- The Man Behind Abercrombie and Calvin Klein’s Sexy Ad Campaigns: Tom Reichert (University of Georgia) Interviews Sam Shahid
Tom Reichert interviewed Sam Shahid on March 16, 2005, because of Mr. Shahid’s involvement with marketing campaigns that contain sexually provocative imagery. The purpose of the discussion was to reveal how sex is implemented in advertising and how it influences consumers from a production vantage point. Mr. Shahid’s work as creative director with Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Perry Ellis offers a unique perspective because of its success, controversial nature, and, as some have claimed, homoeroticism.
Sam, Today we’ll be talking about sex in advertising. I’ll ask you questions about three things: What is sex in advertising? How does it work? And how does it come to be? I’m asking you these questions because you’ve created or been involved with campaigns that people consider very sexual, for brands such as Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Perry Ellis, just to name a few.
To begin, thinking back on your career, can you describe for me an ad that was clearly sexual in nature?
It started with my first ads for Calvin Klein. It was my first creative assignment.
Was everything for Calvin sexual?
Well, Calvin was very sexual. He was a very physical person, and he owned sex. That’s what he stands for. He believed very strongly in everything he did. You saw the way he designed clothes, they were very sexual and sensual on women’s bodies. And he owned that, so that’s where the sexuality comes from.
In your mind, what made these ads sexual? Was it the people? Was it what they were wearing?
It’s the casting. It’s the clothing. It’s everything combined, but mainly it’s who is wearing the clothing. The casting is very important.
So, it’s who it is and how the clothes fit on him or her?
In a strange way, the model dictates the sexual tension. Then the photographer feels it, and so does the designer. You love it when you see it or you’re photographing it.
The photographers know it when they’re shooting it?
Yes, we know what we like when we see it. We can tell if it’s really great—really beautiful or really gorgeous. We use words like that to describe what we see and how we feel.
What response does a viewer have when they encounter a sexual ad, either in print or a commercial?
I think everyone feels different. Some people love it and some people hate it. Some people are in love with the model—that guy, that woman. On the other hand, some people won’t like that person, and he or she will say, “It’s not my style.” The reaction is in the eye of the beholder, how he or she feels. You can’t ever guess that. I don’t look at it and try to guess what you’re going to think. I think about my reaction to it, or the designer’s reaction to it, the people who pay for it and how they’ll feel about it.
And you guess that if you like the ad then those people who might buy the product will, too?
You hope so, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I can tell you that most people I’ve encountered will have a reaction to the work. They will either say, “God, he’s great. God he’s hot. I love it. It’s so beautiful,” or “You’re really going too far.” It seems that there’s always a real strong believer, an advocate, for the work. They’re passionate about it. And the other side hates it. I never get reactions to my work that are middle-of-the-road. People either love it or they hate it, like we do.
So potential consumers identify with the models in the ad, and they experience an emotional response.
Sure, because the photographs themselves...