Joel West by Tiziano Magni

Joel West by Tiziano Magni for Calvin Klein Underwear - Fall 1995

THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING - Calvin Klein is withdrawing, and reshooting, some underwear ads after more complaints are heard.
By Stuart Elliott
Published: Wednesday, November 8, 1995

FOR the second time in three months, Calvin Klein is embroiled in a controversy over his advertising, though this one covers -- or uncovers, to be precise -- familiar ground: his penchant for underwear ads that bare flesh.

Even so, another Klein campaign is being revamped after coming under fire. Warnaco Inc., which manufactures the underwear brand bearing Mr. Klein's name, and Calvin Klein Inc., his company, say the underwear advertisements will be changed; some are being withdrawn and replaced with ads that have already appeared without incident.

The latest outcry is centered on sensual print ads for Mr. Klein's line of men's underwear that feature a hunky, long-haired -- and scantily clad -- model named Joel West. He is a 20-year-old from Indianola, Iowa, who has been signed to a seven-figure contract by Calvin Klein Inc. to represent its designer apparel, housewares and other licensed merchandise.

The underwear brouhaha is far less fierce than the attacks that erupted over a campaign for Calvin Klein jeans, which angry critics likened to child pornography. In late August, Mr. Klein withdrew that campaign, which mimicked cheesy adult videos, though the Justice Department is investigating whether, as opponents charged, the models were under age.

Still, the underwear ads -- also created by CRK Advertising, the in-house team at Calvin Klein Inc. in New York -- are provocative in their own right. They rank with recent campaigns featuring the rapper Mark (Marky Mark) Wahlberg and the model Michael Bergin baring their "Calvins," and the erotic billboard from the early 1980's on which the pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus, clad only in briefs and an appendix scar, loomed over Times Square.

Mr. West appeared last month in print and outdoor ads for Mr. Klein's menswear and eyewear without generating headlines.

But that changed when an explicit underwear ad featuring Mr. West turned up in the November issue of Esquire magazine, followed by the same ad in the December issue of Playboy. As shot in black and white by the photographer Tiziano Magni, Mr. West, dressed only in very tight gray briefs, was posed with his legs wide apart and staring frankly into the camera.

Because the ad followed so closely on the heels of the jeans campaign, articles about Mr. West ran in publications including Newsweek, New York, The New York Observer and USA Today. And in an interview that appeared on Friday in the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily, Linda J. Wachner, chairwoman, president and chief executive of Warnaco, excoriated the ad.

Ms. Wachner said she found the briefs ad offensive and said she had not approved it for publication. That was a powerful condemnation because Warnaco, rather than Calvin Klein Inc., is responsible for the media budget for the underwear campaign, which runs from $8 million to $10 million annually.

But the briefs ad, it turns out, is only one in a series of four ads that are running in magazines like Rolling Stone, Spin and Vibe. Another of the ads, appearing in the December issue of Spin, portrays Mr. West, clad in white boxer briefs, as apparently sexually aroused.

"It's a provocative, sexy ad," J. Matthew Hanna, associate publisher of Spin in New York, published by Camouflage Associates, said yesterday. "But it's an underwear ad. It should be provocative.

"We were more than happy to accept the ad," he added, "because we just don't think our readers are taken aback by that type of advertising." The median age of the readers of Spin is 23 to 24, Mr. Hanna said.

In the ad in the December/January issue of Vibe, Mr. West seems calmer, wearing a ribbed tank top pulled up to display his hard abdomen and pants half undone to reveal his boxer briefs.

"I personally did not have a problem with" that ad, said John Rollins, publisher of Vibe, a Time Warner magazine, in New York. "We're very excited to run it."

However, that ad and the rest are unlikely to be around much longer.

Ms. Wachner, in an interview yesterday from her office in New York, said the campaign would not be seen further, except in publications that have already gone to press.

"Every ad that could have been pulled was," Ms. Wachner said, "and the women's ads are being substituted." That was a reference to ads for Mr. Klein and Warnaco's line of women's underwear, featuring the model Christy Turlington, which elicited no complaints when they appeared previously.

"We're in the business to sell underwear," Ms. Wachner said, "but we're not in the business to have problems." Warnaco bought the Klein underwear business last year for $62.5 million plus additional fees.

As for the future, Ms. Wachner said, "the campaign is being reshot" for its next appearance.

Gabriella Forte, president and chief executive at Calvin Klein Inc., echoed Ms. Wachner.

"A new campaign will be launched in the spring," she said, describing the current campaign as "very limited." Reports that Mr. West was to appear in his underwear on billboards and in television commercials were "absolutely not true," she added.

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