Brooke Shields Revisits Her Iconic (and Controversial) Calvin Klein Campaign
“You want to know what comes in between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” It’s an iconic line that model Brooke Shields delivered in her 1980 Calvin Klein campaign—one that went on to become one of the most famous, and controversial, fashion ads of all time. And in a brand new video, Shields sat down with Vogue to relive her work on the now-infamous project, which was directed by Richard Avedon.
At the time of the campaign, Shields was only 15 years old, and it was her mother who was approached by the Calvin Klein team to cast her in it. Shields remembers: “She was like, ‘Do you want to put on these jeans and do this commercial?’ ” While Shields did not completely understand who Calvin Klein was and why he was such a rising force in fashion, she says she was drawn to working with the photographer Avedon, who had a unique vision for the campaign. “It was going to be [a lot of] wordplay, or historical and literary references,” Shields says. “There was a real intellectual spin on how they were going to produce [the ads.]”
Shields recalls the project being a long, labor-intensive shoot. “Nobody was allowed on set,” Shields says. “Because it was Avedon’s first foray into the commercial world, I think he was pretty nervous. Stakes were pretty high and I think there was a lot of pressure. We did multiple, multiple takes of everything.” Also a challenge? All of the flexible poses Shields had to do in her Calvin jeans, including moves where she balances herself on all fours, among others. “The choreography was specific and intentional,” she says. “Every bit of it.”
After the ads came out, Shields says she was not prepared for the extreme backlash that would ensue. The press instantly pounced on the campaign, dubbing her line—“You want to know what comes in between me and my Calvins? Nothing”—as a sexual innuendo. “I was away when they came out, and then I started hearing that the commercials were being banned,” Shields says. “The paparazzi would scream at me and my mother, ‘How could you!” It just struck me as so ridiculous.”
The model says she never thought of the campaign or the lines as a double entendre. “I didn’t think it was about underwear or sexual in nature. I was naive,” Shields says. “I think the assumption was that I was much more savvy than I ever really was. I was a virgin, and I was a virgin forever after that.” Despite the outcry, however, Shields still remains proud of the campaign, which went on to become a huge success. “The controversy backfired. The campaign was extremely successful, and then the underwear overtook the jeans,” Shields says. “[Calvin Klein] understood how to push the envelope. It set the tone for decades.”