This Head-Turning Calvin Klein Campaign Turned the Head of the Feds

When cute young models look a little too young

Critics saw Calvin Klein’s campaign as predatory, pedophilic and just plain creepy. Calvin Klein

Say what you want about his skills as a designer, Calvin Klein certainly earned his stripes as a marketer. This is the man who, by casting a salacious (and 15 year-old) Brooke Shields in a 1980 TV spot, sold 200,000 pairs of jeans the first week. In no time, America caught on: Klein’s ads used breasts and bulges to sell the clothes meant to cover them up.

But in the mid 1990s, he took things too far with a campaign that not only featured models who weren’t just half naked, they looked barely clear of puberty. Photographer Steven Meisel dropped the youngsters onto a set that, with its purple carpet and cheap paneling, resembled nothing so much as a basement porn set.

While the public freaked and the Justice Department checked IDs, Klein pulled the ads. “Few could have predicted,” Adweek wrote in its April 21, 1997 issue, “that what did him in was the combination of boys’ thighs and bad knotty pine.”


@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.