It’s 1982. The dawn of the modern brief – and the industry’s most iconic brand, Calvin Klein. Calvin Klein ads and underwear have had a turbulent past of evolution, controversy, and men wearing tighty whities on billboards. But it all began with a man called Tom Hintaus…
THE BEGINNING: 1980S
Back in the early 80s designer Calvin Klein made a bold move, stepping into an industry that up to that point had been dominated by cheap, utility garments focussed on comfort, hygiene, and sports. Klein’s move would shape the men’s underwear industry into what it is today – sexualised, brand-led, and premium quality.
How? With the help of pole vaulter Tom Hintaus‘ sporting physique and the celebrated photographer Bruce Weber. A white brief with a lower cut, tighter fit, and the now-legendary waistband was a trailblazing product. Calvin Klein’s goal was to convert men’s underwear into a fashion garment to show off. Not just a ‘hygiene’ product. It was a big gamble, with $500,000 invested on advertising, but the results are quite clear. Calvin Klein became the industry leader, and has stayed there. And the ads? Stark portraits with muted colour palettes was the style of these original Calvin Klein ads and it has hardly changed up to this day.
Fast forward a decade and perhaps one of the most iconic Calvin Klein ads is released – starring the budding rapper Mark Wahlberg and a 17-year old Kate Moss. The 1992 shoot added to “Marky Mark”‘s fame and was as a precursor to his move from rapping to acting. The TV ad was ballsy – an exaggerated masculine voiceover from the rapper aimed to make it cool for men to care about their underwear. “The best protection against AIDS is to keep the Calvins on” claimed Marky Mark with a snap from his elastic waistband. At a time when AIDS hysteria was only just calming down, these Calvin Klein ads intended to shock.
What’s more, Kate Moss was only 17 at the time of the shoot but appeared topless and straddling her male counterpart. She’s since spoken out about having a nervous breakdown – and how uncomfortable the physical nature of the shoot made her.
THE NAUGHTIES: CALVIN KLEIN ADS EVERYWHERE
2002 and the first ever 6 figure annual contract for a men’s underwear model – and it goes to Australian model Travis Fimmel. Whilst not as high profile as Mark Wahlberg or Kate Moss, there’s no doubt you’ll recognise the Calvin Klein ads he featured in which appeared everywhere in the early Naughties. More recently Travis is known for starring in the History Channel breakthrough series Vikings as Ragnar Lothbrok.
In the following years, Calvin Klein started a trend of using famous footballers to model underwear with Swedish footballer and Arsenal player Freddie Ljungberg. He was the face and body of one of the brand’s most successful campaigns ever between 2003 and 2007. He was, however, second choice for the campaign – David Beckham turned down the opportunity claiming he was ‘too famous’ in the UK. He famously changed his mind some 3 years later when he modelled for Emporio Armani…
Footballers and underwear is a trend that’s stuck. Becks and Cristiano Ronaldo both modelled for Emporio Armani, but have since released their own ranges of men’s underwear. In fact, you can check out Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 range on BANG+STRIKE!
THE TWENTEENS – WHO’S NEXT?
It’s the second decade of the 21st century and Calvin Klein underwear is over 30 years old. What’s next for the brand?
As Calvin Klein has consistently done over the years, its advertising has taken an unexpected route. After flashing his Calvins all year on social media (and stripping down to his Calvin Klein Power Red boxers at Fashion Rocks), Justin Bieber has been confirmed to have been shot by the brand. The results of the shoot will be released later this year – but why choose a polarising pop star with a horde of tween fans to front the edgy brand?
To shock, of course. Besides, Bieber’s image is not as squeaky clean as back in the ‘Boyfriend’ era, having been in a number of legal disputes recently for driving under the influence in Florida. At 20 years old, the singer is starting to bulk up with a more Calvin Klein-worthy bod and a number of tattoos add to an edgier image. It’s nevertheless a surprising, and risky, move for the super-brand. Can you imagine him in black&white Marky Mark-esque Calvin Klein ads?
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