calvin klein

The Calvin Klein Formula – Seductive, Minimal, Controversial Advertising

Just like with Mark Wahlberg back in the day, everyone else wants to be in Shawn Mendes’ Calvins too

“You know what comes between me and my Calvins… Nothing.”

So ran the copy for the iconic Calvin Klein ad featuring Brooke Shields. It was an instant hit – at once controversial and provocative but also simple and to the point. Brief. Brevity. Soul of wit. And enough to send a tingle up one’s spine.

That’s been the Calvin Klein formula for decades now. Minimalist fashion imagery that courted controversy but was never vulgar. Even taken out of context and disconnected from the brand and the logo, these photographs shot by greats like Bruce Weber and Mario Sorrenti are still contemporary. Seeing them now, it doesn’t appear as though they ran in the 80s.

The designer, himself, was a person who always looked forward. With CK1, he appears to have anticipated the dissipation of the gender binary and by moving on to underwear and jeans, he broke the norm that “fashion people” followed.

“Even something like the outdoor billboards we ran, fashion people just didn’t do that kind of thing. That was very commercial. I always looked at these things as a challenge, but it also had to be interesting to me. I never thought about what the fashion world would think about me doing jeans or underwear. In my mind I was communicating directly with the consumer,” he says, in an i-D interview.

Today, numerous advertising schools will tell you that sex sells – Calvin Klein is a prime study in just how much it indeed does. The ads of supermodel Kate Moss, shot by Richard Avedon transformed the idea of jeans as being of a Wild, Wild West aesthetic to something that was as delicious as it was denim.

Today, the brand is still making headlines by recruiting the most prominent youth faces of our time – Shawn Mendes, Noah Centineo, Asap Rocky and Kendall Jenner. And just like with Mark Wahlberg back in the day, everyone else wants to be in Mendes’ Calvins too.

(Header credits: Bruce Weber)