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Controversial Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia ‘dragging house down’: insiders

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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 understood, may have the mask to cover from a growing number of individuals in the style industry who said he’s failing to take real responsibility for the fiasco — despite an apology from the brand Monday.

One among the now-notorious ads, which have inflamed the web, features sad-eyed toddlers toting teddy-bear handbags adorned with what looks like bondage gear. One other shows a ladylike $3,000 Balenciaga x Adidas Hourglass purse next to a pile of papers that features a Supreme Court document questioning if laws against the promotion of kid pornography limited the First Amendment.

The Business of Fashion rescinded its Global Award — because of have been presented to Demna at the web site’s annual gala on Thursday — describing the Balenciaga images as “wholly inconsistent with our values.”

With backlash spreading over two controversial Balenciaga campaigns — one showing toddlers with bondage teddy bears and one other featuring a legal document about child pornography — fashion insiders explain how this might ever occur.

The well-respected Business of Fashion rescinded an award that was to go to Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia, saying images like the one above were
The well-respected Business of Fashion rescinded an award that was to go to Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia, saying images just like the one above were “inconsistent with our values.”

Kim Kardashian, a Balenciaga brand ambassador who wore one among the designer’s famous face masks to the 2021 Met Gala, was hounded until she issued a press release: “As a mother of 4, I even have been shaken by the disturbing images,” she said, adding that she is “re-evaluating [her] relationship with the brand.”

But one big query stays: How on this planet could such bad taste have happened, given the multiple layers of people that work on a fashion campaign?

This ad, featuring a $3,000 Adidas x Balenciaga bag, has also spawned controversy -- and a $25 million lawsuit.This ad, featuring a $3,000 Adidas x Balenciaga bag, has also spawned controversy — and a $25 million lawsuit.Balenciaga

Among the desk papers seen in the ad are Supreme Court documents questioning the promotion of child pornography.Among the many desk papers seen within the ad are Supreme Court documents questioning the promotion of kid pornography.

Olga Liriano, who’s spent years in the style industry as a model booker, photo director and top magazine editor, said it’s ridiculous to think Demna and the highest echelon at Balenciaga didn’t know what the campaigns were going to appear to be 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 just isn’t only the creative director, he’s driving all of the imagery behind the campaigns. Guilty 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 kid pornography court ruling.

Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia has Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia has “gotten too big for his britches the way in which a number of them have,” said one fashion insider.Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

A spokesperson for North Six, hired to prepare 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 style brand to sue as if it had been at nighttime in regards to the campaign.

“We’re not talking about some Joe Schmoe tractor company in Brooklyn,”a source with knowledge of the situation told The Post. “That is Balenciaga — where they’ve a top-of-the-line team in relation to line retouchers, editors the whole lot. They’re playing (North Six) for fools, throwing a summons their way and expecting people to imagine the top of Balenciaga didn’t know what was occurring. 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.

Demna accompanied Kim Kardashian (right) — both clad in Balenciaga — to the 2021 Met Gala.Demna and Kim Kardashian — each clad in Balenciaga — to the 2021 Met Gala.Getty Images for The Met Museum/

“He’s gotten too big for his britches the way in which a number of them have,” said a Paris-based fashion insider who has worked within the industry for 35 years. “All these [creative directors] think they’ll walk on water and may do no flawed. Nobody says boo to them. They’re too scared. Now this guy is dragging the home down. It was one of the vital elegant within 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 identified that Balenciaga has only served the corporate with a summons, not an actual lawsuit, but in so doing has effectively smeared its name.

Balenciaga brand ambassador Kardashian said the scandal has her Balenciaga brand ambassador Kardashian said the scandal has her “re-evaluating her relationship” with the design house.Best Image / BACKGRID

“North Six has a stellar popularity and so they’ve worked with Balenciaga prior to now,” the rep said. “They’re in control of production and logistics. North Six was not there when the papers and props and all the ultimate 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 could also be so insulated from the realities of the skin world that they could think they’ll get away with using corporations they outsource to as a scapegoat.

“These houses are run by conglomerates and men and girls in suits,” Liriano said. “They tiptoe across the ‘creative geniuses’ because they don’t need to upset their fragile egos. And Balenciaga under Demna has been very successful the past couple of seasons. There’s nobody reining anyone in.”

