Do You Think I’m Sexy? Ask Calvin Klein, Dov Charney, and the Man on the Street


American Apparel’s desire to replicate desire in their ads knows no bounds , and while Abercrombie and Fitch’s prejudiced hiring policies (including relegating staff to the backroom if they haven’t got “the look”) has garnered criticism, it doesn’t stop the brand’s continuing success. Even the UCB parody of Dov Charney — the executive of American Apparel — and his questionable photography process is funny precisely because it is so close to the bone. It seems that, where once such images of exploitation and overt sexuality would have feminists and queer theorists brandishing their bags of flour, nowadays we’re far too postmodern to get all hot and bothered by the relentless media focus on bodily perfection. After all, Eva Herzigova’s iconic Wonderbra advert is now considered so legendary, it’s the subject of media studies classes rather than feminist critique.

Is an unabashed focus on sexuality — and its bedfellow, irony — still hip? Or (and perhaps more to the point from the perspective of advertisers) are they even still effective? After we caught sight of this new billboard right by Flavorpill HQ, we hit the streets to find out what the public really think: so, does sex sell?

John, SoHo regular and NYU legend:

“I don’t wear jeans, (I used to wear Wranglers when they were $2) so this wouldn’t compel me. But sex sells — there’s nothing wrong with it. I heard about this ad on the radio so came down here to take a look.”

Laura, 32-year-old mom:

“It’s racy, but it doesn’t bother me. If you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous that they’re using images like this to sell jeans. It looks more artistic and like other high-fashion advertising.”

Edward, amateur photographer and advertising enthusiast:

“It’s very now. It looks more artsy than advertising. It’s utter, explicit sex and has nothing to do with selling jeans.” Edward then went on to posit a link between the reported sex games of the Amanda Knox trial and the orgy displayed in the CK ad.

Nico, 17:

“I’m a New Yorker, so I don’t really notice these things. I think it would work and would make people buy jeans, but all these ads are pretty much the same to me.”

Frank, Jazz Musician:

“It’s very suggestive. I lived in Europe for ten years, and in Europe they’re more liberal — this kind of thing is less shocking. It’s a sign of the times really. It wouldn’t make me buy the jeans — these advertisements are for urban yuppies rather than the poor, who can’t afford it.”

Sarah, 30s:

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate, I think it’s typical. For me, that kind of image doesn’t sell.”

Lucy and Molly, 21:

Molly: “I like it, but my dad hates it — he said it looks like an orgy. I think it’s cool, it reflects its target audience. I wouldn’t buy Calvins — I don’t want to be in an orgy!”

Lucy: “I think it’s pretty scandalous, but sex sells. I wouldn’t buy Calvins though.”

Mike and Brent:

Mike: “That’s nasty — they’re showing too much below the waist.”

Brent: “It wouldn’t make me buy the jeans, then again, it wouldn’t make me not buy them.”

These opinions were interesting, mainly for their contradictions. Most people came out with the old adage that sex sells, before promptly telling us that, despite this, the ad wouldn’t make them buy a pair of Calvins. So, what exactly is going on here? Is the CK advert too obvious to really affect us? Have we seen it all before? Do we underestimate the powers of commercials to target us, instead preferring to believe that we are too smart to be a member of the duped majority?

It seems that this time, a thin layer of cynicism and resilience really has come between us and our Calvins.