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Balenciaga Drops Lawsuit, Demna Personally Apologizes

Two Fridays ago they were deeply apologetic. Last Friday they were hopping-mad litigious, and today, Balenciaga is all at once chastened and magnanimous.

The edgy-yet-posh French fashion brand took to Instagram on Friday to nail to its page a black-and-white, all-caps, 2-page statement in PDF form that revealed it was dropping its $25 million lawsuit against set designer Nicholas Des Jardins and his Brooklyn-based production company North Six Inc.   

“BALENCIEGA HAS DECIDED NOT TO PURSUE LITIGATION,” proclaimed the announcement, which was signed at the bottom by CEO Cédric Charbit.

The now-dropped lawsuit had less to do with controversial photos of children posed alongside bondage implements, but rather the surreptitious placement of court documents in another photo in the campaign, this one of a female, adult model sitting at an office desk.

The documents at issue were from the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court Case U.S. vs. Williams, which addressed the question of whether the promotion of child pornography could be considered protected speech. The court ruled it was not.

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The sneakily placed papers weren’t related to the outrage over the photos, but they did give fuel to conspiracy theorists who believed that detail, along with a handful of other clues hidden in the photo sets that included the child models, hinted that Balenciaga was promoting the sexualization and exploitation of children.

More likely, Balenciaga was the victim of an elaborate prank or subliminal commentary at its expense in the placement of what appear to be themed clues, such as the court documents. The company addressed that issue somewhat in its post on Friday.

“All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama. The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a complaint. We take full accountability for our lack of oversight and control of the documents in the background and we could have done things differently,” read the statement in all capital letters.

Then on Friday morning, Balenciaga creative director Demna, a major name in fashion whose star was on a perpetual rise before the incident, expressed on social media his regret about the campaign.

“I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them,” wrote the 41-year-old, who fled his war-torn home in Georgia at the age of 12. “’I need to learn from this, listen and engage with child protection organizations to know how I can contribute and help on this terrible subject. I apologize to anyone offended by the visuals and Balenciaga has guaranteed that adequate measures will be taken not only to avoid similar mistakes in the future but also to take accountability in protecting child welfare in every way we can.”

Demna, like Des Jardins, benefited from Balenciaga’s merciful hand on Friday as the company stopped short of cutting ties with him. The Daily Mail reported that Demna’s work has been credited with boosting the profits of Kering, Balenciaga’s parent company, by $1 billion.

All week Balenciaga faced pressure from influential people within the fashion community to drop the suit against Des Jardins, seeing it as an attempt to deflect the company’s own responsibility.

Among the takeaways from a tough couple of weeks of soul-searching for the label included the forming of a new board “responsible for evaluating the nature of our content from concept to final assets, including legal, sustainability and diversity expertise,” Charbit wrote.

Below that, it announced a “best-in-class agency to assess and evaluate our content,” presumably an outsourced third party to be responsible for the final proofing.