Does Sex Sell in the Fashion Industry?

We are always told that “sex sells” in any industry, but is it always true when it comes to the fashion industry? It is a question that is loaded with controversy, in a modern society where young children, especially girls, are becoming more exposed to images and content that makes us consider our modern framework. So is it wrong that we use sex to sell clothes?

We consistently push the boundaries on everything in modern society. As well as the boundaries, we also push the level of taste in the fashion industry, especially in recent years. But does this make us more tolerant to the idea of sex through the visual medium?

In modern society the likes of celebrities use their sexuality to sell their own products, or to sell others. For example, Kim Kardashian baring all on the cover of Paper magazine, and breaking the internet. As well as this, many celebrities use their bodies and sexual appeal to sell their own products - especially perfume. 

Sex is part of our human framework, but because it happens behind closed doors – mostly – does this make the allusion more powerful to the public when it is used through fashion and advertisements?

As part of the general public, we continually aspire to be more attractive. For example, the increasing sales of wrinkle cream and skincare that changes our aesthetic considering our age. As well as aspiring to become more attractive, we also want to portray ourselves as sexual beings and this desire is therefore expressed through fashion. This aspiration to be more attractive and sexual is used through the adaptation of our own style and lifestyle.Therefore the fashion industry thrives of this and uses it to sell back to us.

When Tom Ford was the creative director of Gucci in the 90’s, the advertisements came across some backlash from the public. Often being seen or told to be too sexual, or often extremely provocative. Many Gucci campaigns from under Tom Ford were controversial, including one advertisement with a man and a scantily clad women laying over his lap. This campaign caused controversy for the “power pose” of the man and the provocative position of the woman.

But could the fashion industry in modern times, particularly in the 90’s be seen as pornographic?

This aspect can be seen through the perfume advertisements. But this beckons the question, why is it perfume that is seen as the most sexual and often uses sex in advertisements across the world?

This is because perfume is used to attract the attention of others through the sense of smell, and it is used to presume yourself as more attractive to others.When you buy a fragrance yourself, you are aiming to enhance something about yourself, and often you use it to heighten yourself or to make yourself seem more appealing.

Yves Saint Laurent released their campaign photograph for their fragrance Opium in 2000. The advert received 1000 complaints in the same year. The suggestive perfume ad featured Sophie Dahl in nothing but gold strap stilettos on a velvet floor. Posters for the perfume were withdrawn on the grounds that they were too sexually suggestive, degrading to women, and likely to cause “widespread offence”.

American journalist Susan Faludi argued that certain perfume ad campaigns pushed the “idealisation of weak yielding women” to the extreme, citing Opium as a primary example of this. Although it may be one of the most provocative images for a fashion campaign it is one of the best-selling perfumes to this day.

Additionally, in the CK series which was released in 1995 immediate backlash was generated on the grounds of the youthful appearances of the models in the campaign. Including Kate Moss. The image and TV advertisement was then later banned.

Although this risqué imagery for campaigns seems outdated, it doesn’t seem like it has changed. It seems that fashion advertisements, predominantly perfume advertisements have continued this trend of risk. But, it seems that instead of it being risqué, in terms of grown women and correctly aged models, it has become morally suggestive towards young models.

In 2015, Miu Miu released their campaign for SS15 shot by Steven Meisel. With the model Mia Goth laying on a white bed in a drab room, the advert was banned for being “irresponsible” for showing what could have be seen as a child in a sexually suggestive pose, despite her own age. This is not the only advertisement that has been banned for suggestive images of young models looking like children.

In 2011, Dakota Fanning was put under pressure for the banned advertisement of herself for the Marc Jacobs perfume, Oh, Lola! Designer Marc Jacobs described the fragrance as “sensual”, saying how the little sister scent to the hugely successful Lola is: “More of a Lolita than a Lola.” The advertisement pictured the 17-year old actress posing with an oversize bottle of the scent between her legs.

British Advertising Standards Authority stated: "‘We noted that the model was holding up the perfume bottle which rested in her lap between her legs and we considered that its position was sexually provocative.

We considered that the length of her dress, her leg and position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality." 

Tom Ford can be seen as a risk-taker in so many ways, as you have read from the rest of this article. His fragrance shots from 2007 shot by Terry Richardson were banned in several countries. I’m sure that you can see why. But does this prove that sex sells?

Despite the controversial Gucci adds, in both perfume and ready-to-wear, in the 90’s. It seems that sex truly does sell. Gucci took on Tom Ford when the brand was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1994, this is the year he was made creative director. Between 1995 and 1996, sales at Gucci increased by 90%, and when Ford left in 2004 the Gucci group was valued at $10 billion.

As well as this, Opuim from YSL continues to be the best-selling scent, and continues to sell out through YSL to this day. Both of those statistics prove that the risqué aesthetic always helps brands to get extra attention.

But is this risqué aesthetic something that our generation is buying into?

Millennials seem to be buying less into the sexual advertisements, this could be underlying from the rise of Minimalism and Normcore from the 70’s and fashion houses such as Chloé and Céline rising and the desire to be more introverted through fashion.

The claim that “less is more” could be more prominent in the modern fashion industry in terms of sexuality. In more recent fashion advertisements, the Gucci campaign provides a suggestive look through a less sexual demeanour. We rely more on a singular detail – a peek of skin, bright red lipstick or a lace-up heel – this is for the allure, rather than a past where the totally suggestive look was preferred.

What do you think about the idea that sex sells? Do you think it is morally correct? Do you tend to buy something if there is controversy around it? Let us know, please comment below.