Monday, 28 September 2009

Hipster Porn

In need of some fleshy gratification? Flip through the pages of your local glossie and you're sure to get a 'saucy fix', with fashion editorials and advertising campaigns that would make even Larry Flynt blush. Soft porn has become the new power tool and the big guns are not afraid to embrace it. In the advertising world it’s all about making a lasting impression – regardless of its relevance to the product – and sex sells. This truism is no revelation, yet slackening restrictions are allowing for overtly sexual and controversial print advertising, which is ambiguously wavering between ‘art’ and ‘porn’. Soft-porn, it seems, is the new trend and consumers find it pretty convincing. Infamous photographers Terry Richardson and Steven Meisel are currently at the forefront; creating sleazy, salacious images for the likes of fashion designers Calvin Klein and Sisley. While American Apparel CEO Dov Charney, has successfully tried his hand at the simple point-and-shoot for his controversial clothing campaign. But is the public ready?

Since his 1980 advertisement that showed a sultry 15-year-old Brook Shields in a pair of her ‘favourite’ Calvins, American designer Calvin Klein has been fully aware of the power of the ‘pulse’. An image that shocks and seduces you, piques your interest and locks your gaze - sending shivers down your spine. In 1992, Calvin Klein enlisted the help of buff rapper Marky Mark, better known these days as actor Mark Wahlberg, and a barely legal Kate Moss. The scene: the duo is intimately positioned, while sporting nothing more than their Calvin Klein jeans and underwear; a simple idea, yet an effective message which stays relatively innocent. Fast-forward to 2009, however, and Steven Meisel has helped Klein push the boundaries. In his image, three semi-dressed youths; two males and one female, lay embracing one another on a couch. A fourth topless male reclines on the floor. This is supposed to be selling you Calvin Klein; its jeans, its underwear, and the many other products, to which Mr Klein ‘fastidiously’ lends his name. Instead it sells a message. A message that says: if you wear these jeans something like this could happen to you. Do we believe it? I sincerely hope not. But we believe in something and it is definitely not the quality. If all it took was a sturdy pair of jeans, the last thing Mr CK would need to show you, is sexually-charged youths on the brink of a ménage-a-trois status.

In a rather ironic twist, many clothing companies are favouring the less is more approach, and sometimes, dressing their models in nothing more than a pair of tube socks. American Apparel founder Dov Charney has pioneered a marketing campaign that lends itself to a sort-of amateur porn aesthetic, in which normal-looking girls; we’re told they’re AA sales assistants, wear little more than a coy smile. The end result resembles something your boyfriend could have taken in the back-room, and in Charney’s opinion it has garnered both praise and prejudice. Despite this, the 41-year-old entrepreneur remains adamant that his images are sexy yet harmless, and an individual’s reaction is ultimately ruled by personal taste. Such images are riddled with soft-core porn body postures and motifs; prepubescent girls with spread legs and facial expressions that suggest sexual pleasure are done in a vernacular, un-posed type style. The company says it’s catering for the global youth culture; presenting them with young, fresh and sexy everyday individuals who embrace sex and sexual liberation. However, when he’s not taking the photos or fighting off sexual harassment cases, Charney and his handle-bar moustache take time to jump on the other side of the camera, producing photos which would give low-budget porn movies circa-1973, a run for their money. A brand that sells plain over-sized t-shirts, hoodies, slacks and tube socks has managed to market itself in such a way, as to put the X back into X-large. Their provocative nature gets people talking and leaves a lingering after-taste, and depending on your predilection, you’ll either enjoy it or wish you’d never opened your mouth.

Charney hard at work.

Post-modern snapshot photographer Terry Richardson is synonymous with this adult-friendly-style, in which a standard point-and-shoot camera creates a cheap photographic quality. His iconic soft-core photo narratives, which exploit sexual innuendo, have inevitably led to labels such as 'misogynistic' and 'perverse'; but the son of famed fashion photographer Bob Richardson, couldn’t give a rats. His ability to artfully meld art and porn into an off-putting, yet oddly attractable scent has propelled him from hipster stardom; Vice and Purple magazine, to the likes of Rollingstone, GQ and Sports Illustrated. His graphic sexual depictions and taboo allusions have even won over the high-end fashion magazines, including Vogue and Harpeer’s Bazaar. Everyone wants him to demoralize them; Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan, Pam Anderson and even U.S president Barak Obama, have been touched by Mr Richardson.

For the Sisley Fall Winter 2001 ad campaign "Farming", the photographer shot supermodel Josie Maran as she frolicked around a farm, in various states of dress and undress. He channels school-girl porn as Maran lies on her side in an unbuttoned shirt and plays on the up-the-skirt angle. In the most torrid yet well publicized image of the Sisley-Richardson collaboration, Maran squirts milk from a cow’s udder as she insouciantly stares at you through the camera lens; milk dripping from her mouth. In this campaign all sort of innuendos are at play and although it was widely criticized for its vulgarity, for Terry Richardson it was just another pay check from yet another wealthy fashion house, who can no longer deny the ‘talent’ of the man who took 1970`s porn aesthetic and made it fashion chic.

The introduction of soft-porn into the advertising industry threatens to break down all kinds of barriers and taboos. Pioneers Terry Richardson and Dov Charney are busy repackaging pornography for the mainstream audience; persuading us to see it as risqué instead of vulgar, and racy instead of dirty. Are we offended? Damn straight, but not enough to look away; instead we criticize it for being offensive or commend it for its apathy. These pseudo-porn images seduce and fascinate us; they gain publicity regardless of the nature and unwittingly stick to the roof of our mouth.

Yet, while some see the American Apparel vision as a degeneration of our society, CEO Dov Charney maintains that he is only catering for a need that was already there, but had not yet been satisfied. Along with many others, Charney and Richardson have subjected society to the demand for porn, which is challenging our limits and shaping our perceptions accordingly. ‘X-rated images are hawking everything from beer to video games’ said Charney, so why not fashion? It seems the public have apprehensively accepted the saturation of porn in advertising; whether it was through personal opinion or public pressure is of little concern to these precursors. The truth of it is, the soft-core brigade is out in full-force and will continue to push the envelope, because after sex comes sales.

Here's some moving visuals courtesy of American Apparel.

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