From the slightly scandalous to the downright offensive, here are 10 of the most controversial fashion advertisements of all time.

The fashion industry and advertorial regulation standards have endured a rather volatile relationship for quite some time. The desire to seduce, sell and garner attention has lead many a fashion label to resort to suggestive, even extreme visual methods – be it via sex, violence or social commentary – to get their product noticed and make headlines in the process, for one reason or another.

Succeeding our look at the 10 most “Fuck You” moments in fashion, we’ve compiled a list of fashion campaigns that have managed to shock, offend and test (or rather violate) commercial acceptability throughout the years.

Alexander Wang Denim

Channeling the provoking tactics of Calvin Klein’s now-fabled denim ads, designer Alexander Wang offered an equally tantalizing visual with this 2014 Steven Klein-shot campaign starring model Anna Ewers. Addressing the ensuing controversy regarding the ads’ overt nudity, Wang told fashion journal WWD, “It’s not provocative just in terms of sexy, but provocative to provoke conversation…I’m not dictating what that message is exactly. The interesting part is to see how people interpret it, and what they have to say about it. Of course, there are going to be people who disagree with it.”

“Fashion Junkie”

Benetton Group affiliate Sisley is certainly no stranger to racy ad campaigns. Often employing suggestive innuendos which portray rather sobering scenarios, the Italian-based label made more than a few heads turn with their ambiguous “Fashion Junkie” campaign as seen in China around 2007.

Supreme x Terry Richardson x Vanessa Veasley

Shot in 2010 by Terry Richardson (naturally), these NSFW images starring model Vanessa Veasley were created in promotion of Supreme’s apparel and accessory collection and were featured in their publication Supreme Book, Vol. 6. 

 

Diesel “Foursome” Ad

Some may claim skillful multitasking, others tasteless sexism. Either way, this 2007 campaign by Italian mainstay Diesel prompted many a feminist group to rally to ban the ad on accounts of lewd taste and brazen chauvinism.

“G Marks the Spot”

Tom Ford and Mario Testino get creative with topiary in their collaborated 2003 Gucci campaign, dubbed “Pubic Enemy.” Depicting a male model poised before the nether regions of a standing woman whose “G”-shaved monogram is exposed just below eye level, the ads were condemned for being “vile, coarse and degrading to women.”

 

“Change Style. Don’t Follow Your Leader”

Italian retailer New Form caused quite a stir when they decided to slap the face of one of history’s most nefarious villains, Adolf Hitler, onto one of their 2010 advertorial campaigns. The 18-foot posters depicted a dolled-up Führer adorning a garishly pink uniform complete with a heart armband (in lieu of the traditional swatztika) with the slogan “Change Style – Don’t Follow Your Leader.” The ads obviously perturbed more than few Italian citizens, prompting Councillor Rosario Filoramo to issue the statement: “The use of an image of a person responsible for the worst chapters of the last century is offensive to our country’s constitutional principles and to the sensitivities of citizens.”

Tom Ford for Men

Photographed by the King of Sleaze himself, Terry Richardson, the 2007 campaign promoting Tom Ford’s first-ever men’s fragrance exploited the notion “sex sells” to its fullest potential. Widely condemned for their pornographic approach, the ads were subsequently banned in several countries. Interestingly enough, the photos were a replacement to a previous campaign – allegedly more subdued – with a spokeswoman from Tom Ford Beauty issuing the statement: “We loved the original Marilyn Minter images, but while on a shoot with [Richardson] in Milan, we decided that a sharper, more graphic approach clearly communicated the bold and provocative mood of the fragrance.”

Dolce & Gabbana’s “Gang Rape” Ad

The storied Italian luxury house raised some heat with this rather foreboding image, depicting a pinned down Alessandra Ambrosio surrounded by a group of composed male model onlookers. Banned in Spain, the National Organization of Women considered the advert “beyond offensive, with a scene evoking a gang rape and reeking of violence against women.”

FLY53 Gun Ads

What looks like a scene from a Gaspar Noé film is actually one of UK streetwear label FLY53’s 2010 ad campaigns. The menacing ads were banned in several publications based upon several complaints received by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who stated, “We considered that the advertisement’s depiction of gun crime was likely to be seen as glamorizing and condoning real violence.”

“Tights”

American Apparel’s pseudo-pornographic campaigns have become something of a legend for the high-street fashion brand. With a knack for courting controversy, the brand’s ads have been dubbed everything from chauvinistic (unsurprising considering AA’s notorious former CEO Dev Charney) to Lolita-baiting. While countless racy campaigns exist for the label, we decided to go with this “Tights” number, illustrated by a woman apparently photographed mid-climax.

Words by Nico Amarca
Fashion Editor, North America
What To Read Next