In New York City, where Calvin Klein is based, people have been going out of their way to see the label’s latest underwear ad – a larger-than-life billboard that seems to paralyse them on the footpath.
The campaign, released on January 4, features Golden Globe winner Jeremy Allen White (Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto The Bear). It has triggered a storm on social media and anywhere else one cares to discuss it.
In other words, the campaign has been a resounding success.
But White isn’t the only Calvin Klein model to make headlines this week. British singer-songwriter FKA Twigs (Cellophane) appeared in an ad for the fashion line last year. Just like White, Twigs was very close to nude. Unlike White, her ad was recently banned by a UK regulator for presenting her as a “stereotypical sexual object”.
Hold on, what did the two campaigns look like again?
White’s US billboard shows him lying stomach-down in front of the New York skyline, Calvin Klein-clad buttocks protruding from pulled-down jeans.
There’s also a 50-second commercial, directed by photographer Mert Alas, in which White sheds his clothes to reveal his underwear and chiselled body (likely fresh off his training for his role as wrestler Kerry Von Erich in The Iron Claw), and works out on top of a building.
In the UK, Twigs’ ad (which had ended its cycle, meaning it was no longer displayed) featured her in a denim shirt casually draped around half of her sculpted naked body. The side of one buttock and half of one breast was visible as she stood with one leg forward, staring directly into the camera. Above her read the words: “Calvins or nothing”.
Twigs’ ad doesn’t sound offensive?
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it received two complaints that the ads were “overly sexualised” and “offensive and irresponsible because they objectified women”.
The authority investigated and found the ad placed viewers’ focus on Twigs’ body rather than the clothing, and ordered it cease to be shown.
“The ad used nudity and centred on FKA Twigs’ physical features rather than the clothing, to the extent that it presented her as a stereotypical sexual object,” its assessment read.
The complaints also related to separate Calvin Klein ads featuring model Kendall Jenner. However, the regulator determined “the level of nudity was not beyond that which people would expect for a lingerie ad”. Jenner was also featured wearing nothing but a denim jacket in one image.
How do Twigs and Calvin Klein feel about this?
In response, the fashion line said Twigs was involved in the artistic process and approved final shots.
“The images were not vulgar and were of two confident and empowered women who had chosen to identify with the Calvin Klein brand,” the company said. It described the images as “natural and neutral” and containing a “progressive and enlightened message”.
Writing on Instagram, Twigs said she believed certain ads were held to different standards and that she refused to have her “narrative changed”.
“I do not see the ‘stereotypical sexual object’ that they have labelled me. I see a beautiful strong woman of colour whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine,” she wrote.
“I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here … I am proud of my physicality and hold the art I create with my vessel to the standards of women like Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones who broke down barriers of what it looks like to be empowered and harness a unique embodied sensuality.”
Isn’t partial nudity just part of an underwear ad?
American actor Michael B. Jordan and Australian Jacob Elordi have stripped down for Calvin Klein in recent years. At the time, the only person Jordan said he had to answer to was his mum.
Major stars dropping trou for Calvin Klein has been a decades-long tradition. In 1992, actor Mark Wahlberg made tight boxer briefs cool by saying things like “now that could definitely get between me and my Calvins” while staring longingly at model Kate Moss.
According to The New Yorker, Calvin Klein’s first underwear ad in 1982 featuring Olympian Tom Hintnaus was regularly stolen from bus-stop displays.
So, underwear-ad mania has become something of a cultural fixture. But most of the backlash so far has involved ads featuring women. A 2008 commercial for the brand’s fragrance Secret Obsession, which showed a nude Eva Mendes, was pulled from TV in the US. Two years later, a Lara Stone jeans ad was banned in Australia after complaints it suggested gang rape (Stone appeared alongside three men hovering over her).
What next, should everyone put their pants back on?
According to BBC Newsbeat, the UK regulator has received three complaints regarding ads from the Jeremy Allen White campaign. The regulator can launch an investigation after a single complaint if it believes the ad breaks its rules. It is reviewing the complaints and has not opened an official investigation yet.