What Comes Between Him And His Calvins? Messy Beefs


Only days before actor Jeremy Allen White collected his second Golden Globe for best performance by a male actor in a TV series, musical or comedy, (for his beautiful and layered portrayal of Chef Carmy on “The Bear”), his Calvin Klein underwear ads broke the internet.

There’s a terrific video and various print shots, and they’re still causing hysteria.

I didn’t think this was possible. We’ve had generations of CK ads since Brooke Shields and Marky Mark had their moments in the 1980s and 1990s, and lately most of the ads have seemed like dim copies (if not wallpaper) without much impact.

What’s shocking about the new campaign is that in “The Bear,” we’re used to seeing White covered from toque-to-toe in full chef drag.

And if he’s hatless, the focus is on his hangdog face, heavy-lidded blue eyes, disheveled mop of curls, and inner torment.



To add to the depth of fun, the name of the restaurant that Carmy takes over from his brother is “The Original Beef of Chicagoland.”

Speaking of beefcake, who knew that underneath all that chefwear he had such a crazy beautiful six-pack situation? His musculature seems to have gone from ripped to jacked, as they call it, although that sounds very X-rated.

And yes, if a guy wrote that about a young female model’s body, he would be considered sexist and creepy, with good reason.

Whereas my fevered prose is just plain old embarrassing, but more on that double standard later.

Sure, some classic Calvin Klein ad DNA (by way of da Vinci and Michelangelo) shows up here in the frankness and frontality of showing White’s chiseled body.

But by contrast with the arty but controversial ads shot by Bruce Weber in the Jurassic days, this incarnation, by using the now-famous actor as model, is less cold and distant because we feel that we know him.

Chef Carmy's character is sharply poignant and fully dimensional, so there’s a certain energy and wit that comes along with that Apollonian body.

Although we get varied poses and stages of undress, the video and other images, shot by photographer Mert Alas and styled by Emmanuelle Alt taking in New York City’s blue skies, roof tops, and buildings, are full of personality. They sing.

And talk about singing: Amusingly, the music in the video -- "You Don't Own Me" by Leslie Gore -- served as a cry of female emancipation in 1963.

Enter the creative team for Away Luggage, who posted a spoof within 24 hours.

The fact that this CK iteration could be immediately identifiable in a silly suitcase parody only adds to its sticking power.

Very quickly, the Away brand exchanged the sizzle of White’s six-pack for the ribbed (but not rock-ribbed) polycarbonate of a sturdy oversized grey carry-on.

And it worked. Away somehow got a pair of XXXXL briefs and pulled them up past the wheels to the torso of the valise, then posed the case in similar NYC rooftop shots.

The idea of sexually objectifying a suitcase in boxer briefs is hilarious. There’s something so lovable about inanimate objects as bodies -- we’ll excuse them all their faults.

By doing the piggyback so cleverly and quickly, Away earned immediate attention, admiration and social media cred on a less-than-three-figure budget.

But let’s go back to the double standards. During the Jeremy fever, a Calvin Klein UK ad featuring the British singer FKA Twigs, which has been circulating since last April, was banned by the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA said the singer was being depicted as "a stereotypical sexual object" after two people complained about the image. It shows her in artful light, pulling a Calvin Klein denim shirt over her dancer’s body.

The tagline is “Calvins or Nothing.” (Hello, Brooke!)

On Instagram, Twigs explained that she does "not see the 'stereotypical sexual object' that they have labeled me." Rather, she sees "a beautiful strong woman of color whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine."

One of the first comments on her post read, “Funny that I scroll down to see another article gushing about Jeremy Allen White’s campaign…but you got taken down.”

Male gaze? Female gaze? We still have a long way to go to equalize gender (and racial) status.

Standards of exploitation and objectification are fluid and changing, and hard to categorize.There’s always backlash.

I find the White ads the most inspired Calvin Klein campaign in many decades.

And at least these days, there’s plenty of room to enter the real-time conversation.


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