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How Fashion Sells Sex
April 8, 2014
Sex sells. Cars, directory enquiries, home insurance, detergent; whatever the product or service, most industries have used sex to stimulate consumer interest. There is a fine balance between the explicitness of the marketing provocation and the type of product being peddled; detergent can be made to appeal through the use of subtle innuendo; usually playing on the idea of ‘dirty whites’, but the purchase of a car, which requires a larger cash outlay and commensurately more consideration, necessitates more assertive sexual suggestions; automobile adverts therefore show scantily clad beauties and unmade beds. Few industries have made more use of sex than the fashion industry.
James Laver’s Seduction Principle, that clothes are worn solely to attract the opposite sex, is fundamentally flawed, but the front matter of fashion magazines remains full of advertisements in which brands, from TopShop to Tom Ford, use eroticism to make their wares more enticing; the affect is amplified if the prospect of sexual fulfilment is offered by the model of the moment, a Cara Delevingne or David Gandy.
But what if you want to sell sex? Whilst there will be people who think too much sex is never a bad thing, some purveyors of sex products are taking cues from the fashion industry to market their merchandise, not least Sir Richard’s Condom Company. Based in America, Sir Richards has won several awards for its packaging, which uses bold colours, similar to those in the Spring/Summer collections of last year’s fashion shows, to distinguish the Ultra Thin (orange) from the Pleasure Dots (pink), the Classic Ribbed (yellow) from the Extra Large (blue). The vogue for clothing that transmits personal values – think Vivienne Westwood Autumn/Winter 2013 – is referenced in the company’s branded T-Shirts. Conventionally labelled on the front, on the back they proclaim ‘Doing Good Never Felt Better’. The sexual provocation is patent, but the words are really a reference to Sir Richard’s commitment to donate one condom to a developing country for each sold. The condoms are also made from 100% natural latex, which keeps chemicals, with names as horrid as their effects, away from the body’s most delicate regions.
The fashion and sex industries have long supported each other, but if the latter looks to the former for marketing inspiration, it might be because the earliest condoms were made from the intestines of animals. And no amount of ruffled sheets and toned torsos could make that sell.