Many similarities can be made between the cultural ideals associated with masculinity and the advertisements for Calvin Klein’s men’s underwear collection. Typically Calvin Klein’s advertisements feature a black and white photograph centralising a muscular-built model wearing only underwear often in a relaxed stance. Attention is drawn not only to the lone garment on the male model but his physic has equal response from the viewer. This allows the simplicity of the garment to not detract from the beauty of the human form. While this seems to compliment the body in a comfortable manner, this image generates a strong connection between the type of figure represented, its relation to ideas of masculinity and its association with the brand.
In 1994, Calvin Klein’s men’s underwear line earned over $100 million in sales (i). Considering the gender expectations of a male to care little about their appearance, perhaps the rise in Calvin Klein sales is an indication of a shift in cultural conceptions of masculinity producing a rise in men’s fashion and even male narcissism. According to Socha, films and television series such as American Gigolo and Miami Vice have had an influence on men’s interest in fashion altogether (ii). Although this may have encouraged men to take an interest in their appearance, cultural ideals of masculinity relating to physical appearance has barely shifted from the past. An example includes Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in 1504. The sculpture is a symbol of strength and youthful human beauty that links the male body with physical power as David was a biblical hero who defeated Goliath (iii). Even Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger exploits the relationship between the ideas of masculinity and the male body existing as a stereotypical trait of the heterosexual male. It would seem in both examples that the male body is being objectified. Perhaps objectifying the male body is a modern advertising tool to possibly alter other social expectations such as male narcissism.
Unlike other male targeted advertising in contemporary society, Calvin Klein’s aesthetic focuses on complimenting the beauty of the human physic rather than exploiting it in an eroticised manner. On the other hand, Tom Ford’s advertisement for men’s cologne objectifies the female body in a highly sexualised approach in order to target men. While both Klein and Ford use heterosexual stereotypical traits to gain attention from men, their brand identity differs entirely according to their associations through advertising. Evident in Calvin Klein’s advertisements the black and white images create a sense of timelessness which corresponds to the effortless posture of the model and simplicity of the garment in a sexy and sophisticated way. Conversely, Tom Ford’s flash snapshot photographic style often using naked women associates his brand with a high level of sex appeal and eroticism relating to male narcissism. In this case, it would seem that Calvin Klein’s approach would be more successful in the way it engages concepts of the gaze where the man is posing for the admiration of other men in an idealistic manner. Thus, ideals of the male body act as a way of associating masculinity with the brand and gain interest in fashion that ultimately generates a rise in male narcissism.
(i) Hale, R 2013, ‘Men’s branded underwear: an investigation of factors important to product choice’, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 180-196
(ii) Socha, M 1996, ‘Movies flickering as major influence on men’s fashion’, Daily News Record, vol. 26, no. 113
(iii) Shaikh, S 2005, ‘The deviating eyes of Michelangelo’s David’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 98, no. 2, pp. 75-76