Believe What You Want to Believe
A Pseudo-Factual Account of Denim Ad Debauchery
Courtesy of Wrangler, a division of VF Jeanswear Limited Partnership.
Wrangler Wrangler may be synonymous with rodeos and country life these days, but the brand’s storied history offers a glimpse into the psyche of denim buyers of yesteryear. The company dug in more than a hundred years ago with C.C. Hudson, who created Blue Bell Overall Company, which bought the name ‘Wrangler’ before knowing what to do with it. By 1947, the company introduced their original pair of jeans, geared toward cowboys, with many of the features built to withstand hard manual labor and offer comfort while working.
Skip ahead to the ’70s: The jeans are re-appropriated by youth culture, cracking open an opportunity for Wrangler. They seize it, releasing ads geared toward the younger generation. Sex appeal and style are key: a woman’s hand on a man’s leg, female forms tightly wrapped in the durable denim, and couples entwined like Siamese cats.
It was said when the campaign released that women of the Southwest blinded their husbands with hot pokers. According to legend, 100 women were prosecuted for the offense, leading the governors of Texas and Louisiana to declare states of emergency. One such offender was Margaret Filcher, who in her own defense stated, “Well I’ve been thinking about it for years anyway.”
Courtesy of Lee® Jeans, a division of VF Jeanswear Limited Partnership.
Lee Lee originated as a brand for the able-bodied, the working folks of the late nineteenth century who needed those sturdy dungarees to survive. The company was born in Kansas, the land of wheat and sunflowers, and continued to outfit America well into the twentieth century with their eight-ounce denim bib overalls, jackets and signature “Union-All” work jumpsuits.
The twenties were a great era for Lee. By that decade, Lee was outfitting little kids, giving birth to their mascot Buddy Lee, a creepishly cute doll with a sinister, knowing grin.
By the seventies, Lee changed their image again, marketing themselves as a fashion label for the hip, urban youth. Ads showed off their plaid pant apparel for everyday wear. Printed in Playboy in 1970, the ad made clear that Lee wasn’t just for workers or people with creepy doll fetishes anymore. When the images premiered, the world practically shut down. The state of Kansas, in particular, was so shocked by the model’s open legs that there was a state mandate to burn all wheat crop as a sign of protest. This resulted in something called the Dust Bowl.
Photographed by David Lachapelle.
Diesel The Italian denim brand, founded by Renzo Rosso and his mentor Adriano Goldschmied, was created in 1978 with the ambition to provide not only a unique fashion line but one that would be a leader in trends. By 1991 they reached international recognition with their ad campaigns, and shortly after, in ’96, they opened their first flagship store in New York City. While Diesel’s roots are in denim, they have expanded into a lifestyle brand, known in equal measure for their eyewear, fragrance, footwear, sportswear, et cetera.
In 1995, Diesel made quite a commotion with an ad shot by photographer David LaChapelle that depicted two sailors kissing each other during a peace celebration at the end of World War II. Many were supportive of the ad, and celebrated gay rights by sporting Diesel all about town. One would assume that the anti-gay organizations of America would be livid, but the image strangely went unnoticed in these communities. The ad actually became a particular celebrated piece in the home of a beloved pageant queen of the early ’90s. Her parents hung the art in their infamous basement, where it inspired many of her pageant looks (such as the hot-pink cowgirl outfit she wore at the Colorado State All Star Pageant of ‘95), until the following year, when she contracted gigantism and the poster had to come down.
Photographed by Olivier Toscani.
Jesus Jeans Founded in Italy in 1971 by Maurizio Vitale, Jesus Jeans was the first to bring jeans manufacturing to the Soviet Union, virtually eliminating the demand for black market denim in the region. Under the creative direction of Oliviero Toscani and Emanuele Pirella, the line created a crop of sacrilegious advertisements, conceiving such slogans as: “Have no other jeans before me” and “He who loves me follows me.” The move shocked the (largely Catholic) Italian population, receiving a condemnation from the Vatican itself. Following the death of Vitale in 1987, the denim brand went dormant, only recently facing revival with a niche audience. The brand continues to build anticipation around religious-based controversy, recently attempting to copyright the name Jesus.
Allegedly, following the release of the campaign, the Vatican recommended wandering eyes recite ten Hail Marys and wash their orbs thoroughly in the canals. Some said Pope Paul VI did not share that sentiment, noting, “He who loves me, follows me”—was one of his favorite passages from the Proverb of Naples—and stressing the importance of finding creative ways to get young people to read scripture.
Some say the rate of conjunctivitis rose by 33 percent during the first half of the year and the campaign was declared a success by ophthalmologists in the region.
Jordache The history of Jordache is a long tale of really wrong things going really right. The brand’s very establishment in 1977 was the fruit of a large severance pay after the torching and looting of founders Joe, Ralph, and Avi Nakash’s store during the infamous New York power failure of 1977, a pay large enough to make the Nakash brothers go after their Europhile dreams of a tighter and sexier jeans brand. Rejected by all major networks, the Jordache campaign of 1979 featured a topless blonde and her man galloping on a horse into the sunset—one of the first cases of negative publicity working its magic for the brand, becoming an overnight sensation among teenage girls with its logo “You got the look I want to know better.”
The New York Times held out, making Jordache reshoot its ad of a topless girl sitting piggyback on a guy—both wearing solely Jordache jeans—because the girl had a smirk on her face. The ad was indeed reshot with the girl being directed to act as if she was not having any fun at all doing this, a movement that, some say, later created a whole new genre in the porn industry (renamed during the aughts as “the Sandra Oh”).
The Jordache look became so popular in the years to come that Frank Zappa gives it a shout in his 1984 “You Are What You Is” song: “…a foolish young man of the Negro persuasion / devoted his life, to become a Caucasian / he stopped eating pork, he stopped eating greens / he traded his dashiki for some Jordache Jeans.” It’s rumored that he wrote the song while wearing his favorite Jordache jeans and looking at an original Jordache ad campaign poster of the original piggyback girl ad, grin and all—a poster that, people say, embellished his studio’s wall until his death and was the impetus for his famous anti-conformist motto: “Never Stop Grinning Girl.”