There’s some debate over whether sex sells, but Calvin Klein has never seemed to doubt it. For decades the clothing firm has periodically raised outcries over racy advertising that pushes boundaries and buttons. It’s part of the brand’s identity, and how it stays relevant as it plugs along selling relatively undistinguished denim and underwear.
Now it’s at it again. One particular image from the spring campaign has drawn anger after being posted to Calvin Klein’s Instagram account two days ago. In the ad, the camera stares up the dress of model Klara Kristin, looking right between her legs at her underwear. The text across the campaign plays on a fill-in-the-blank formula, and in this case it reads: “I flash in #mycalvins.”
Presumably the intention is to put the model in control, making it her choice to flash the viewer. But many people who’ve commented on the post see it more as the gaze of a predator. “That’s not ‘flashing’; that’s the kind of shot that women are struggling to get made illegal,” one person wrote. “Way to help invalidate their issue and victimize them further.” Others have called it “disturbing” and “sick,” and say it’s a variety of pedophilia, since the model looks so young. We’ve reached out to Calvin Klein for comment.
The sepia-toned, vintage look of the shot hints at another of Calvin Klein’s more controversial ads. In the mid-1990s, the brand released a commercial set in a ’70s-style, wood-paneled basement. From behind the camera, a man tells a young, shirtless man in cutoff shorts that he has “pretty blue eyes” and his shorts fit him really well. There were also print ads in the same style. Groups lined up to protest what became known as the “kiddie porn” campaign.
Let’s also not forget Kate Moss’s “heroin chic” ads for the brand, and in 1980, a 15-year-old Brooke Shields declaring, “What gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
The new campaign includes some mild nudity, such as a so-called “belfie”—that’s a butt-selfie—and there’s a not-very-subtle reference to a vagina in an image with model Kendall Jenner. In the main shot, she’s holding up a grapefruit as she squeezes it, the fruit vaguely mimicking a vagina’s shape. If that wasn’t clear enough, in a small panel at the top-right of the mosaic beside it, one image has Jenner holding the grapefruit over her crotch.
Unlike the recent ad by Thinx, which makes “underwear for women with periods”—featuring a clean, peeled grapefruit to suggest that vaginas, even during a woman’s period, are natural—this ad casts the body part in a very different light. ”I eat in #mycalvins,” the text says.
For Calvin Klein, in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty tame.