‘If sex sells, then at least let it be authentic’

Definitely NSFW


Photographs by Heji Shin

Sex sells. It’s a fact. Booze, cars, food, and fashion: all resort to sexual provocation to get our attention. But these days, its considered grubby and exploitative – not to mention unoriginal – to use an image of a half-naked woman to sell your wares. What could be tackier than a model with her pubic hair shaved into the logo of the brand à la Tom Ford and Gucci?

In recent years, a number of studies have suggested that the old ‘sex sells’ maxim might be in need of rebranding. The concept is over-used and worn out. Too much sexism, too few original ideas. As Hadley Freeman wrote a few years ago in The Guardian: ‘Sex… sells, but to reduce fashion to being about the pursuit of a cartoonish version of sex is sell-defeating.’ 

In the wake of these changes in attitude, fashion duo Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta have decided to take the ‘sex sells’ concept a step further. Their own rebranding of the oft-repeated maxim could be summed up on one sentence: if sex sells, then at least let it be authentic.

Authentic, because the latest ad campaign from Eckhaus Latta shows real-life couples – recruited via Craigslist – having sex while wearing pieces from the brand’s collection. 

Authentic too because the couples embody the brand’s highly contemporary inspiration in gender fluidity.

There are no busty blondes in bikinis or hunky men with six packs here. The campaign shows us a series of natural and inclusive photographs of a spectrum of attractive but relatively normal-looking couples.

Heji Shin, photographer behind the campaign told W magazine: ‘We were thinking of how we were using sexuality, the relationship between fashion advertising and sexuality – and in very direct terms saying sex sells. We were interested in producing images that are open to interpretation.’ This led, Eckhaus added, to a ‘sex-positive, body-positive, sexuality-positive message’ that also commented on voyeurism and consumerism.

‘It had to be authentic,’ said Eckhaus. ‘I don’t think the idea of simulation ever even crossed our mind. We live in a time where there is still tension between individualised freedom of expression (especially online) and puritanical approaches to sex that are deeply encoded in culture.’

This campaign was a reaction to all that.

‘For us, it was really important to think of sex as something really natural and not something fabricated, hyper-sexualised, or taboo,’ Eckhaus said.

Shin expressed similar sentiments. In the end, she says, she chose images that transmitted the need ‘to be positive with sex, with bodies and with sexuality itself.’

In their attempt to subvert the ultra-stylisation of sex, which is so typical of fashion photography, Eckhaus Latta have been challenged by some people who ask is this as fashion campaign or soft porn?

Others ask a different question: if you want to portray sex and the human body as positive and natural, why pixellate the genitals?

The designers would rather not be drawn on such questions. They’d like people to come to their own conclusions. As Zoe Latta says: ‘I don’t know if sex sells, but it definitely creates some rubbernecking.’


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