DOES SEX STILL SELL IN 2017?

Just as there are trends on the runway (think: carwash pleats, fur sleeves, neo- Victorian, chic patchwork etc. for Fall/Winter 2015), there are trends elsewhere; particularly in the industry of fashion advertising. One trend that we are seeing as of late in the so- called “desexualisation” of fashion ads, and the inspiration behind this turn towards the less overly sexual is maybe the most interesting aspect, as its source is not singular in nature. In fact, it seems to vary from brand to brand; thereby, allowing us to take a real look into this recently revived mode of selling fashion.

At the likes of popular post- adolescent brands Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel the transition to more demure campaigns, which has been garnering headlines, seems obvious. Their recent financial woes and the ejecting of their highly controversial CEOs has brought about change. Abercrombie have ditched former CEO, Michael Jeffries and is in the process of doing away with the perfectly polished, shirtless models in its stores and advertising campaigns. Along with the removal of Dov Charney at American Apparel comes an advertorial revamp of the brand known for its highly sexualised, verging-on porn advertisements (think: lots of underage-looking girls, extremely sheer garments and downright sexual poses). These cases are relatively easy to discover, as it is clear that the shift in executive-level employment (and the brands meagre sales) leads to a difference in advertising tone, but what about in the case of high fashion? 

If Tom Ford’s overhaul of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent in the 1990’s taught us anything, it is that sex sells. Ford managed to take Gucci, which at the time was a faltering luxury goods company on the brink of bankruptcy by 1994 (when he was promoted to creative director), and made it into an international success. Between the following years of 1995 and 1996, sales at Gucci increased rapidly, and when Ford left in 2004; the Gucci Group was valued at $10 billion. During this time some of the most obvious changes came by way of branding. 

Taking a leaf out of Calvin Klein’s book of boundary- pushing campaigns from the 1980’s, Ford’s ad campaigns during this time are recognised as some of the most iconic and shocking in fashion history. One in particular that almost immediately comes to mind is the ad starring Carmen Kass (even though her face is not seen), who has the Gucci “G” shaved into her pubic hair. Similarly at YSL, Ford took a controversial route. In 2000, he came up with the Sophie Dahl for YSL Opium campaign, which was shot by iconic photographer Stephen Meisel.

Following its launch, the fully nude photograph received over a thousand complaints to the British Advertising Standards Authority. This quickly became one of the most complained ads in ASA history. However, Opium is not surprisingly one of YSL’s best-selling fragrances. 

The 90’s and early 2000’s was in retrospect a period of overly sexual ad campaigns. Because fashion is integrally trend- driven and cyclical, we have since started to see a shift. Until recently Gucci continued its quest to sell sex, other houses have taken a rather different approach. Paris-based fashion houses such as Dior, is notably reserved.

Other houses appear to be adapting their approach, for now at least. Dolce and Gabbana has come a long way since its notoriously controversial “gang rape” ad from spring/summer 2007 (in which a female model is being held down by a male model as other men look on). Instead they have taken a much more cultural approach, focusing on the depiction of a traditional Italian family. Saint Laurent now under the direction of Hedi Slimane also seems to have undergone somewhat of a facelift, save for those pre-fall 2014 shots of a topless Grace Hartzel and a stray nipple here and there in other campaigns. 

But even those feel much tamer than Tom Ford’s super sexy Gucci campaigns that kicked things off.

“If Tom Ford’s overhaul of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent in the 1990’s taught us anything, it is that sex sells.”

What is important here is that sex will always sell and it is not being entirely removed from ad campaigns. In fact, ads are not becoming desexualized at all. Instead, our idea of what is sexy is being reimagined by fashions leading creators. This fact, along with a difficult market for luxury brands, has called for change. “The relationship of consumers towards luxury brands is changing. People are not just looking for status symbols,” says Claudia d’Arpizio, who specialises in luxury goods as a partner with Bain in Milan. It is here that big brands such as Gucci seem to struggle, to keep up with the rapidly adapting new influx of young, commercial shoppers and the changing tastes of consumerism.

Although it is easy to spot an offensive image in a glossy magazine and instantaneously post an angry remark on your twitter feed and vow to never consume the brand again, it is undeniable; sex sells. Watching an advert full of good looking models has a certain allure that makes me want to buy into the brand. This may be considered as superficial however I personally am a victim of this form of advertising, subconsciously believing I will become whatever the ad is suggesting to me.

Despite this desire, it is still distasteful to me as a young girl when females are portrayed as the less dominant sex. In this era, I would hope that women can feel strong an empowered by their bodies rather than simply sexualised by men.

Social media is something of a place for self-expression, however I still feel oppressed by males of my generation. I have never been uncomfortable with the way I look, in fact until around the age of sixteen I hardly even thought about it. However, joining social media forced a bunch of ‘inspo accounts’ full of beautiful looking women with perfect bodies upon me and suddenly I was not completely happy with the way I looked. Now at the ripe old age of nineteen I feel I have gotten wise to social media and its influences and have learnt to love myself and my body. I recently posted a photo of myself on my Instagram following a recent summer holiday. Among the confidence boosting emoji comments and kind words from friends there was bound to be someone who didn’t like it. A comment mentioned to one of my friends by a guy I went to school with bothered me somewhat. It wasn’t exactly what he said but the fact that it was so acceptable for him to say. He stated that he was starting to lose respect for me as I was showing my body on social media. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I wouldn’t expect everyone to like it, but if a simple photograph of someone wearing a swimsuit could cause a problem then what are these ads telling us about society today? and with the likes of Kim Kardashian posing full frontal for Paper magazine why are some people still so against something that is becoming so normal?

Something about a dominant woman in a perfume ad flashing a lot of flesh on a huge billboard in the city might not be such a bad idea. We think nothing of a Calvin Klein poster featuring a good looking man with a great body wearing nothing but his underwear yet semi-nude female adverts create such a fuss.

I’m still on the fence about some of these marketing methods, but I do think young women may benefit from it becoming more socially acceptable for females to show their bodies without feeling bad about themselves or for it to be considered as selling sex and the fashion industry being such a huge influence on us all is a great place to start.

In 2017 could shock and distaste for sexual advertising be a thing of the past?