Sunday, 5 February 2012

Calvin Klein Underwear 30th Anniversary

Since the launch of Calvin Klein Underwear in 1982 the brand has provided iconic advertising that have launched careers and featured super models and celebrities alike. The campaigns are imprinted into the minds of a generation and still turn heads thirty years on.

From the first advert featuring Tom Hintnaus to this year’s featuring Bold advert with Matthew Terry, Calvin Klein have reconfigured the men’s underwear market over the last thirty years and remain the market leader.

We have compiled a small selection of those iconic images featuring Calvin Klein men’s underwear, television ads and the models that appeared in them. 

We have also included some of the most controversial adverts from Calvin Klein.


The first advertising campaign featured Tom Hintnaus, a US pole-vaulter who qualified first for the 1980 United States Olympic Trials in track and field. Following the United States boycott of the Olympic games he became estranged and represented Brazil from 1983. The advertising campaign was photographed by Bruce Weber and showed Hintnaus in white briefs leaning against a whitewashed chimney on Santorini Island in Greece. The image became iconic and was named as one of “10 Pictures That Changed America” by American Photographer Magazine.

Hintnaus frustrated by his notoriety was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying;

“I worked so hard to be the best pole-vaulter in the world and I ended up being more well known for putting on a pair of briefs.”

The image stopped traffic when it appeared in Times Square, New York and also became a gay icon. Today Tom Hintnaus, he is a contractor in specialising in dock building.

Previous Calvin Klein Underwear models in 2007, Ed Bergin, Joel West, Antonio Sabato and Tom Hintnaus.


Bruce Weber again for Calvin Klein in this campaign image from 1988 featuring Ed Flory.


Mark Wahlberg was born in Dorchester, Boston in 1971. The youngest of nine children, by thirteen he had developed an addition to cocaine and other substances. Wahlberg claims he was in trouble with the Boston Police Department up to 25 times as a teenager. At 16, he was charged with attempted murder after he approached a middle-aged Vietnamese man on the street and, using a large wooden stick, knocked him unconscious. He also attacked another Vietnamese man, leaving him permanently blind in one eye, and attacked a security guard.

"I did a lot of things that I regretted and I have certainly paid for my mistakes. You have to go and ask for forgiveness and it wasn't until I really started doing good and doing right, by other people as well as myself, that I really started to feel that guilt go away. So I don't have a problem going to sleep at night. I feel good when I wake up in the morning."

Whilst in prison Wahlberg decided to change his ways. Relying on the guidance of his parish priest to turn his back on crime. He told his street gang that he was leaving them.

In 1992 after launching his music career, Wahlberg posed for a series of underwear advertisements in print and television shot by Herb Ritts alongside Kate Moss.

Klein later revealed, "It didn't go too well, [Kate] didn't like [Mark] at all. I have worked with so many women, great ones, and Kate was always difficult." But lest you think everyone on set was a capital D diva, Calvin adds, "[Mark] was a pleasure."

The campaign cemented the career of Wahlberg and since has gone on to appear in movies including Three Kings (1999), The Perfect Storm (2000), The Departed (2006) and The Lovely Bones (2009).


17-year old Joel West from Indianola, Iowa was one of the top supermodels in the 1990’s and signed an exclusive contract with Calvin Klein. West followed a career in acting and has appeared in many television series, with credits including Hereos, CSI: Miami and Charmed.


Travis Fimmel was raised on a 5500-acre dairy farm in Echuca, Victoria, Australia. After high school, higher education called and he was accepted to Melbourne University.  It was not long until his intense curiosity led him to begin his global adventures. While bar tending in London, he met his would-be manager, David Seltzer. He saw a spark in Fimmel and suggested he move to the US. Fimmel made the move to Los Angeles with just $60 in his pockets, spent $40 on a taxi into the city and his last $20 at a bar. Fimmel found himself broke, walked barefoot into the offices of LA Models, where Paul Nelson recognised his potential and signed him.  Asked whether landing in LA with $60 was a good way to launch a career, Travis replied;

“Probably not. I just chanced it. I went to the airport and the friend who drove me lent me the money. It was a Monday morning when I arrived. I went into the agency with no shoes on and just said: 'Hey.' They just picked me up straight away. They got me a flat, rented me a car and really looked after me.”

