Group Charges Armani Ads ’Promote Homosexuality’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday February 5, 2010

A decency group has targeted Armani clothing outlet Armani Exchange, claiming that the fashion company's advertising is "appalling" due to what the group says are depictions of "threesomes" and "same s*x couples [sic]" in Armani's romantically themed Valentine's Day advertising.

"This is not okay!" declares text at the Web site for One Million Moms, which text under the site's logo says is "A project of the American Family Association," and anti-gay religious organization.

Text at the site, using strategically placed asterisks to enable key words to get through spam filters, warns, "Malls, where teens hang out, have retailers whose window displays poison our children with 10-foot posters that are nothing but soft p*rn. In particular, Armani Exchange has recently displayed Valentine's posters with partially dressed 'couples' holding one another. These couples consist of two men, a man and woman, and two women."

The text continues, "The women are scantily dressed while it is questionable if the men have any clothes on at all. Two of these models are used a couple of times to represent bis*xuals. If it could get any worse the text written is 'SHARE THE LOVE.' "

The site directs readers to the Armani Exchange site, but cautions, "WARNING! Pictures are offensive."

The group sought to encourage protest against the advertisements. "Moms, you may think this is a long shot, but remember, just last summer complaints to Calvin Klein concerning a foursome billboard was removed from New York City Soho District," the site's text noted. "We must let retailers and designers know that we do not approve, so imitators will not be encouraged and make this a norm."

Kansas City news station Fox 4 posted a Feb. 4 story on the One Million Moms campaign to see the ads pulled, and quoted a member of another national decency group as calling the ads "predatory," and urging offended people to report the ads to local authorities on the grounds that they constitute "obscenity" to which children are exposed.

"Sex sells and that has not changed," the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families' Phillip Cosby told the station. "It is not just commercialism and unfortunately it is predatory in its nature." Added Cosby, "If people are offended by those ads they can go to their local prosecutor and file a complaint for promotion of obscenity to a minor."

Others saw the ads as harmless, and not particularly titillating. Larry Powell, an actor, envisioned the ads as depicting "a world and energy and reality were same sex relationships are not a threat, it's just a way of life and that's the way it is."

Intimations of Boycott

A clip of the news segment as broadcast by the station included a reference to Cosby saying that one way those offended by the ad could out pressure on Armani would be to stop spending money at their store.

The Valentine's Day promotion drawing a suggestion of boycott is reminiscent of a similar campaign against retailers last Christmas, when a group called American Decency sent out a call for shoppers to shun Abercrombie & Fitch, telling adherents that the company exploits teen consumers with eroticized advertisements that present sexuality in a context that could imply a "lifestyle agenda" to which the group objects.

Such a "lifestyle agenda," as well as a "hidden agenda" that the group claimed A&F promoted, steers clear of overt marketing to gays, noted media watchdog Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAAD): "With nonstop pictures of beefcake, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has not only taken the gay community by storm but straight young men in college as well," a posting at the GLAAD Web site read.

"Although the Reynoldsburg, Ohio retailer's advertising appeared in OUT magazine over the years," the text continued, "A&F spokesman Hampton Carney said the company doesn't target the gay market. 'We really market to 18-22 year old college students,' he said.

The text went on to note that until recent years, a double standard applied when it comes to using images of attractive young women and handsome young men. In the early 1980s, the text said, Calvin Klein challenged standard assumptions about marketing and decency by mounting an ad campaign in "Times Square [showing] a muscled man in white briefs," an image "that became synonymous with Klein--a brand that now has tremendous currency in the gay community.

"Back then, the nearly nude male was considered taboo in a business that used women's bodies to sell most anything," the text noted. That ad was created by photographer Bruce Weber and Sam Shahid of ad agency Shahid & Co. in New York, the creative duo behind A&F's images for the past several years."

But American Decency saw unholy motivations behind such imagery. Text at the group's Web site declared, "Any corporate entity, TV program, magazine, video game, movie, catalog that attempts to undermine the sexual purity of any child or God's clarion call 'to be holy as He is holy' must be exposed and their evil opposed.

"Sex is a wonderful gift of God--in the context of marriage," the text continued. "As a person follows the vision of sexuality painted by A&F, that young person is blindly being led down a path that may seem innocent enough but will only damage and destroy."

The group encouraged adherents to shop elsewhere and to return Abercrombie & Fitch merchandise, and followed up with a Dec. 7 call to contact Victoria's Secret and urge the company to tone down its "trashy" window displays.

"Though VS is not displaying in our local malls as egregiously as in the past, the displays that we observed last week in one of our local malls was not what we would have liked to have seen in this Christmas season when so many will be passing by these public displays," text posted at the group's site read. "These displays (and some worse) undoubtedly characterize VS displays in your local mall.

The text included a sample letter that read, in part, "We are alarmed, undermined, and upset when we take our family to the local mall and are confronted with incredibly aggressive sexual advertising on Victoria's Secret window and wall displays and mannequins.

"Your public advertisements are offensive and obnoxious," the sample letter continued. "I urge you to discontinue your use of erotic, pornographic wall and window displays in mall stores, in your publications, and television ads. I await your response as I determine the course of action I anticipate having to take."

Nor was imagery that some saw as sexualized the only reason religious groups targeted retailers with threats of boycott. Last November, online media sources reported that anti-gay religious right group the American Family Association had targeted The Gap, claiming that the clothing retailer had not promoted the word "Christmas" aggressively enough in its seasonal marketing. A Nov. 13 article at Brandweek noted that the AFA had gone after other retailers during holiday seasons past, and recalled that in 2008 The Gap wished shoppers a "Merry Gap-mas."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.