CK Jeans 1995

Brand: Calvin Klein
Year: Fall/Winter 1995
Photographer: Steven Meisel

- ORIGINAL EW report-

Pop Culture News
Published in issue #291 Sep 08, 1995

Ever since he plastered a sun-drenched, emotionally unavailable male beauty onto a Times Square billboard back in 1982, Calvin Klein has taken gay desire into the mainstream, not only making the male body unavoidably visible in pop culture but changing the way we look at it. His blue-tinted Obsession perfume ads, lavishly photographed by Bruce Weber, presented it nude in 1985, and his CK advertising -- with Marky Mark, whose overpumped cheese-boy physique is pure West Hollywood fantasy -- made it young.

Klein's newest ads made it too young. Criticism that its images resembled kiddie porn got Calvin Klein, Inc., to shelve its new CK jeans campaign, while the company insisted that its ''message about the spirit, independence, and inner worth of today's young people has been misunderstood by some.'' But new information about the making of the ads casts doubt on the wholesomeness of the ''message'' Klein really intended to convey.

Inspiration for the campaign -- which included magazine spreads of models reportedly as young as 15 in underwear and TV spots in which models responded to the suggestive questions of an older male off-camera voice -- came from photographer Steven Meisel, who published similar photos in the May/June issue of the Italian magazine L'Uomo Vogue. That photo series, says a source close to the campaign, ''was meant to look like porno of the '60s. Calvin saw that and said, 'Let's do the whole campaign like this.'''

The porno connection didn't end there. Meisel, who in 1992 had shot the stylishly sleazy, sexually explicit pictures of Madonna for her book, Sex, cast S&M aficionado Lou Maletta -- host of a New York local cable, X-rated-video review show, Men in Films -- as the off-camera voice in the TV commercials. When Klein found out, ''we replaced [Maletta's] voice-overs prior to the ads' airing when we became aware of all the facts,'' says a company spokesman, who calls allegations that the ads were inspired by pornography ''absolutely untrue.''

Still, Klein ''crossed the line,'' says Richard Kirschenbaum, chief creative officer of the Kirschenbaum & Bond agency. ''I'm happy he withdrew the campaign -- it denigrated advertising as a medium.'' Of course, the controversy took Klein's ''coolness factor from a 10 to a 60,'' says Marian Salzman, a corporate director at the TBWA Chiat/Day agency, though sometimes, she notes, ''we're too cool for our own good.''

-- Degen Pener, with reporting by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh


Anonymous said...

This is advertising , Pure and simple. Brilliantly executed, controversial.
Well done. I can here Bruce Weber's gruffy voice, asking the questions. It is deleriously delicious.....razor sharp, quick. The models also pitch in by "pretending" to be coy and shy, oh it makes it all the more perverse!

Johec said...

it's a Meisel campaign, the voice in off is Lou Maletta ;)

Anonymous said...

"Models as young as 15 in underwear..." I worked EXTENSIVELY as a model in France - and about 1/3 of the time in other countries - from age 4 until age 15, when I didn't transition to the adult division of my agency because of my height (1m66). I can tell you that 15 year olds in Europe (especially France) are very mature mentally and have things in perspective. I did an add at 13 where one of my breasts was exposed by a ripped shirt as if I had been raped (for jewelry of all things!). I was aware that this wasn't reality but rapes are. I didn't grow up to have sex with strangers (22 the first time and I'm still with the guy today at 43 years old!) or have hang-ups like most Americans have (I enjoy sex very much and am not shy aout talking about it or expressing myself). Maybe campaigns should be different for the U.S. because it seems they're shocked at everything and insist of protecting the very teenagers who don't need protecting! It's the overprotected and repressed ones who have sex at 15 (and earlier!) and get pregnant. I rememebr being VERY aware of my sexual effect on males at that age and being very responsible about it as a result so as not to attract unwanted attentions - something teenagers (and some immature adults!) in the US play with and are shocked about when it backfires.

Anonymous said...

In the hereabove comment: I meant "ad", not "add" on line 5. Sorry!

Johec said...

Hi Sophie, very interesting what you wrote and I have to agree with you, I never understood why so many controversy with this campaign but at the same time I think that it depends of the perspective of every person.

I have no kids so it's like I'm very open mind but if I were a father I would be worried about a daughter being fan of Jamie Lynn Spears or trying to imitate what she sees in magazines. ;)

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