Weu2019ve all seen our fair share of controversial fashion ads. Thereu2019s Tom Fordu2019s 2007 menu2019s fragrance ads, Gucciu2019s 2004 u2018Public Enemyu2019 campaign and American Apparelu2019s racy campaigns (vale).u00a0But look closer and youu2019ll notice the majority of these campaigns happened post-1995. It was Calvin Klein that did it first.u00a0In 1982, CK had a 16-year-old Brooke Shields ask the world: u2018You know what gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.u2019
A 16-year-old suggesting to the world she wasnu2019t wearing underwear? It was shocking to say the least.u00a0A decade later and Calvin Klein was making headlines once again. This time the label was accused of promoting child pornography in its 1995 campaign, shot by Steven Meisel. The American Justice Department opened an investigation which was later dropped, after the company provided proof that all the models featured were adults. So with all the uproar surrounding these campaigns, why continue the controversy?
Selling more than just a product
Prior to 1980, fashion advertising was all about selling product. Calvin Kleinu2019s ads stood out because they were about selling something bigger: a lifestyle. Take the 1982 launch of Calvin Klein Underwear, for example. Shot by Bruce Weber, the campaign depicted Olympian, Tomu00e1s Hintnaus, lying on a roof in only his briefs. It depicted underwear as sexy, rather than functional. And, as the old saying goes, sex sells.
That campaign revitalised a market that was previously focused on comfort and practicality. Instead of buying underwear, you were buying into a sexy new lifestyle.u00a0As the Guardian explains: u201c[Calvin Klein Underwear] was designed to be seen, conferred status and wealth, and was totemic of its weareru2019s tribe.u201d Marky Mark joined the CK lineup soon after, further cementing the idea of underwear as a marker of status. u2018Calvinsu2019 quickly became a fashion must-have.