencies involved, and the brand that is ultimately paying the bills. It would be truly exceptional and a massive breakdown in process to have a final version of an ad campaign released without all the proper sign-offs.”
As to the content in issue, anyone who falls back on the “well, this is art” argument needs to check themselves. All of this - everything Balenciaga is selling an all campaign materials - is designed by a company that designs insanely expensive clothing for the top 1% of the 1%. Balenciaga has absolutely nothing to do with the overwhelming majority of people, they simply find their way into our collective imagination, as do other luxury brands, because of how they leverage celebrity and influence.
What we’re really seeing this week is remarkable performative politics, such as when a social media influencer couple burned their Balenciaga sneakers in a viral video.
The really interesting story here is how quickly this all started. As BuzzFeed recounted, a TikTok user posted a video on November 20th about how remarkably inappropriate Balenciaga was in their new campaign. The video quickly racked up close to 4 million views, which created not only a social media avalanche but a traditional media one as well.
The same BuzzFeed piece shows how quickly the Balenciaga social cancellation spread. When one social account echoed the message of the first user’s November 20th post, it then got on the radar of the highly influential Libs of TikTok Twitter account, and the rest is social media history. Within hours, Tucker Carlson and other right-wing media celebrities and news accounts drove the story to blow up within hours.
There is a very interesting delineation between this case and other cases of inappropriate advertising by clothing brands. We remember back in 2018, the passive misstep H&M took in releasing a racist campaign that went viral because of its stupidity.
That case was actually far more interesting and relevant than that of Balenciaga precisely because H&M is a brand for the masses. Far more people buy H&M clothing than would readily admit it, in part because this is a fast-fashion brand, producing a lot of clothes and accessories that are far more disposable than the company would ever admit.
As an endnote, as per a TMZ report on Thursday, Kardashian has turned down a new Balenciaga campaign this week.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.