[E]arlier this month, the Advertising Standards Agency ruled that a Miu Miu campaign featuring Mia Goth photographed by Steven Meisel was “irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence” for inappropriately sexualising a model who appeared to be a child (she’s 22 years old FYI).
Though the image of the young actress lying on a bed as she suggestively pulls her top off her shoulder may cause offence to the more prudish amongst us, the fashion industry has certainly churned out far more provocative and sexually charged adverts over the years. We take a look at some of the most offensive and controversial fashion campaigns. As the saying goes, sex sells.
YSL Opium Advert 2000
Newly-appointed creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, caused a stir with this advert which was widely deemed too provocative. The image of an entirely naked Sophie Dahl shot by Steven Meisel, (bar a pair of gold stilettos) sparked controversy when it was released in 2000, prompting 948 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, ranking it the eighth most complained about advert of all time. The shot was considered unsuitable for children’s viewing and was soon removed from billboards around the world.
Tom Ford 2007
In 2007 Tom Ford again recieved criticism for a perfume campaign but this time round it was for an advert shot by Terry Richardson (naturally) for his own brand, criticised for its pornographic approach and was subsequently banned in several countries. A more wholesome and innocent campaign was originally shot, but the fashion house switched these for a series of photographs of entirely naked woman resting the perfume bottles between their breasts or legs.
A spokeswoman for Tom Ford Beauty stated, “We loved the original Marilyn Minter images, but while on a shoot with [Richardson] in Milan, we decided that a sharper, more graphic approach clearly communicated the bold and provocative mood of the fragrance.”
Yves Saint Laurent Pour Homme 1971
Long before Marc Jacobs posed nude for his own BANG fragrance in 2010, Yves Saint Laurent was pictured naked for the fashion house’s first male fragrance, Pour Homme in 1971. Wearing nothing but some spectacles, Laurent was photographed by Jeanloup Sieff, marking the first time in fashion history that a perfume maker had posed for his own advertising campaign.
Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s business partner, said in 1997, “It was just provocation on the part of Yves Saint Laurent. The picture didn’t specifically target the gay population, even though it resonated strongly among them. In any case the photo was hardly published at the time. Just barely in the French press. It was only much later on that it became an almost mythical icon.”
Twenty years after the release of the infamous advert which supposedly caused drivers to crash on the motorway, model Eva Herzigova defended the arguably demeaning advert, stating: “My Wonderbra campaign empowered women. It didn’t degrade them like some said or say. It was controversial at the time, sure — but it made waves and you can see its influence still today. It was one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history and I am so proud to be a part of it.”
Herzigova’s claim was qualified when the advert was named the most iconic advert image of all time by the Outdoor Media Centre in 2011. But at the time of its release in 1994, one in five male drivers reportedly said their eyes were diverted from the road by posters of scantily clad women. “Hello Boys” indeed.
Dolce & Gabbana 2007
The Italian fashion house’s 2007 advert was banned in Spain after it was thought to glorify rape. The controversial image pictures Alessandra Ambrosio pinned down by a man, whilst a group of three other men observe calmly. Designer Stefano Gabbana stated that the image was intended to show “an erotic dream, a sexual game”, however, the National Organisation of Women deemed the advert “beyond offensive, with a scene evoking a gang rape and reeking of violence against women.” Despite the furore, Dolce & Gabbana reported a revenue increase of 21% by the end of the fiscal year, proving that all publicity is good publicity.
Tom Ford struck again in 2004 with a Gucci campaign featuring model Carmen Cass with the Gucci ‘G’ logo shaved into her pubic hair. The advert was banned worldwide immediately. Shot by Mario Testino and styled by Carine Roitfeld the image was almost unanimously considered degrading to woman. Unsurprisingly, many campaigned for the immediate ban of the advertisement, but the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority eventually sided with Gucci’s statement that the advert was “intended to be the ultimate ironic pun for a sexy brand in a logo-led age.”
American Apparel 2008
Over the years, American Apparel has constantly courted controversy. The high street brand has consistently appalled audiences with their tantalising and unnecessarily lewd images. This advert from 2008 took the over-the-top, chauvinistic and unbuttoned sexual imagery to a new level as a near-naked girl is seen virtually performing fellatio on a man who is barely visible. The rumour mill went into overdrive suggesting that the crotch shot belongs to founder Dov Charney.
For some time Charney has been the subject of lawsuits for sexual harassment and violence aimed at employees, charges routinely denied by American Apparel. The retailer have now been gathering e-mails, videos and audio recordings of employee complaints against former CEO Dov Charney, which the company might use in a legal battle with the founder.
Ungaro’s advert is the only campaign that actually caused a backlash before it was even released. Numerous magazines around the world refused to publish the image of the model masturbating – regardless of how stylish she looks in her Ungaro gown – except for American Vogue.
Marc Jacobs oh, Lola 2011
Marc Jacobs were inundated with complaints in 2011 for this image shot by Juergen Teller which arguably turns actress Dakota Fanning, a minor, into a sex object. For the fragrance advert Fanning sat with an oversized perfume bottle positioned between her legs, deemed “sexually provocative” by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority and was subsequently banned in England.
The ASA continued, “we considered that the length of her dress, her leg and position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality. Because of that, along with her appearance, we considered the ad could be seen to sexualise a child.” We shouldn’t think the Nabokov Lolita reference helped much either.