CULTURE

Brooke Shields Says She Was "Naive" About Her Racy Calvin Klein Commercial

She shot the ad when she was just 15 years old.


Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and doubly so when you’re young. In a recent interview with Vogue, Brooke Shields looked back on one of her most famous jobs from her modeling heyday — her risqué Calvin Klein commercial from 1980. The Richard Avedon-directed ad was questionable back then, and she recognizes that, at 15, she was too “naive” to understand how quickly the controversy would escalate.

In the commercial, Shields suggestively models a pair of Calvin Klein blue denim jeans. Between poses, she says the famous line “You want to know what comes in between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” During the shoot, Shields “didn’t think it was sexual in nature,” — after all, she’s fully clothed and her mother had okayed the concept. But the shifting poses — which she describes as “specific and intentional [choreography]” — and camera angles, including one that is “zooming in, sort of, on my crotch area” — kicked off a firestorm that accused Avedon and Calvin Klein of sexualizing a teenager. The commercial was banned in several countries.

Shields was dispatched to settle the public backlash. She hit the press and talk show circuit, including an interview by Barbara Walters, and was forced to answer invasive questions about her sexual history. At just 15, Shields had to reassure the world that she was still a virgin. “I think the assumption was that I was more savvy than I ever really was,” she recalled, and during interviews, “I could feel the [sex] question coming” as the interviewers shifted between condescension and feigned concern for her well-being. “All of a sudden, I’m the most celebrated famous virgin in the world.”

Public fascination with teens’ sexual histories didn’t stop with Shields. Britney Spears famously declared that she’d abstain from sex until marriage, coinciding with the height the purity movement in America. Shields noted this double standard — particularly how “sex has sold since the dawn of time.” She was expected to be perfectly chaste, coquettish enough to sell a product, and mature enough to know the difference — an impossible undertaking for a kid who, by her own admission, was “quite sheltered.”

Ultimately, “I feel like the controversy backfired,” she said. “The campaign was extremely successful...There’s an appeal to it that is so undeniable, and they tapped right into it. They knew exactly what they were doing, and I think it did set the tone for decades.” Calvin Klein went on to court controversy in its advertisements throughout the 1990s, but none its future models were paraded in front of talk show hosts to discuss their sexuality.