Why Calvin Klein is Probably Loving the Upskirt Underwear Ad Backlash

“They have such a reputation for pushing the envelope”

Last Updated: May 13, 2016 @ 2:56 PM

Calvin Klein is in the hot seat for its provocative upskirt ad, but the fashion company knew exactly what it was doing, marketing experts tell TheWrap.

In fact, the backlash to the photo featuring 23-year-old Klara Kristin is good for the brand, says Rajiv Menon cultural analyst at the branding research company TruthCo.

“Controversy can be a good opportunity for dialogue and they are in the prime position to do that because they have such a reputation for pushing the envelope and creating advertisements that create buzz,” he told TheWrap.

Calvin Klein has been in the spotlight before for deliberately provocative campaigns. As Complex noted, a 1992 ad showed the then 17-year-old Kate Moss topless, straddling Mark Wahlberg. In 1995, parent groups and child welfare organizations said an ad looked like child porn, though the models were of legal age. (The brand pulled the ads). A 2010 “foursome” billboard sparked a boycott and more than 15,000 complaints.

Critics have called the new ad “soft porn,” “disgusting,” “predatory” and “child porn.” They complain that it makes light of public voyeurism, and that Kristin looks like a child.

“There is definitely something here that hits a sensitive point because we’ve seen how photography has been used in a malicious way, and this ad brings this up,” added Menon. “Problems concerning revenge porn and celebrity nude hacks. There is something about this that evokes the invasion of privacy and predatoriness and there is cultural pushback to that.”

“Many are offended by the Calvin Klein spring campaign because, let’s be frank, it’s about sex, which to many is a controversial, exploitative and private matter,” added Ali Grant, Director at Be Social PR. “Sexuality is interesting to youth culture, which is why a brand like Calvin Klein would attempt to tap into their consumer’s curiosity. Scroll through #mycalvins and you will find close to half a million consumers engaging with this campaign.”

Calvin Klein did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

Provocative images are nothing new to fashion: American Apparel, United Colors of Benetton, Sisley, Alexander Wang, Gucci, Diesel and Tom Ford have all been criticized for ads. Some were accused of glamorizing drugs, and others for objectification. Decades ago, Calvin Klein was criticized for ads using a very young-looking Brooke Shields.

“Fashion has been consistently been a space for experimentation in photography, and because of that we see fashion brands play in the offensive space in order to just get their aesthetic out there and to enter conversation,” added Menon. “Fashion is all about what goes on in culture.”

Here is the ad:

Take a peek: @karate_katia, photographed by @harleyweir for the Spring 2016 advertising campaign. #mycalvins

A photo posted by Calvin Klein (@calvinklein) on