It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Calvin Klein would opt to forgo the runway, but it did. Maybe it’s because the American label has been so permanently stamped on pop culture’s consciousness, that permeating anything less than every facet of fashion feels like its departure from the industry. But if should wipe our tears with anything, it should be with this tangible evidence that CK has long-since been ahead of the game.
There’s a robust history of female objectification in fashion campaigns. See: Gucci’s exploits, Tom Ford, even New Zealand menswear brand I Love Ugly was all but toppled by releasing ads that featured a fully-clothed man fondling a naked woman. It’s a tale so much older than time that any outrage, even from social media’s call-out collective, feels like an overreaction. But this wasn’t always the case. Long before Raf Simons recruited the Kardashian sisters to nuzzle in a barn therein embodying Midwest Americana—even prior to then hyper-pure Justin Bieber and his highly meme-able stuffed crotch—Calvin Klein was making waves by flipping expectations.
2004 was an interesting time. Britney was nearing, but not quite, on the brink, and 17-year-old Jojo was telling us to “Leave (Get Out).” Jeans were low, Friends was ending, and heteronormative values were very much adhered to, ploughing the cultural landscape into fertile breeding ground for homophobia, transphobia, and gender inequality. This was not the time to deviate from the status quo, even if the sentiment was, like, get with the program, it’s totally 2004. The Abercrombie & Fitch aesthetic ruled, and a star was born in the shape of Jamie Dornan (an Irish model who a decade later would star in the immensely popular franchise 50 Shades). Under the watchful eye of then newly-appointed creative director, Jil Sander-alum Italo Zuccheli, Jamie Dornan agreed to star in a Calvin Klein’s Fall/Winter 2004 advertisements—a campaign that would artfully allude to a woman eating his ass.
But it wasn’t just any woman. Natalia Vodianova, a Russian supermodel cleverly nicknamed “the Supernova,” would be doing the job. In the image, an effectively full-clothed Vodianova can be seen dragging at the waist of half-naked Dornan’s CK jeans and biting his butt cheek. It is still potentially the most vulnerable a “straight” male model has appeared in the advertisement of a high-end designer—a campaign conceived of the homosexual male gaze for gays and girls alike, who, in 2004, were absolutely the underdogs and as such cannot be over-intellectualized. Calvin Klein sent a clear message: equal opportunities for all.
Whether today’s Calvin Klein news is indicative of the future of fashion—the transformation of shows to presentations and beyond—remains to be seen, but evidently it would be far from the first time the brand was ahead of the curve. If Calvin Klein can turn Jamie Dornan’s ass into a feminist rallying cry, there’s no telling what they might next have up their sleeve.