Raunchy, pornographic, pedophilic – or, how the ‘ordinary’ transforms into extraordinary. The case of Calvin Klein’s ad campaigns from the 1980s to the present

Activity: Talk or presentation typesConference presentation


Having started in 1968, Calvin Klein has become the symbol of American everyday fashion. The company’s advertising campaigns, in contrast, are everything but ordinary. Since the eponymous jeans advertising campaign in 1980, featuring the all-American child model and actress Brooke Shields whistling the famous children’s tune and whispering the controversial line ‘Do you wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing’, the brand has regularly caused media uproar and stirred demands to recall their campaigns. In the 1980s and early-1990s, for example, muscular athletic models wearing CK white briefs, were the constant target of moralizing debate. And in mid-1990s, Calvin Klein made headlines by featuring the new ordinary-looking super model, Kate Moss in many of the brand’s campaigns, including the company’s notorious perfume campaign, Obsession for Men. In 1995, the brand’s reputation as a daring taboo-breaker was cemented with a campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans featuring young models in a setting imitating 1970s’ retro look of soft porn. In the 2000s, the brand has continued this tactic, and been criticized for promoting gang rape and drug use among other things. The main argument of the paper is that even though fashion has become increasingly subsumed with the ordinary and the everyday in terms of clothing (Buckley & Clark 2018), the element of extraordinariness essential to fashion has not disappeared. It has transformed and become to mean something else: the aura of the brand. The proposed paper will discuss, through the case study of Calvin Klein’s controversial advertising campaigns, how the brand has transformed ordinary clothes into extraordinary desirables through these campaigns.
Period14 Feb 202015 Feb 2020
Event titleAmerican Everyday: Resistance, Revolution & Transformation
Event typeConference
LocationChicago, United States, IllinoisShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Calvin Klein
  • fashion advertising
  • shock tactics
  • brand tactics