Commentary

The Latest Social Media Threads: Who Pulled Down The Jeans?

It’s hard to write about advertising and marketing when the most potent thing to happen overnight, after the jury decision not to prosecute the Eric Garner case was made known, was a spontaneous citizen “die-in” in Grand Central Station.

 Thousands of people of all colors protested peacefully, miming death on the floor of the train station, just a couple of blocks from where NBC’s  “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” show was being broadcast live. (I tuned in just in time to see Mariah Carey sing in real time -- after reportedly missing her chance to pre-tape -- and the performance was uniquely cringe-worthy.)

Anyway, the live, tree-lighting extravaganza is a longtime tradition for NBC, the network that famously makes its home at 30 Rock, smack dab in front of the big tree. Families all across the country tune in and love it. So obviously, the show (and its commercial messages) had to go on. I’m just saying that lately, the juxtaposition of current events vs. canned events, over life and death issues, feels especially surreal and upsetting.

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Take this strictly NSFO ad for designer Alexander Wang’s new “T-line” of jeans. (Shown in this piece in Women’s Wear Daily.)

Talk about tone-deaf. At a time when we seemingly get another appalling example of the “what’s new in rape culture,” every day, why not release an ad for jeans showing a young woman sitting in a cold, empty room, head back, eyes closed, naked except for her pants pulled down around her calves? 

It just so happened that on the same day as the jeans ad release, the 19th woman to allege she was drugged and raped by comedian Bill Cosby came forward. The irony is not lost on anyone that by playing Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable (an ob/gyn!), Cosby became the nation’s ultimate father figure and enlightened family man, a dream dad. These days, he should star in a new reality show: “Bill Cosby, 19 and Counting.”

Maybe his issues are due to mental illness, a compulsion so terrible that even he could not acknowledge it to himself. So perhaps his holier-than-thou deceit in telling young black men to “pull up your pants” -- when, pants down, he had been preying on and sexually assaulting women -- for 20 years, was unconscious. It’s certainly unconscionable.

Each case is different. But certainly, Cosby as accused is not alone. CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi was fired recently after several women came forward with charges of sexual assault. At Columbia University, student Emma Sulkowicz has been carrying a mattress everywhere as part of a  senior project to bring attention to rape and its aftermath. As with most women, she hid her experience, then filed a complaint with the university. This led to a hearing before a panel that found the accused not responsible for the assault.

I might add that women who are raped are traumatized and think that authorities won’t believe them, or instead blame them. Therefore, many wait to come forward, or never do. Especially when the rapist is a powerful celebrity like Cosby. Sadly, even now, there is already a sort of mini rape-denial movement growing in response to questions about the journalistic integrity of a Rolling Stone cover story about a gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia. And the cycle continues.

But back to this derivative Alexander Wang ad. I’ve been writing about jeans advertising since the late 1980s, way before the word “rapey” came into fashion. That included all of the racy Calvin Klein ads, some of which were shot by Steven Klein, who is also the photographer for this campaign. And yes, we’ve seen it all before: the creepy wood-paneled walls, the woman who is as naked as the radiator and shown as an object, with no vitality or personal agency.

Not only does the model here look comatose, but the work suggests that the photographer is also on autopilot. There are a couple of updates: The model has a beautiful body, and she’s certainly more muscular than the waifs from the early ‘90s heroin-chic period who were shown lying on bathroom floors, looking skeletal and cadaverous. And dead. (Sexy!) And though the loft is bare-bones, like a molester’s safe room, I can see that the lighting is beautiful. And the art-directed black line across her chest allows the image to be far more frontal.

"It's not provocative just in terms of sexy, but provocative to provoke conversation," the designer himself, Alexander Wang told WWD. "I'm not dictating what that message is exactly. The interesting part is to see how people interpret it, and what they have to say about it. Of course, there are going to be people who disagree with it."

I get that human bodies are beautiful and sculptural. But I call foul here. (I’m not even discussing the second ad, suggesting masturbation, which seems much more desperate.)

The naked “concept” probably grew out of the fact that the jeans, although up to-the-minute fashionable, to the uninitiated look like high-waisted ‘80s retreads, and not terribly flattering when worn.  So they’re shown here lumped up around the model’s calves like leg-warmers. Of course the naked body of a young female model is a lot more captivating than the decided non-eye candy of yet another pair of light-washed Mom jeans.

Or is the ad suggesting that these jeans are so heavy and such a burden to pull on and off that the wearer falls asleep mid-dress? Either way, we are asked to view a woman drained of consciousness.

Of course, a beautiful female body will always get attention. But I have a suggestion for Wang’s marketing team: Every now and then, why not lift your heads out of the fashion world, and become acquainted with what’s happening with women in the real world? That might provoke some interesting conversation -- and perhaps, better ads.

17 comments about "The Latest Social Media Threads: Who Pulled Down The Jeans? ".
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  1. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, December 4, 2014 at 5:58 p.m.

