From nothing getting between Brooke Shields and her Calvins to Levi’s Flat Eric, WGSN Denim Editor Samuel Trotman counts down the industry’s most iconic ads
Whether it’s Levi’s infamous 1985 laundrette commercial, Brooke Shields’ provocative Calvin Klein Jeans debut or even Lee’s infamous Buddy Lee series, these big denim names have had a knack for kicking out some of the most memorable adverts to air TV.
They’ve been humorous, emotionally engaging, thought provoking, and even reflecting the times and culture. These adverts were effective in a number of ways, but ultimately they were catchy enough to leave an impression on global audiences and – in some cases – revolutionary. With so many great ads airing over the years we thought we’d pull together a list of our favourite from the 1970s all through to today. So, in no specific order…
1. Levi’s – Laundrette (1985)
While this one may only twig for 1980s teens, it is no doubt one of the most memorable jeans adverts to ever air. Directed by Roger Lyons, that 185 short showed drop dead gorgeous model Nick Kamen stripping down to his boxer shorts, while flustered women and bemused elders looked on, and then sitting and waiting while his jeans were in the wash. All this and Marvin Gaye’s Grapevine thrown in too – the first of four Levi’s-related songs to all make the Top 10.
2. Calvin Klein Jeans – Brooke Shields (1981)
In the 1980s, Calvin Klein premiered the legendary Brooke Shields’ advertising campaign for the newly launched CK Calvin Klein Jeans label. The groundbreaking imagery and irresistible sexual appeal not only burned the company name and image into the world’s consciousness, but also revolutionised the jeanswear industry. The campaign was shot and directed by photographer Richard Avedon and featured new face Brooke Shields at just the tender age of 15. Readers who are familiar with the ad will remember the infamous line, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
3. Diesel – UpUp (2004)
Diesel hit its commercial peek in the early 1990s when founder Renzo Rosso along with newly-appointed advertising director Maurizio Marchiori launched their infamous “Diesel For Successful Living” campaign. The slew of advertisements that came there after were artistic, colourful and sexy – like most fashion adverts at the time were. However, these were different thanks to their ironic, absurd and visually shocking themes. The Up Up commercial was one of the classic examples of their radically ironic and totally bizarre ads at the time.
4. Wrangler – Rodeo (1994)
As one of the big three denim brands, Wrangler often chipped in with its own witty take on denim style with a number of hilarious adverts throughout the 1980s and 1990s. With the American cowboy at the core of their heritage, this ranch-inspired ad not only showed off their durable denims but also their sex appeal, which came in the form of a busty blonde dousing out a fire with their rugged jeans.
5. Buddy Lee – Man of Action (2000)
In the early 2000’s director Frederick Bond helmed a series of comedic ads touting Lee’s iconic Buddy Lee doll as a man as a “Man of Action.” The doll was usually presented as a heroic figure who survived all manner of certain doom, prompting his human co-stars to marvel at the durability of his jeans. Each scenario presents Buddy Lee with a bizarre challenge, like go-carting and kung-fu with Buddy Lee facing three nemeses — Curry, Roy, and Super Greg (the latter portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen).
6. Levi’s – Flat Eric (1999)
Probably one of Levi’s most famous commercials of all time came from a head-banging, finger-tapping yellow puppet. Flat Eric, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, not only made a huge mark on popular culture in the late 1990s but revived the fortunes of the original blue jeans brand across Europe, making the brand and the Sta-Prest range cool once again. The ad was broadcast in two parts, the first showing Eric and his human pal, Angel, cruising the streets in their car while bopping to a dirty house tune (which went on to sell 12.5 million copies) and a second part seeing the pair pulled over by a policeman and forced to open their boot, which is packed with perfectly pressed clothes.
7. Calvin Klein jeans – Marky Marc and Kate Moss (1992)
When you think back to denim the 1990s, your mind will instantly conjure images of Calvin Klein’s provocative campaign imagery. It seems the whole era was defined by the then bad boy American designer’s “sex sells” vision. The year 1992 saw Klein cast then relatively unknown Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg in what was to become one of Calvin Klein Jeans most iconic commercials and also what would define the “Heroin Chic” aesthetic of the era. Click here to see more shocking ads from the era.
8. Brutus Jeans – Jeans On (1974)
Any 1970s denim fans will remember retro label Brutus and their award-winning and ground breaking commercial “Jeans On”. Brutus advertising was well-known at the time and this TV ad, one of the first to be produced by Saatchi & Saatchi, was not only way ahead of its time but also spawned a number one hit for musician David Dundas. The track went by the lyrics “When I wake up in morning light, when i put on my jeans and I feel alright. I pull Brutus Jeans on, I pull my Brutus Jeans on…”
9. Gap – Easy Fit (1997)
In the late 1990s, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry featured in a commercial for the Gap, performing a bluesy number with Tyler on drums and harmonica. This was part of an ad campaign by Gap featuring a variety of musicians like LL Cool J and Luscious Jackson. If anyone else tried to do a commercial like this, it would be so lame. But these guys somehow pull it off through cool factor alone. Oh yeah, and they sounded good too.
10. Jordache Jeans – Jordache Basics (1986)
Throughout the 1980s the then hit jeanswear brand Jordache brand aired a number of hilarious yet totally bizarre tv ads. This famous not-quite-Molly-Ringwald ad campaign that was meant to look and feel like The Breakfast Club with a bit of a Calvin Klein ad touch.
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