Ryan Baker spoke to BBC World Service about the Balenciaga BDSM ad scandal, which erupted when the edgy high-end fashion house published photographs from a new “gift collection” ad campaign, which featured images of children holding stuffed teddy bears wearing bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism articles with other BDSM objects also on display. The gift collection campaign caused an immediate uproar on social media, which resulted in the discovery of the U.S. v. Williams Supreme Court opinion depicted in a separate Spring 2023 ad campaign, meant for spring 2023. In U.S. v Williams, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the pandering of child pornography was not protected free speech. In the wake of significant criticism over these images, Balenciaga sued the set designer the company claims is responsible for the placement of U.S. v. Williams case. Baker characterized the suit as a strategic attempt to shift the dialogue, as no one wants to take responsibility.
In U.S. v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285 (2008), the Supreme Court found that a federal statute prohibiting the pandering of child pornography was not unconstitutional, reversing an Eleventh Circuit ruling based primarily on the premise that there is “offers to participate in illegal transactions are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.”
In the wake of significant criticism, Balenciaga filed suit in the Supreme Court of New York against the set production company, North Six, and set designer, Nicholas Des Jardins, which Balenciaga alleges were responsible for the design of the spring 2023 ad campaign photoshoot. Although the complaint has not been filed, Balenciaga has indicated it seeks up to $25 million in damages for the resulting “false association” between Balenciaga and the “repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.” Ryan Baker, speaking to the BBC, described the suit as an attempt to shift the blame, questioning whether Balenciaga could reasonably expect to recover damages. “Often these cases are kneejerk reactions to shift the focus to another party,” said Baker speaking to the BBC’s Davina Gupta. Many such cases, according to Baker, are “filed for strategic reasons, not really to recover damages.”
Balenciaga has also issued press releases in which it takes some responsibility for the images. Ultimately, however, Baker described responsibility as a “hot potato” passed among Balenciaga, the photographers and the set designers
In response to the lawsuit, Jardins’ agent told the Washington Post that the legal papers in the ad “were obtained from a prop house … Everyone from Balenciaga was on the shoot … and worked on the edit of every image in post-production.” The photographer said the materials in the shoot were not his responsibility.
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