    I'm flabbergasted, especially with the second shot, which appears, at least to me, to show the model lubed and masturbating. Am I imagining that?

    I guarantee I'll remember the ad, but no guarantees I'll remember the brand. I need to keep in mind there's a business objective somewhere, but I don;t think it was about the jeans.

    I suspect Mr. Alexander Wang is trying to earn his credentials as an out-there kinda guy. He has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.

  2. Jerry Shereshewsky from GrownUpMarketing, December 4, 2014 at 6:09 p.m.

    Aside from highly questionable taste, I have always wondered why the fashion convention is that models are not supposed to be having fun. Instead, even in less contentious work everyone is dour..even grim. Topo bad. If I was that good looking I'd be smiling all the time.

  3. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, December 4, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.

    Great article...nothing to add, you said it so well

  4. Matthew Schultz from GSP, December 4, 2014 at 7:29 p.m.

    A nude woman save for her jeans around her ankles.

    She is unhappy, or drunk, or drugged — or all of these.

    If this situation is the result one can expect from wearing these jeans, then one should think twice about wearing them — maybe avoid buying them, and/or avoid folks who do.

    All that written, a bummed-out, mentation-challenged, scantily-clad model in a seemingly troubled, or at-risk, situation is cliche. The tired old fashion biz needs some fresh thinking — or, at least, after 30 years, a new cliche.

    Interesting that the tired old photographer was doing cliche work decades ago and keeps at it — I guess if you if he had only had one hit song way back in previous century, but crowd loves it, whatever.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 4, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.

    Wang shows his jealousy (and his mates) - maybe contempt -for the female form loud and clear. Does he have the right with his right of free speech to incite a riot or violent acts ? Do we have the right, do fashion buyers have the right to buy around him with a 12 month stint working with rape victims, not a little donation added onto the price of his clothes for which he gets a tax deduction, but physically work with rape victims 12 hours a day ?

  6. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 4, 2014 at 9:18 p.m.

    The last paragraph of your commentary says it all. Nothing more need be added.

  7. Jim Osterman from TransEd, December 4, 2014 at 9:47 p.m.

    If I may -- I think there is a story being told here. A lonely girl in the girl city -- OK, a really statuesque lonely girl in the big city. She has this crummy apartment with steam heat and who the hell knows when that thing is going to work. She has sold all her furnishings to shell out four bills for a pair of jeans so she no longer has to walk around her apartment naked. And as she pulls on her $400 jeans she collapses because she feels empowered. Or she feels like a dumbass.

  8. Peggy Moore from freelance, December 4, 2014 at 11:09 p.m.

    Whoa. Both ads disturb me . The second one is gratuitous , but the first one is somewhat frightening . Together, they add up to
    pure misogyny . Do women create ads like this ?

  9. Joanna Patton from LPNY, December 5, 2014 at 10:29 a.m.

    I so hope the Wang ad doesn't work. Great article, Barbara.

  10. Laura Daly from MediaPost, December 5, 2014 at 11:40 a.m.

    I wonder what Anna had to say about the campaign. Wang rarely makes a move without her advice.

  11. Christopher Weakley from Virgo, December 5, 2014 at 7:42 p.m.

    Where's Dexter when you really need him?

  12. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 6, 2014 at 12:08 p.m.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/a-note-to-our-readers-20141205
    BY ROLLING STONE | December 5, 2014
    To Our Readers:

    Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

    Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie's account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn't confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

    In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

    And, Mad Blog readers, I apologize for my error, too. In talking about a growing industry of "rape-denial" , I glazed over the possibility that the story was not factual. It's a sad day for journalism, and for any rape victim who needs to come forward in this climate.

  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 6, 2014 at 12:16 p.m.

    glossed, not glazed, over.

  14. Patrick Harrelson-Keyes from The Bounce Group, December 6, 2014 at 12:32 p.m.

    it's fairly well depressing seeing all of it in b/w in one article. And yes the Wang work is dreadful and to your point completely lacking in context with or sensitivity to what's happening IRL. Not surprising though from an industry that continues to employ Terry Richardson who I suppose can now be dubbed the Bill Cosby of fashion photography. Best, pk

  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 6, 2014 at 2:18 p.m.

    and also, a sad sad day for any male who is falsely accused.

  16. Jim English from The Met Museum, December 6, 2014 at 3:34 p.m.

    Thinking, Barbara, of your prescient '09 comments regarding Calvin Klein's "orgy" billboard about 5 stories high in SoHo (teen girl clad only in jeans with teen guys). You called it desperate. Sadly Wang, and others (A&F, American Apparel) desperate too. These guys, Cosby, UVA frat boys seek to trivialize sexual assault. Good luck to UVA's Jackie and Columbia's Emma.

  17. Michael Porte from The Field (social), WheresSpot, December 7, 2014 at 4:14 p.m.

    Great reporting. Well said.

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