When Calvin Klein dubbed its latest global ad campaign “Erotica” and filled it with images of Kendall Jenner squeezing sexually suggestive fruit, Abbey Lee Kershaw grasping her ladyhood and a shot of Klara Kristin taken from down under, we had a feeling they’d wake a sleeping bear…or fifty. In this case, those sleeping bears are a boatload of angry Twitter users along with (drumroll please) the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which is calling for the retraction of the aforementioned Klara Kristin spot.
While the company is known for its overtly sexual ads, this particular assortment does push the envelope a lot further than former campaigns. That said, thanks to Instagram and other forms of social media, Calvin’s models are probably not the only posturing provocateurs you saw half-naked last week. The real question is whether the images empower our generation and combat the stigma of sexual exploration or, in the case of the up-the-skirt flick, whether fashion photographer Harley Weir’s snap normalizes and glamorizes sexual harassment.
Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the NCOSE, which is petitioning for the removal of the ad and requesting a formal apology from Calvin Klein, had this to say to Fashionista:
“Once again, Calvin Klein has used a depiction of sexual harassment or assault in its advertisements. The American fashion house has continued to stand by its most recent ad campaign, not-so-subtly entitled Erotica, despite the backlash over its glamorized depiction of an ‘up-skirting’ victim. Up-skirting is a growing trend of sexual harassment where pictures are taken up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge, or without her consent. Not only is this activity a crime in many states like New York, Washington, Florida, and more, but it is also a disturbing breach of privacy and public trust. By normalizing and glamorizing this sexual harassment, Calvin Klein is sending a message that the experiences of real-life victims don’t matter, and that it is okay for men to treat the woman standing next to them on the metro as available pornography whenever they so choose. We are calling on Calvin Klein to not only remove this offensive ad, but also to suspend its Erotica advertisement campaign, and to issue an apology to victims of sexual harassment or assault everywhere.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, users expressed similar sentiments:
— XAS (@momdukes1130) May 11, 2016
@CalvinKlein Wow. It’s like I’m looking up the skirt of my little niece. Exactly what audience are you trying to target? Disgusting.
— Kathleen (@kathleen_noa) May 12, 2016
@CalvinKlein Geez – pushing the limits of fashion does not have to include soft porn.
— Bobby Kaps (@Adventurehog76) May 11, 2016
In spite of the backlash, Weir has made it clear she’s “really happy” with her work and “loves” the conversation it’s provoked. We’re back to the old question of what separates art and obscenity. Though somewhat graphic, these images are clearly formally staged and taken with the consent of their subjects, unlike the shady, lecherous smartphone photography to which Hawkins refers.
So, is Weir a female Robert Mapplethorpe in the making? Should Calvin Klein recant the up-the-skirt image? Should the NCOSE back off? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.