Though Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta have come to be known for their inventive casting since founding their label Eckhaus Latta, the designers gave themselves their most ambitious assignment yet recently: They were looking for people willing to not only be photographed in their spring 2017 collection, but to have sex—as in really have sex—in front of the camera. “It had to be authentic,” Eckhaus said in New York last night. “I don’t think the idea of simulation ever even crossed our mind.”
Still, though they've become mainstream names, Eckhaus and Latta's semi-desperate Craigslist postings went largely unanswered for one of their biggest commercial forays with the brand yet.
"When the Craigslist line was kind of like crickets, there were some jokes, like, [should it just be] Mike and Zoe?” Latta recalled with a laugh from Los Angeles, where she’s based (along with the brand’s new first-ever brick-and-mortar store), of finding models for their first-ever major campaign.
Their inspiration came from the Korean-German photographer Heji Shin, who a few years ago took a break from shooting editorials for magazines like 032c to photograph a sex education textbook for teenagers. “They had these ideas of following a couple for several months—eating ice cream, going to the cinema, stuff like that. But I thought, Oh god, I don’t want to do that,” Shin, who’s fond of “crossing a boundary” with her work, said from Berlin.
So, instead, she set about taking “very clean, beautiful, and emotionally photographed” scenes of the teens showcasing different sex practices—a non-pornographic approach that Shin, whom Eckhaus and Latta had been trying to work with for so long they actually scrapped another fully conceptualized spring 2017 campaign to make this one, then reinterpreted in a fashion context.
“We were thinking of how we were using sexuality, the relationship between fashion advertising and sexuality—and in very direct terms saying sex sells,” Shin explained. That led to a “sex-positive, body-positive, sexuality-positive” message, as Eckhaus put it, that also commented on voyeurism and consumerism.
“For us, it was really important to think of sex as something really natural and not something fabricated, hyper-sexualized, or taboo," Eckhaus said.
“We weren’t covering people in oil—that’s actually their sweat, you know?” Latta added. "We’ve really wanted to play with the principles around advertising, but it had to be authentic and it had to be real people. If it was simulated, it would have really lost the whole intention behind the shoot."
Still, it took another six months for the campaign to come together, due to the difficulties of finding models willing to take part. Eckhaus and Latta’s friend Sam Muglia, for one, proved an ideal casting director thanks to the variety of people he knows from “alternative cultural experiences."
"It’s not specifically because he goes to Burning Man every year,” Latta said. “He’s just one of my closest friends that I know goes to orgies and would be happy to say that, you know?”
With Muglia’s help (Shin also enlisted a couple she’d worked with back in Berlin), the team assembled a cast of mostly thirty-somethings, all of whom Shin shot by herself in their bedrooms. “They had to be comfortable and intimate—they’re not professionals,” she said. “But they were all excited about it, and wanted to do it—and to do it in the context of the Eckhaus Latta ad campaigns. It was actually pretty real. Of course, sometimes you have to stage small things, like putting hair on another side. But, other things are very hard to stage—with guys, for example, you have to be quick.”
In the end, it all came together: After Eckhaus and Latta uploaded the campaign—pixelated, and tagging only the models who requested they did so—on Monday, their site quickly crashed. “The idea that we made people hungry for an image is fascinating to us,” Latta said. When the site went back online, the response was largely “super-positive," which pleasantly surprised the designers. It seemed to confirm their intent—to normalize, not sensationalize.
Next, for the first time ever, Eckhaus Latta's ads are headed for the pages of magazines, though it remains to be seen if the old adage holds true. “I don’t know if sex sells,” Latta said with a laugh. “But it definitely creates some rubbernecking.”
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