Nobody needs to tell us that jeans are just plain amazing. But fashion, by nature, is a competitive marketplace, even for denim suppliers.
From the controversially sensual Brooke Shields’ campaign with Calvin Klein to the bizarrely humorous puppetry of Levi’s, here are some of the most famous—and infamous—denim advertisements ever made.
Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein
In the 1980s Calvin Klein emerged as one of the most famous names in the mainstream fashion scene. But arguably more so than the quality or stylishness of his apparel, it was controversial campaigns like this one that catapulted the designer into the spotlight. In this famous ad from 1981, a 15-year-old Brooke Shields strikes a sensual pose in her skin-tight Calvin Klein Jeans, breathily proclaiming that “nothing” comes between her and her Calvins. The ensuing controversy didn’t seem to slow the designer down a bit, however, as by the 1990s he was once again making headlines for his skin-bearing underwear ads.
Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Klein
Considering the success of early campaigns like these, it’s no wonder Kate Moss’ run as a muse and model with Calvin Klein has remained strong throughout the years. In a series of brow-raising underwear campaigns for Calvin Klein, the waif-like model appears juxtaposed alongside buff Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg). Though many of the ads were for Calvin Klein’s underwear line, they often simultaneously touted his denim with models like Wahlberg and Moss sporting jeans with a low enough rise to show off the CK underwear band. There were also plenty whose primary focus was on the denim, however. Recently Klein announced some of his most beloved pieces from the Moss-Wahlberg campaign will be sold in a capsule collection, the campaign for which will star Moss’ younger half-sister Lottie Moss.
Like Calvin Klein, Diesel has always been a big believer in the notion that “sex sells.” But aside from being colorful with an air of sensuality, the company’s “Diesel for Successful Living” campaign ads were also a bit absurd, and at times bizarre. At the time this campaign aired in the early 1990s, the company was in its heyday. Perhaps the confidence associated with success, as well as the desire to stand out among dozens of fellow designers, led founder Renzo Rosso and advertising director Maurizio Marchiori to select ads like their infamous “Up Up” commercial. It may not be immediately clear that the ad is about jeans, but it is an attention-grabber for sure.
Levi’s Flat Eric
When you think of words associated with denim, puppetry probably isn’t one that comes to mind—unless you’re familiar with Levi’s famous “Flat Eric” campaign. The yellow head-banging creation was the brainchild of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Not only did the character ingrain itself into ‘90s pop culture, a la Captain Crunch, the campaign also helped to revive the brand’s presence in Europe. The first part of the two-part ad featured Eric and Angel, his human friend, cruising in their car and dancing in their seats to a dirty house tune. The second showed the friends being pulled over by a policeman, who makes them pop their trunk which is shown to be filled with perfectly pressed apparel.
Gap’s Easy Fit Campaign
Gap isn’t necessarily known for its rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic; but in the late 1990s the company tapped into its artistic side, partnering with big-time musicians like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, LL Cool Jay, and Luscious Jackson for the Easy Fit campaign. The commercials feature the rockers performing in their Gap jeans, presumably to show off the pants’ flexibility (nobody likes too-stiff jeans) and cool factor. Bringing in bands to advertise apparel is nothing new, but Gap managed to make this campaign quite a bit more successful than many.
Brutus Jeans “Jeans On”
Few American millennials may have heard of Brutus Jeans, but in the 1970s they were one of the more popular brands. Founded by teenage brothers in the late 1960s, Brutus had by the early ‘70s began to hone in on the denim market, and did so quite successfully. The company had already launched several popular adverts by the time “Jeans On” aired, but this was arguably their prime piece. Produced by Saatchi and Saatchi, it was not only a commercial that was leagues ahead of its time, it also went on to win awards and inspire a number one hit from musical artist David Dundas. As the name suggests, the commercial featured its stars singing about how a day that starts with stepping into Brutus jeans is bound to be a good one.
This list isn’t comprehensive, and there are plenty more sexy, funny, and fabulous denim campaigns out there. If you’ve got one in mind you’d like to share, let us know in the comments!