After easily booking a few jobs, Nelson brokered his first campaign with Calvin Klein Underwear.

It was claimed that an advertising hoarding featuring Fimmel caused such a commotion on Oxford Street in London that it was removed after claims women drivers were slowing down to ogle the advertisement, triggering accidents and traffic jams, however this was considered to be an internet rumour. Calvin Klein defended the ad, denying that the image was suggestive or demeaning, and the Advertising Standards Agency agreed, ruling that it was relevant to the product and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Some countries decided to ban the ads, reasoning that it was too sexually suggestive and demeaning to men.

“Fimmel was self-conscious as a youngster. He was small, the little guy”
Jenny Fimmel

Fimmel also featured in the 2002 Calvin Klein campaign for Crave well as having a successful acting career.


2007 saw the launch of Steel, featuring the infamous chunky metallic waistband in cotton and microfiber modeled by Djimon Hounsou. Hounsou, an actor and model from Benin and his acting credits include ER, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Stargate.


In 2009, Jamie Dornan was selected to model with Eva Mendes for Calvin Klein Underwear as part of their “White” and “Black” range, which was a superior quality product with pricing from £34 - £42 an item.

Dornan, who has also modeled with Calvin Klein alongside Kate Moss, continues to pursue his career in modeling and drama and is currently starring as Sheriff Graham in the ABC series Once Upon a Time.


In 2010, Calvin Klein Underwear launched the X range with Twilight star Kellan Lutz alongside, Spanish tennis player Fernando Verdasco, Japanese Footballer Hidstoshi Nakata and actor Mehad Brooks.

The Calvin Klein X line, which came in two modern fabrications for ultimate comfort and fit: cotton modal and microfiber. Modal provides softness and luster whilst the cotton allows for comfort and breathability; the microfiber is an ultra-luxe premium fabrication. Both have stretch for ease of movement, and styles are distinguished with colored, microfiber logo waistbands cotton features a blue logo, microfiber in red. Each is overlaid with a distinctive center front gray patch with an embossed "X"; over the signature Calvin Klein logo in bold proportions for maximum impact.

The imagery for the campaigns includes both still photography by fashion photographer Mikael Jansson and digital films produced by Darius Khondji, shot in New York City. Trey Laird of Laird and Partners directed the campaign. Ads were launched globally in April 2010 magazines. Impactful imagery was featured in a global outdoor advertising program spanning key sites in markets across the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Asia.


In 2011, Calvin Klein launched their attempt at making ck one a global lifestyle brand by launching the ck one. Backed with the website as a digital hub for the campaign.

The outdoor campaign featured on LED billboards in high impact locations in New York City (at Houston & Lafayette Streets and on Subway Urban Panels) and in Los Angeles, California (at Sunset Boulevard & Havenhurst Drive), as well as key sites in Seoul, Rome, Madrid, and Barcelona. The full outdoor campaign rolled out to Paris, London, Milan, Hamburg, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, and Melbourne.

The imagery for the campaign was captured during a multi-day shoot in NewYork City by renowned fashion photographer Steven Meisel, who shot the original campaign for the launch of the ck one fragrance in 1994, setting the tone for this powerful brand. The campaign imagery was filmed and all of the print images are still captures from the video footage.

The campaign featured amongst others Lara Stone, Pixie Geldof, Sky Ferreira, Fei Fei Sun, Wang Xiao, Robert Evans,  Aaron Frew, David Agbodji and Dan Kling.

Simon Nessman appeared as the model on packaging of men’s underwear.

“The new ck one apparel brand gives us the ability to extend our conversation with an expanded global audience, and we feel strongly that this campaign will resonate with the target demographic and further the reach of the ck one brand."
Craig Brommers, Warnaco Inc.


2012 will see a new Calvin Klein Underwear advertising campaign for Calvin Klein Bold. Bold features clean lines and masculine details with lightweight cotton spandex for comfort, easy care and added shape retention.

The range launches with bright and bold colours such as nara orange, banana and bright zinnia, with a range of masculine blues. Japanese illustrator Yokoyama Yuichi was a source of inspiration for colour, taken from his funky cartoon characters.

The advertising campaign, shot in Joshua Tree by Steven Klein and Fabien Baron features Matthew Terry, Myles Crosby, Arran Sly and Chris Garavaglia. Below is some of the imagery and a behind the scene video of the shoot.

