Should Sex Sell?
Sex Sells. Its one of those things that everyone just knows. A fact of life. And it's a truth that the fashion industry ceaselessly employs. From American Apparel to Zadig & Voltaire, retail powerhouses have leapt upon the capacity that sex presents to sell clothing. Some call it liberalization. Some call it exploitation. So, which is it? Is the use of nudity in advertising something that serves to free us from the confines of society, or something that, instead, only ends up reinforcing these bounds?
The frustratingly compelling cop-out is that it depends. It depends on what's being sold. It depends on how it's being sold. It depends on who it's being sold to. You can reference Dolce & Gabbana's infamous 'rape' advert (right) as a demonstration that all advertising grounded in sex and nudity is exploitative. You can also point to Tom Ford's neroli adverts (below) as illustrative of the liberating nature of nudity.
All this talk brings us to that oh-so-misused word - objectification. These men and women (though mostly women) are being objectified. Their bodies are accentuated above all else. But need this be an issue? Our instinct is yes, but isn't objectification inherent within fashion? Of course, it's not always okay, but don't designers often need models to be grounded in the physical?
I believe the issue lies not in objectification itself, but in its association with exploitation. Put simply, objectification in the abstract, or objective objectification, need not be a bad thing. It's just that we assume all objectification must imply exploitation. A good example is that of male nudity in retail advertising. Tom Ford, a man famed for his provocative ad campaigns, rightly claims that you can’t show male nudity in our culture in the way you can show female nudity. "We’re very comfortable as a culture exploiting women, but not men," he states. And he suggests that this leads to a general unwillingness to show men naked, because we associate their objectification with their exploitation, which makes us uncomfortable. Yet, as Ford puts it, "I don’t think of it as exploitation [either way]."
Instead, Ford feels that "there’s nothing stronger and more powerful than a beautiful woman." And he's right. Capturing nudity or, as Ford puts it, "expressing what nature intended you to be" can be immensely empowering and thought-provoking.
So can using sex to sell fashion be exploitative? Of course! But does this mean that we should instinctively shy away from it? Most certainly not. Embracing the human form and our attraction to it is liberating and forward-thinking. As Ford concludes: "My women are not sitting there waiting for someone, they’re taking charge. Doesn’t matter whether they’re naked – they’re powerful, they’re smart, and you’re not going to get them if they don’t want you."
Feature image via