10 Fashion Advertising Campaigns that Made Jaws drop

When we think of fashion advertising, the first thing that comes to mind is probably models with bee-stung lips and legs that seem to go on forever dressed in pretty personalised clothes. In most cases we would be correct, but some fashion brands have dared to step outside the norm and those are the individuals we’re highlighting today. Get ready, because we’re visiting some of the most iconic, shocking and thought-provoking fashion campaigns of all time.

Yves Sant Laurent’s POUR HOMME fragrance

best fashion ads

The first advertising campaign we’re visiting is from Yves Saint Laurent back in 1971, when the French designer released his fragrance POUR HOMME. He made a bold move by picking himself as the face of the perfume and posing for the famed photographer, Jeanloup Sieff, completely naked. In today’s jaded society a picture like this would hardly make anyone bat an eyelash, but back then it caused quite the stir – not to mention that it was the first time a fashion designer was the star of their own advertising campaign (a practice that is quite common these days).

Calvin Klein’s Kate Moss ads

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Calvin Klein is also no stranger to controversial advertising. They were playing the game way back in 1981 when 15-year-old Brooke Shields confessed to the world that nothing came between her and her Calvins. But the ads I’ve decided to highlight are the 90’s ads lead by then barely adult (pre-cocaine?) Kate Moss. Why? Because it wasn’t just an outcry, it was a revolution. Calvin Klein launched Kate Moss into super stardom and in return they became THE brand of the decade. The marriage made in heaven started the grunge-heroine-chic-androgynous trend that invaded catwalks and closets all over the world.

Abercrombie & Fitch 90’s (lack of) Clothes

fashion advertising campaigns

While Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t quite as cool as it used to be in the late 90s and early 00s, there’s no denying that its sexy black and white ads made quite the splash when they came out. Featuring a slew of pretty young things scantily clad and participating in plenty of outdoorsy activities, the ads provoked outrage amongst parents – but were received quite enthusiastically by the hormone-riddled teen audience they were aiming at. Of course, Abercrombie later landed itself in trouble not only for the ads being deemed too sexual, but also for a serious lack of diversity.

Tom Ford & Mario Testino for Gucci

best fashion marketing campaigns

Tom Ford is now well known for his use of blatant sexuality in his campaigns anything he does, but back in 1990 when he joined Gucci the young designer was relatively unknown and nobody expected what was about to hit them. One of the most memorable campaigns was for the Spring/Summer 2004 season, Mr. Ford joined forces with none other than fashion photography legend Mario Testino to create images that were filled with references to fetishism. They all raised eyebrows, but the one that took the cake featured model Carmen Cass showing off her pubic hair trimmed into the shape of a G. Subtle. The ad was banned everywhere.

Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs

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Designer Marc Jacobs paired with photographer Juergen Teller in 2002 to create a series of ads with a very identifiable aesthetic, a style that would fit right in with today’s Instagram crowd. The ads are instantly recognisable and established what the brand is all about. Perhaps the most iconic one is the one shot with Sofia Coppola (one of Jacobs’ good friends and muse) for the Marc Jacobs Perfume. Celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Winona Ryder and Dakota Fanning have also been featured in the ads. Both Coppola and Ryder were part of the fall 2015 campaign.

Chanel Nº 5 and various Hollywood stars

The next campaign on our list is for another perfume, this time the mythical Chanel Nº 5. When a brand spends between $20 and $25 million in marketing alone it is worth a mention. The short movies we know nowadays started being produced in the 1970’s, when Ridley Scott directed the then face of the fragrance Catherine Deneuve. From Chanel to Alien, who knew?

In 2003, Nicole Kidman joined forces with her Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrman to promote the perfume by creating a three-minute trailer for a sappy movie that was never meant to exist. The project took a whopping $18 million to produce and Kidman got paid $3.7 million. The current face of Chanel Nº 5 is Audrey Tautou and in 2012 Brad Pitt became the first male face of the brand. Remember that one? What was it supposed to be anyway?

American Apparel

clothing ad campaigns

Much like Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel launched an ad campaign that was deliberately provocative – though unlike A&F, there was nothing wholesome about the look they went for. The photographs went so far that they were termed “porn chic” and almost invariably consist of shots of skinny hipsters who seemed to have forgotten half of their outfit at home (or in somebody else’s bedroom). And much like Abercrombie & Fitch, the positive effect was only temporary, and the hyper-sexualised style was criticised even more when stories of the stores’ founder Dov Charney’s less-than-lovely lifestyle were brought to light.

Balmain’s Sisters Campaign

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For their fall 2015 photo shoot, Balmain found three pairs of sisters to be the faces of the campaign – Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid and Joan and Betsy Smalls. All six girls are not only undeniably beautiful, but also helped the brand create buzz on social media, too, as they have large followings of dedicated fans. The fashion label shot photos of the girls as a group of six, as well as individual photos of each pair of sisters to explore the unique bond that siblings have – with a hint of sibling rivalry included.

Céline & Joan Didion

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Yes, you read that right – literary icon Joan Didion, famous as a literary journalist and an intellectual winner of many book awards, became the face of a major fashion campaign. She was featured in the spring 2015 ads for Céline at the ripe old age of 80. The image of her in a chic black sweater and oversized dark sunglasses was decidedly one of the most memorable fashion campaigns of the year by showing that cool has no age limit. The image was shot by none other than Juergen Teller – yes, the same Juergen Teller who worked on the Marc Jacobs ads we mentioned earlier.

Oliviero Toscani for Benetton

united colors campaign

And I’ve saved my favourite till last. It all started back in the 1980’s when the heads of Benetton gave photographer Oliviero Toscani total freedom with the company’s marketing campaigns. Toscani took a different approach from any other fashion brand by using visually impacting images that had nothing to do with fashion. From the very beginning, the intention was to spark conversations among consumers. The ads distanced themselves so much from the product that the only relation to the brand was the logo that appeared on the corners. One of the most shocking spreads featured a man with AIDS on his death-bed surrounded by tearful family members. In a time when it was taboo to just mention the name of the disease, a move like that took a lot of cojones.

fashion adverts

Since then, the company has taken a tamer approach to advertising, but every now and then they still like to shake things up. In 2011, Benetton received a threat from the Vatican itself when they released a photo manipulation of then Pope Benedict XVI snogging Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb as part of their UnHate campaign. The brand’s strategy has been criticised for its shock value, but at the same time it has been praised and awarded for bringing attention to important social, environmental and political issues.

Well, there you have it – some of the most jaw-dropping fashion advertising campaigns that have ever blessed the pages of magazines and fronts of billboards. As you can see, sometimes going for the shock value can pay off, whereas in other cases it backfires. Either way, you won’t be likely to forget these fashion ads anytime soon.

If you have more fashion campaigns you think we should ad to this list, then send them my way! We always love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below or reach us via any of our social media platforms.

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