Controversial Adverts

1980 - Brooke Shields

In early 1980, the 14-year-old Shields was the youngest fashion model ever to appear on the cover of the top fashion publication Vogue magazine. Later that same year, Shields appeared in controversial print and TV ads for Calvin Klein jeans. It’s difficult to think of another series of ads that kicked up as big a brouhaha as did Richard Avedon’s 1980 TV commercial featuring a 15-year-old Shields looking directly into the camera and asking, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

Brooke Shields had played a pre-pubescent prostitute in the film Pretty Baby sever years earlier, this also added to the controversy over the choice of model. Shields later said;

“There was an iconic tone to it. I don’t think you can really know that at the time, because it feels like that type of vision is after the fact. But [the response] was immediate. It was me and the jeans. We were inseparable. I didn’t do a television show without that being in my bio. I didn’t go on the street without somebody saying, ‘Got your Calvins on?’ People still come up to me and mention it.”

1995 - Kids Jeans

Calvin Klein came in for further criticism after their 1995 Calvin Klein Jeans commercials were aired in the United States. The print ads which used images of models who were reportedly as young as fifteen was meant to mimic "picture set" pornography of the '60s. The commecials left little doubt that the images intended to imitate pornography. In one of these ads, the camera focused on the face of a young man, as an off camera male voice cajoled him into ripping off his shirt, saying;

"You got a real nice look. How old are you? Are you strong? You think you could rip that shirt off of you? That's a real nice body. You work out? I can tell."

In another, a young girl is told that she's pretty and not to be nervous, as she begins to unbutton her clothes.

Calvin Klein insisted that the campaign was not pornographic and the true intent was to "convey the idea that glamour is an inner quality that can be found in regular people in the most ordinary setting; it is not something exclusive to movie stars and models."

Consumer and child welfare advocates disagreed, finding the ads disturbing and exploitative. The American Family Association began a campaign threatening to boycott retailers if they carried Calvin Klein Jeans. Seventeen and other major magazines refused to carry the campaign.

Eventually the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into whether or not Klein had violated child pornography laws.

Under increasing pressure, Calvin Klein recalled the ads, but not before the ensuing controversy had made his jeans into the "must-have" item.

As one marketing director noted, this controversy took Klein's "coolness factor from a 10 to a 60," and if continued sales are any indication, his "bad boy" reputation has only enhanced his products in the eyes of young consumers.

One comment on YouTube sums up the advertising campaign brilliantly;

“Creepy, Yes. But ingenious nevertheless. I can’t think of any other ad which sends a chill down my spine. Simply authentic.”

Also in 1995 another campaign by Calvin Klein was criticised for showing men modeling underwear in what some critics stated to be “a state of arousal.”

1999 - Kids Underwear

Calvin Klein came in for heavy criticism in early 1999 when they launched an advertising campaign for the launch of their children’s underwear range. CRK Adverting, Calvin Klein’s own in-house marketing agency, created the campaign. Critics ranged from conservative groups through to the mayor of New York City, where Calvin Klein had planned to unveil a huge billboard in Times Square.

The images, which can be seen above, were immediately pulled;

''The comments and reaction that we have received today raised issues that we had not fully considered. As a result, we have decided to discontinue the campaign immediately.''

The advert had already been printed in the New York Times, Martha Stewart Living and due to being printed in advance the The New York Times Magazine.

ASA Complaint - 2011

A Calvin Klein Underwear poster advertising women’s lingerie sparked a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency in the United Kingdom. The issues within the complaint was that the ad was offensive to the large Orthodox Jewish population of Stamford Hill, whose religious beliefs required them not to see images of women wearing only underwear and that it was irresponsible to display the ad in untargeted media in public as it would be seen by children.

Calvin Klein defended the advert stating they did not believe that the ad was offensive or socially irresponsible. They said the ad merely featured the product, their underwear range, being worn by a model. They believed it was reasonable to feature models wearing underwear when advertising these products, and that the ad was neither sexually suggestive nor overtly sexual. They also said their media vendor had not believed that the ad fell into the "risky" category, and had been happy for the ad campaign to proceed.

The Advertising Standards Agency did not uphold the complaint on either grounds after investigating under the CAP Code and were unable to find a breach of the code.

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