Fashion house Balenciaga has been heavily criticized over a photoshoot showing child models posing with fetish-themed teddy bears.
It faced a huge backlash to the images, released as part of a campaign to promote its Objects range.
This led to pressure on Kim Kardashian – an ambassador for the brand – who put out a statement in response.
Balenciaga’s removed the images and says it is taking action over one photoshoot.
Balenciaga is regarded as one of the “world’s hottest brands” by some and its luxury goods are a favorite of A-listers and influencers.
But photos from two of its latest campaigns caused people to get angry.
The first was a series of images showing child models posing with the company’s plush bear bags.
These teddy bear-inspired accessories look like soft toys – but appear to be wearing leather harnesses and other items associated with bondage fetishes.
Two of the pictures showed young children hugging the backpacks.
Critics then locked on to a second image from an earlier, separate, campaign promoting the brand’s collaboration with Adidas.
One of the pictures showed a handbag sitting on top of some documents.
When people zoomed in on the text it revealed the papers were from a US Supreme Court ruling related to indecent images of children.
Balenciaga started posting the images to its social media feeds on 16 November.
They started to go viral, especially in the US among users who object to what they see as “over-sexualizing” young children.
As criticism built, a sarcastic tweet from YouTuber June Nicole Lapine gained a lot of traction and Balenciaga deleted all the images a short time later.
After this, some right-wing US media channels ran with the story, and accused the fashion house of “endorsing child pornography”.
The accusation was fueled by the campaign for its Adidas collaboration featuring the case notes referring to “virtual child porn”.
Balenciaga posted an apology to its 14 million Instagram followers and said its plush bear bags “should not have been featured with children”.
It said it had removed the items from sale and deleted the images from all web platforms.
Photographer Gabriele Galimberti – who shot the Objects campaign featuring the plush bear bags – also released a statement.
The photos were supposed to mimic his Toy Stories series – photos of children around the world posing with their favorite things.
He told followers he had no control over the models or products used in the Balenciaga photos, and pointed out that they were not explicit.
Balenciaga also apologized for displaying “unsettling documents” in the Adidas collaboration campaign.
It said it was taking legal action against the people it hired to produce the images for including “unapproved items”.
Gabriele Galimberti also pointed out that he was not connected to the Adidas photoshoot.
The Kim K response
Kim Kardashian was also criticized over the images – or, rather, for staying silent about them.
The reality star is an ambassador for the brand and the two regularly work together – but she did not comment on the scandal until Sunday.
Posting to her Instagram stories and Twitter, she said she had been “shaken by the disturbing images” and “any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period.”
She said her silence was not down to a lack of disgust and outrage, but because she wanted to speak to Balenciaga to “understand for myself how this could have happened.”
Commending the brand for removing the campaigns and apologizing, she said she was “re-evaluating” her relationship with the company.
But she told followers she believed the brand understood the seriousness of the issue and it would take steps to make sure it would “never happen again”.