A sexy Calvin Klein ad campaign isn’t exactly front page news in 2016; the fashion brand has been plastering beautiful, scantily-clad people across billboards for decades now. But the company’s collaboration with photographer Harley Weir, entitled ‘Erotica’, has some critics questioning whether the brand’s aesthetic has gone from tantalising to tasteless.
“This campaign is representative of how culture is evolving as we speak,” says Calvin Klein’s Chief Marketing Officer, Melisa Goldie. “We’re bringing together a diverse mix of provocateurs with a unique collective of visual artists to create content that sparks and drives cultural conversation.”
‘Erotica’ features images of Kendall Jenner squeezing a grapefruit suggestively, and a provocative up-skirt shot of model Klara Kristen which includes the caption “I flash in #mycalvins.” Several comments on the brand’s Instagram feed described the images as tacky, even suggesting that they are guilty of sexualising underage girls (all models were actually of age).
It’s easy to manufacture righteous umbrage on social media, though, and as The Telegraph’s Digital Fashion Editor Bethan Holt points out, “it’s hardly the sensationalised outrage that greeted Calvin Klein’s 1990s provocation.” Holt specifically points to Kate Moss’s topless photoshoot with Mark Wahlberg as a turning point for the brand; the 12 months following the CK Jeans campaign saw profits of $85 million.
But while sex might still sell, it doesn’t necessarily surprise any more. Jenner is a member of the controversy-courting Kardashian clan, after all — it’s doubtful that anybody is especially scandalised by images of her cavorting, nymph-like, with flowers and fruit.
“Other brands have caught up and are wise to this as a marketing gimmick and culture has adapted to accept it more than when it was most effective in the 80s and early 90s,” says The Drum’s Stephen Lepitak. “We live in a more open minded society and so sexualised campaigns, while still having the ability to be controversial, are less likely to shock.”