Why critics are upset by Harry Styles’ Gucci campaign

By | December 22, 2022

Just weeks after luxury fashion brand Balenciaga caught heat for recent ad campaigns, parent company Kering is in hot water again. This time Gucci is facing criticism for ads that critics allege sexualize children.

Earlier this month, the fashion house released its “Ha Ha Ha” line featuring singer Harry Styles. Gucci advertised the collection — “menswear as a tool of the avant-garde” — with several Instagram posts featuring the “Don’t Worry Darling” star in various patterned items.

one particular post, shared on Dec 12, quickly provoked the ire of many Instagram users.

Gucci posted several pictures of Styles — shot by photographer Mark Borthwick — wearing a T-shirt with a pink teddy bear on it and posing with a small mattress propped up on the wall behind him. In another photo in the post, Styles is seen in four panel images carrying the child-size mattress under his arm.

Partially concealed, Styles’ T-shirt features a bear frowning with lyrics from his song “Watermelon Sugar” — “I want more berries and that summer feelin’” — emblazoned on the front. The shirt apparently is out of stock and no longer featured on Gucci’s website.

In the comments section of Gucci’s post, critics began accusing the company of “creating campaigns that involve children in inappropriate ways.”

“@gucci Why would you create a ‘performance piece’ with a toddler’s mattress and an adult man?,” wrote child-rights activist and Gucci heiress Alexandra Zarini on Instagram.

“What was the creative thinking behind including a toddler bed? What’s the narrative? Who’s idea was this and where did they find this inspo? I’m disturbed,” one Instagram user commented on Gucci’s original post.

Representatives for Gucci, Kering and Styles did not immediately respond to The Times’ requests for comment Wednesday.

The Gucci post came weeks after Balenciaga faced similar backlash for campaign ads featuring children in November. In photos for the brand’s “The Gift” collection, children held teddy bears dressed in leather harnesses and collars that resembled bondage gear. Another Balenciaga campaign featured a page from a 2008 Supreme Court case involving “virtual child pornography” in the background of one of the pictures.

Among the parents expressing disappointment and concern with Balenciaga’s imagery was reality TV star Kim Kardashian.

“As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” Kardashian wrote in a statement. “The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period.”

In response to the backlash, Balenciaga released a lengthy statement on Instagram explaining how the controversial pictures came to be. The brand also apologized to its followers.

“We strongly condemn child abuse; it was never our intent to include it in our narrative,” said the statement from Balenciaga President and Chief Executive Cédric Charbit. “The two separate ad campaigns in question reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.”

Times staff writer Christi Carras contributed to this report.

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