In October, Balenciaga staged a fashion show on  mud.In October, Balenciaga staged a fashion show on mud.Balenciaga Youtube

Loads has modified in the good Paris fashion houses since Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga founded his couturier, now owned by the large conglomerate Kering, in 1919.

The rise of so-called fashion “geniuses” like Demna, 41, are enabled by the style press, industry insiders told The Post, reinforcing the “Zoolander” bubble that top designers and their teams live in. Previously two years alone, The Latest 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 Yr of Balenciaga,” in addition to a profile of Demna in its “The Greats” series.

“He uses fashion to speak the world right now,” Nicole Kidman said about Demna earlier this yr, comparing him to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. “Stanley would all the time say to me, ‘Don’t ever put me on a pedestal. Let me have bad ideas and make mistakes, otherwise, we’re done for.’”

The fashion industry loves to push the limits of taste — as with this 2007 Sisley ad, banned for glamorizing drugs.The style industry likes to push the bounds of taste — as with this 2007 Sisley ad, banned for glamorizing drugs.Sisley

Insiders say no one wants to stick out their neck in the industry and point out questionable decisions — like the choice to sexualize an underage Brooke Shields.Insiders say nobody desires to stick out their neck within the industry and indicate questionable decisions — just like the alternative to sexualize an underage Brooke Shields.Alamy Stock Photo

Due to cult of personality in fashion, photographers are also sometimes given the type of creative control that nobody questions — and will be why controversial photographers like Terry Richardson have been capable of get away with questionable on-set behavior for a long time.

And whether it’s an underage Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein, a waifish Kate Moss walking the runway and even models miming doing drugs for Sisley, fashion likes to push the bounds of taste.

“People within the industry often need to push the envelope and be what they think is cool and edgy — but they don’t think things through and no person will tell them no,” Lorin Cole, a veteran makeup artist and former Paris-based model told The Post.

Set designer Nicholas Des Jardins is named in a court summons by Balenciaga, for the ad that included Supreme Court documents.Set designer Nicholas Des Jardins is called in a court summons by Balenciaga, for the ad that included Supreme Court documents.Jojo Korsh/BFA.com

Those working under anointed stars like Demna fear criticizing anything because they may lose their positions or be blackballed, insiders said.

Cole, who has worked for a number of the biggest photographers and fashion houses in Europe and the US in front of and behind the camera, said the common fashion industry worker wouldn’t dare speak up or raise questions on a bondage-theme teddy bear or the message seemingly sent through the use of a child-pornography document in an ad.

“When you will have a high-end job like that you just’re not going to say anything to rock the boat since you’ll lose your job,” Cole said.

Kanye West was also involved in Balenciaga's mud show, but the brand parted ways with the rapper after his anti-Semitic controversy.Kanye West was also involved in Balenciaga’s mud show, however the brand parted ways with the rapper after his anti-Semitic controversy.Balenciaga Youtube

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 incorporate it within the narrative,” the posh company wrote within the statement.

The brand pulled the ads, and now could be condemning the campaign, writing: “Our plush bear bags and the gift collection must have not been featured with children.

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti, who shot the teddy-bear ad, has said he was told the theme was Photographer Gabriele Galimberti, who shot the teddy-bear ad, has said he was told the theme was “punk.”

“This was a flawed alternative by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images,” the style label added. “The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone.”

Elsewhere within the apology, the corporate addressed the inclusion of the Supreme Court document.

“The second, separate campaign for spring 2023, which was meant to duplicate a business office environment, included a photograph from a page within the background from a Supreme Court ruling ‘United States v. Williams’ 2008 which confirms as illegal and never protected by freedom of speech the promotion of kid pornography,” Balenciaga wrote. “All of the items included on this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents.”

“As a mother of 4, I even have been shaken by the disturbing images,” brand ambassador Kim Kardashian said of the teddy-bear photos.GC images

They added, “They turned out to be [real legal] papers almost definitely coming from the filming of a television drama.”

All excuses aside, some insiders imagine it comes right down to fashion’s competitive must be seen as provocative and making a continuously latest art form.

“They need to do something that’s never been done,” Cole said. “But the whole lot just about has been done before.”

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