Brooke Shields reflects on controversy over her 1980 Calvin Klein jeans campaign: ‘I was naive’

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Brooke Shields reflects on controversial Calvin Klein jeans ad (Getty Images for MoMA)
Brooke Shields reflects on controversial Calvin Klein jeans ad (Getty Images for MoMA)

Brooke Shields has reflected on her infamous 1980 Calvin Klein jeans campaign, with the model revealing that the backlash had struck her “as so ridiculous”.

Shields was 15 when she starred in the advertisements, with one controversial commercial featuring her wearing the brand’s jeans and telling the camera: “You want to know what comes in between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

When the campaign was released, Shields’s line was perceived as a sexual innuendo, with the now-56-year-old revealing in a video with Vogue that she’d not been prepared for the backlash as she was “naive”.

“I was away when they all came out, and then started hearing: ‘Oh, the commercials have been banned here, and Canada won’t play them.’ And paparazzi and people screaming at me and screaming at my mother: ‘How could you?’” Shields recalled. “It just struck me as so ridiculous, the whole thing.”

According to The Blue Lagoon star, the public outrage centered on a “rhetorical question” in one of the commercials, with Shields acknowledging that she was “naive” at the time and “didn’t think anything of it”.

“I didn’t think it had to do with underwear. I didn’t think it was sexual in nature,” she said. “I would say it about my sister, nobody can come between me and my sister.”

Looking back, Shields said that it was “shocking” to be berated over the campaign, as she explained it was assumed she was aware of the meaning behind the alleged sexual innuendo.

“I think the assumption is that I was much more savvy than I ever really was,” she continued. “If they had intended on the double entendre, they didn’t explain it to me. If they’d explained it to me, why? Would they have wanted me to say it differently? It didn’t phase me, it didn’t come into my sort of psyche as it being anything overtly sexual, sexualised in any way.”

While she explained that she wasn’t aware of any sexual connotation at the time, Shields said in the Vogue video that she recognises looking back how the advertisement could be construed in such a way.

“Yeah, at 56, I can go back and look at the camera and say: ‘Oh well they’re zooming in and yeah it’s sort of on my crotch area and then it comes to my face. Like okay,’” she added. “But sex has sold since the dawn of time.”

Shields also noted that the controversy “backfired,” as the 1980 campaign was “extremely successful”.

“And then, I think the underwear sort of overtook the jeans, and they understood what sells and how to push the envelope,” she said. “There’s an appeal to it that is so undeniable, and they tapped right into it. They knew exactly what they were doing, and I think it did set the tone for decades.”

While Shields said she was protected “in my naiveté,” as she believes that she emerged “relatively unscathed,” she noted that what is appropriate has changed since the 80s.

“On the one hand, I don’t think you could get away with a lot of what I did in the 80s now - but by the same token, so much more is done now than what we would’ve ever dreamt of doing,” she said, adding that there has been “an assimilation of sexuality now that I certainly didn’t have when I was 15”.

The supermodel previously revealed that her own experiences have shaped the way she parents her daughters Rowan Francis, 18, and Grier Hammond,15, who she shares with husband Chris Henchy.

Speaking to People in 2019, the actor acknowledged that her daughters’ bodies are “so important to them” and that she has learned to be considerate of how she speaks.

“Whatever you say is heard, so you have to really be careful how you say whatever it is you’re saying to girls in particular,” she said. “I really have to be like: ‘How would this sound if it was said to me at 13?’ I celebrate the differences in their bodies.”

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