SEX SELLS

A Brief History of Fashion’s Most NSFW, Controversial Ad Campaigns

The designers behind Eckhaus Latta have always been ones to do things their way, but they took that defiance to another level this week by unveiling a campaign featuring models not just wearing their spring 2017 collection, but having real sex while doing so. Though pixelated, the images still caused such a hubbub that the brand’s site crashed, proving yet again that sex sells—or at least, as Zoe Latta put it, “creates some rubbernecking.” Their approach was definitely more explicit, but the fashion industry has a long, proud history of steaming up its ads. It’s an approach that’s almost synonymous with the brand Calvin Klein, which has consistently made waves since enlisting in 1980 a then 15-year-old Brooke Shields to tell Richard Avedon that nothing gets between her and her Calvins. From the U.K. Advertising Standards Agency’s banned images of actress Dakota Fanning and Mia Goth to Tom Ford’s provocative days at Gucci, go back in time and revisit some of fashion’s most explicit, controversial, and definitely NSFW ad campaigns.

1

For their first large-scale campaign, the designers behind Eckhaus Latta enlisted a diverse group of 30-something couples to not only wear their spring 2017 collection, but have real sex in front of the camera for the photographer Heji Shin, who had produced a similar series of images for a German sex education book for teenagers.

2
YSL, 1971

In 1971, a nude (and largely hairless) Yves Saint Laurent posed nude for Jeanloup Sieff to debut his first-ever perfume for his namesake label, Pour Homme.

3
CK, 1980

A 15-year-old Brooke Shields caused a sensation in 1980 when she asked “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,” in one of a series of steamy videos shot for the brand by legendary Richard Avedon, which were then banned by TV networks CBS and ABC.

4
CK, 1992

Other than her controversially “heroin chic” ads for Calvin Klein, a topless, 17-year-old Kate Moss also starred in this 1992 campaign for the brand with Mark Wahlberg—one that made her so uncomfortable, she later said it prompted a nervous breakdown.

5
Wonderbra, 1994

Rumor has it that Wonderbra’s billboards of Eva Herzigova caused traffic build-ups and car crashes when they went up in 1994.

6
CK, 1995

It didn’t take long for controversy to erupt after Steven Meisel and Calvin Klein cast a crew of apparently underage models, including Kate Moss, for a 1995 Calvin Klein campaign; eventually, CK responded to the outcry over the ad with another ad, a full page in the New York Times announcing it was pulling the original advertisement.

7
YSL, 2000

This infamous 2000 campaign from Yves Saint Laurent, featuring a nude Sophie Dahl, drew 948 complaints to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, making it the eighth most complained about advertisement in recorded history.

8
YSL, 2002

Yves Saint Laurent again pared things down for one of his perfume ads in 2002, this time swapping out the designer’s likeness for a chiseled model to go full frontal.

9
Gucci, 2003

Tom Ford and Carine Roitfeld both solidified their reputations as provocateurs when the designer and stylist drove down the fact that they were working for Gucci by shaving a “G” into a model’s pubic hair for this 2003 campaign shot by Mario Testino.

10
American Apparel, 2006

American Apparel, whose founder Dov Charney has faced a litany of sexual harassment lawsuits, began its run of controversial ads depicting highly sexualized and barely clothed women—an approach that was highly successful in creating conversation, but hardly saved the brand from bankruptcy—with this 2006 campaign.

11
Tom Ford, 2007

The concept of “sex sells” barely gets more explicit than in Terry Richardson’s 2007 campaign for Tom Ford’s men’s fragrance, an ad that was banned in Italy.

12
Diesel, 2010

“Stupid is as stupid done” is how some critics responded to Diesel’s 2010 “Be Stupid” campaign, which featured images of models flashing security cameras, among other suggestive poses. Some felt the images were needlessly sensationalistic while others described them as youthful and rebellious.

13
Marc Jacobs, 2011

Dakota Fanning’s 2011 campaign for Marc Jacobs’ Lola campaign was banned in England after the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority deemed it too “sexually provocative” for the then 17-year-old actress, who was photographed by Juergen Teller.

14
Benetton, 2011

Thanks to a little Photoshop, Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez were just several of the world leaders found making out in a 2011 campaign by United Colors of Benneton, which has a long history of provoking with their ads.

15
Alexander Wang, 2014

The model Anna Ewers has long been one of Alexander Wang’s muses, but the pair ended up in hot water with this 2014 campaign, in which Ewers is only just barely wearing Wang’s clothes.

16
D&G, 2015

This 2007 campaign by Dolce & Gabbana’s came to be known as the “gang rape advert” not only then, when several magazines refused to run it, but when it resurfaced online in 2015.

17
Miu Miu, 2015

The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Agency also banned this 2015 Miu Miu campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, for being “irresponsible” in sexualizing an apparently underage (but actually 22-year-old) Mia Goth.

18
Calvin Klein, 2016

Calvin Klein courted controversy again last year with a campaign that featured a model photographed from under her dress, but the acclaimed British female photographer Harley Weir, whose work has long been interested in youth culture and sexuality, defended the campaign.