Are Underwear Ads Art?
Recently, I tweeted an amazing Calvin Klein ad from the 80’s and asked the question “Should we bring back ads like this?” That prompted a great conversation with one of our followers about Jim Palmer and other ads from the 70’s and 80’s. The funny thing is the follower is 25, so he wasn’t even born when many of the ads ran, but had a big appreciation for the ads.
Looking back at ads of that time, they featured sports stars of the day. The biggest and most well- known was Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles. He graced the pages of People magazine wearing just a pair of Jockey Elance and a smile! Do you think you would see Derek Jeter in underwear ads these days? Nope! Very few American athletes endorse underwear. In European countries and Australia, for example, athletes like Ben Cohen and Cristiano Ronaldo are not only modeling in and endorsing underwear lines but also creating their own.
Earlier this week, I checked on my storage unit – seems like my entire life is kept there these days – and noticed a box was collapsing. While reorganizing the boxes, I discovered a plastic notebook containing my underwear ads and decided to bring them home. I’ve been thinking of framing them, rather than storing them in a binder.
These recent events made me think. Are underwear ads art?
I loved that the 70’s ads were more staged like a guy preparing for his day, getting dressed or shaving. This was the start of the sports starts dropping their trousers and showing underwear. Jockey had the best underwear ads out there. Some may think, “Jockey? Really?” But yes, they brought color and bikini cuts to the men’s underwear world, breaking away from the traditional “tighty whities”. The ads definitely showed off the difference in their underwear, but still looked like classic ads.
The 80’s brought us the Calvin Klein ad (see main image) with the model in white briefs against the white wall. This definitely looked much more like a work of art than an ad. These ads were noticed throughout the fashion industry and the public. They sparked stories in mainstream media, on shows such as Entertainment Tonight, and other outlets. CK produced other ads (one where the same model is taking off his shirt), but none received the same attention. This iconic ad prompted other underwear companies to produce more artistic ads.
Calvin Klein continued to dominate the market with their ads in the ‘90s, not only for the underwear but also for the models selected. One of the first, and most notorious, was Mark Wahlberg. Marky Mark, at the time, was all over billboards in Times Square in the popular black and white CK ads. He posted in his underwear when few would even talk about men’s underwear. (I believe these ads sparked the boxer brief craze that is still alive today.)
The next decade saw a change in men’s underwear ads. Print publications were losing circulation – mainstream magazines didn’t include many ads, but gay magazines continued. The ads were getting more expensive with less return. So what did the brands do? They turned to the internet, getting their images out to a wider audience. The brands started producing amazing pics of their underwear.
Like many others, the online pictures caught my eye and were the main reason I discovered many new brands, like Cocksox. I saw the first pictures of Earl Sandor modeling the red CX01, and knew I needed a pair right then! Gone were the days of basic product shots. We wanted to see more lifestyle pictures, rather than close-up shots.
Other brands have begun making some great ads as well…
C-IN2 produced the series “Jail”, which was very provocative and ahead of its time. It told a story rather than just show off the underwear. After a few years, they followed with another series (shot by photographer Rick Day – see the pic at the bottom) titled “Parole”. C-IN2 accompanied their photo work with videos on YouTube. The used the stories from the photos and videos to create advertising campaigns. This brand continues to produce some of those most creative ads in the world of underwear in recent years.
When 2EROS first came on the market in 2007-2008, they had amazing retro-inspired pictures that went along with the great background and glasses for their Victory line. Each collection since has added more and more amazing pictures. They use backgrounds, such as beaches, to show off their underwear and swimwear. The current collections feature model Ryan Greasley (shot by Simon Le). They don’t create a story behind their lines, like C-IN2, but consistently deliver great pictures.
Underwear Nation has turned underwear advertising into an art form. They aren’t a brand, but a retailer. Each month they profile a different pair for the Underwear of the Month Club and create a campaign around it. Their photographer, Jerrad Matthew, has done some of the hottest work in men’s underwear. The locker room campaign for the Timoteo Varsity series stands out most. In it, model Justin Leonard wears the blue and white underwear against a backdrop of a red locker room, allowing the underwear to really stand out. They create a new campaign for each month’s pair. Club subscribers get a post card featuring that month’s ad along with the underwear. (I’ve told them they need to create posters of the amazing pictures!)
There are so many other companies that I wish I could cover here, but that would be a super long post. We at Underwear News Briefs will continue to discuss and showcase the brands’ photography. We all love the amazing pictures, but we’re not knocking any brands not mentioned. Photography is one of the most expensive things about men’s underwear (I know from experience shooting our guides!), and not every brand has that amount of time and money. We want to spotlight some that are doing it right and creating images that could easily be hung on the wall as art.
I’ve profiled just a few that stick out in my head, but there are tons more out there doing amazing work! Future featured brands include: Modus Vivendi, aussieBum, Marcuse, and Teamm8.
What brands do you think make works of art with their pictures and ads?