CK and sex have been bedfellows since the company launched nearly four decades ago, and the brand's ad campaigns have been ruffling feathers since the start. From Brooke Shields not letting anything come between her and her Calvins, to a naked Kate Moss and Kylie Jenner's strangely eroticized grapefruit, here's the history of Calvin Klein's controversial ads.
Brooke Shields was just 15 years old when she was tapped for the campaign that launched one of CK's most famous rounds of public outrage. The print ads and commercials were shot by Richard Avedon and featured the famous line, "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." It's the same line that got the TV spot banned by ABC and CBS in New York. No underwear? No air time, apparently.
The next campaign star to stir things up for CK: Kate Moss, who was called too skinny in her (mostly naked) '90s ads for the brand. These Calvin Klein ads may have elevated the fame of both Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg, but they also caused quite the stir, perhaps more regarding Moss than Wahlberg. Moss was only 17 here—and here is her posing topless, straddling the actor.
Following her campaign with Mark Wahlberg, Kate Moss appeared in a commercial and print ads for the brand's perfume, Obsession. Some felt both the photos and the commercial were reflective of the "Heroin Chic" movement that was taking place at the time, and thus glamorized drug use. In fact, even former president Bill Clinton condemned other CK ads from the same decade.
Shot by world renowned photographer Steven Meisel, this campaign may have been one of the brand’s most controversial. Models were shot in a wood-paneled room, and people criticized them for looking like amateur porn. CK faced backlash from parents, from child welfare authorities, and the American Family Association. The justice department even opened an investigation on whether or not CK had violated child pornography laws, but the case was dropped when it was confirmed that the models were adults.
By the mid '90s, Kate had moved on and Christy Turlington took up the mantle of CK underwear model.
She was also the face of the iconic Eternity fragrance campaign, along with fellow genetic superperson Mark Vanderloo.
CK was criticized for this 1999 ad for kids underwear. It was believed that the black and white images of the young boys and girls were borderline child pornography. The president of the the American Family Association said the pictures were "nothing more than pornography." "Whether you like it or not you have pedophiles in this society. Anything that could get them excited is detrimental, irresponsible and reckless," he said.
In 2008, Eva Mendes appeared in the commercial for Calvin Klein's perfume, Secret Obsession. She rolled around the bed, topless, and it was deemed too provocative. This was yet another ad that was a bit too much for the mainstream, and it was banned from U.S. networks. Mendes said she loved the fact that it was banned. "That means the ads are totally Calvin, totally provocative and a little controversial."
In 2009, Meisel was on set for another provocative ad, one that would also be banned from the U.S.
The brand was under hot water for this 50-foot -tall billboard in New York City's SoHo neighborhood because some believed it suggested foursome sex. In fact, some were so outraged that they said they'd boycott the company. The American Family Association went so far as launching an appeal on its websites and sending over 15,000 email complaints to Calvin Klein.
In 2010, Lara Stone starred in a risqué Calvin Klein Jeans ad campaign that was eventually pulled from from billboards in Australia. The Advertising Standards Burea found the images to be "suggestive of violence and rape." The ads also received backlash from sexual assault workers and womens' groups.
At a quick glance, it seems like Lara Stone is just in her Calvin Klein underwear, which at this point is nothing new for the company. But take a closer look and you'll see that it subliminally spells out "FUCK." The side of the table to Lara Stone's left is the "F," her underwear forms a "U" shape, and then you've got the CK logo. Your call whether that's legit.
Here's Lara Stone again, using a CK-branded arm bra for support. Just kidding! That's her actual arm. The rest of the clothing is Calvin Klein, though.
In the digital age of Photoshop, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. And in 2015, when Justin Bieber posed for a CK editorial, a new kind of controversy arose. Some thought his chiseled body was simply too perfect, and accused CK of photoshopping to the point where the photos were no longer ‘real.’
The CK Jeans fall 2015 campaign was inspired by "raw texts, real stories," which means the ads were full of fun references to late-night booty calls and at least one "light threesome.
2016 seems to be shaping up as Calvin Klein's most over-the-top, sexed-up year ever. Sure, the brand's provocative ad campaigns are nothing new. And yes, the brand released some pretty racy stuff a few months ago. But this latest installment—called "Erotica," which actually seems like an understatement—is the most overt yet.