Calvin Klein didn’t earn its reputation for making cool-kid underwear overnight. John Varvatos pioneered boxer briefs while he was a designer at the brand in the early ‘90s, then introduced them to the world on Marky Mark. A label unafraid to push boundaries, the women’s underwear that followed borrowed from the men’s, with a front-fly opening. The suggestive #mycalvins campaign shot by Harley Weir unveiled last year starring Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber, and the social-media response it sparked, wasn’t a strike of luck — it’s taken Calvin Klein 30 years to finesse selling sex.
The tradition of underwear as part of the Calvin Klein DNA goes back to 1971, when the company expanded from producing coats and added lingerie. The latest #mycalvins advertisements don’t even scratch the surface of the brand’s deeply rooted history in envelope pushing. Maybe you’re old enough to remember the snuff-esque Steven Meisel commercials of the ‘90s that got pulled off the air. Before the up-skirt shot, bare-butt selfie and yonic-grapefruit 2016 imagery, Brooke Shields insinuated she wasn’t wearing underwear at all, unbeknownst to her, when she did the shoot at 16. Bieber, Bella Thorne, and a slew of influential celebrities plugged to participate in the campaign carry the torch for a legacy of offensive, or empowering — depending who you ask — marketing.
Underwear sales helped keep Calvin Klein afloat in 1992 when the company faced financial trouble. The brand reinforced its relevance by positioning itself at the forefront of millennial culture with its latest iteration of shock value. The demographic targeted by #mycalvins grew up with Kate Moss heroin chic. To be fed that nostalgia from a young age seems to have worked.
If you search #mycalvins on Instagram, more than 450,000 images pop up. The number of images modeled after the original posts by Miranda Kerr and Bella Thorne speak louder than purchase numbers: Young men and women aren’t just buying the product, they’re selling it, too. The latest ads welcoming Raf Simons as the creative director depict men navigating galleries in nothing but white cotton briefs. If tighty-whities become the next big trend, Hanes might need to reconsider its branding strategy.