The 8 Most Revolutionary Fashion Campaigns Ever

Features. Posted 3 years ago


It’s Fashion Revolution Day this Friday, April 24th, which is an initiative to commemorates the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, and to motivate consumers, like you and I, to take more interest in where our clothing comes from, and who makes it. In celebration of this great initiative, this week we’re going to be discussing the trailblazers of the fashion industry; those designers, advertising agencies, activists and more who have changed the face of fashion – and the world – for the better. First up: The 8 Most Revolutionary Fashion Campaigns Ever.

Most of the time most of us wish advertising didn’t exist; we wish that the pop-ups and banner ads that are trying to sell us things, and worse, trying to sell us insecurities, would go away – luckily, most of us have an ad-blocker, so we can literally make them all disappear.

However, because advertisements have such powerful subtext, they have the ability to make people think, and perhaps even affect change. The clever “activations” (as we’re now calling them), during International Women’s Day, including this one featuring that dress, and this one where women were removed from billboards across New York City, certainly provoked discourse.

The fashion industry may be, annoyingly, considered a bit silly most of the time, but fashion imagery is hugely impactful on the representation or lack thereof, of people in society. Fashion imagery is part of this, reinforcing and affecting the stereotypes about race, gender, body image and more. While lots of fashion imagery is boring as hell, featuring dead-looking women hanging around wearing expensive clothes, sometimes they’re clever, profound things that make us all, you know, think. Here are, IMO, the most impactful fashion advertisements ever.

1) United Colours of Benetton


United Colours of Benetton have been creating controversial advertising since the ’80s. The clothing company have discussed most hot button topics via their advertising, including race relations, the representation of people with AIDS, casualties in the Bosnian war, and, most recently, via their UNHATE campaign, world peace, which featured world leaders, like Pope Benedict XV and President Obama, kissing. My favourite, however, is this simple, powerful display of the fact that “we’re all the same on the inside”, photographed by Oliviero Toscani.

2) Rolling Stone: Perception v Reality


This isn’t strictly a fashion advert, but it features a bra and refers to hipsters, so bear with me.

Rolling Stone launched and became popular in the ’60s. Because of this, its readership were considered hippies who were against capitalism, and as a result, Rolling Stone struggled to sell advertising into the magazine. However, as the ’60s turned into the ’80s, and the social paradigms of the day shifted, Rolling Stone continued to attract the same demographic, 18-34 year olds, only now this demographic was really into buying stuff. Fallon McElligott Agency in Minneapolis devised the Perception/Reality campaign, which paired images from the ’60s with their ’80s counterparts to try to convince advertisers that readers would pick up what they were putting down. It worked, and advertising sales revenue increased 191% between 1985, when the campaign launched, and 1991. Advertising in Rolling Stone’s print issue probably isn’t still increasing that exponentially, but it was one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the ’80s.

3) Calvin Klein: 1981 My Calvins commercial, starring Brooke Shields


Although Brooke Shields was only 15 years old when she posed all sexily for this groundbreaking 1981 Calvin Klein advert, photographed and directed by Richard Avedon, she’d already starred as a child prostitute in the 1978 film, Pretty Baby, so didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. She told the Huffington Post, “The controversy [over declaring, ‘You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.’] didn’t surprise me because I’d had experience with it since I was 11. The pants came above my belly button–even the one with my shirt open, you didn’t see anything. Compared to the things I’d done before, this was like being in winter gear”.

4) Dove: The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty



The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is arguably one of the first Femvertising campaigns: advertisements that try to empower, rather than subjugate, women. On the company’s website, they explain they launched the campaign in 2004, after The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, was released, and found that only 2% of women in the world described themselves as beautiful.

5) Acne: Adorable Waimeraners


If this isn’t the cutest thing in existence, then I have no idea what is. Acne enlisted renowned dog photographer (yes, this is a thing) William Wegman for their spring-summer 2013 advertising campaign, in which Weimaraners act all normal in you know, hats and jackets and shoes and bags. This campaign might not have had a profound social impact, except by perhaps extending the parameters of who or what a fashion model is, but: puppies!

6) American Apparel: Made in Bangladesh


Yes, Dov Charney is a creep and yes, a lot of the really-quite-clever advertising that was created under his reign is tainted by this fact. However, now he’s been ousted from his own company, hopefully we can celebrate one of American Apparel’s most profound advertising moments (especially considering it’s related to Fashion Revolution Day). In light of the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, American Apparel released the above ad, featuring one of their Bangladesh-born workers, to celebrate the fact that their clothing is all produced on shore in North America.

7) Dolce and Gabbana: Adorable grandmas


For their spring 2015 campaign, Dolce and Gabbana enlisted a trio of adorable Italian grandmothers to natter away while fashion models moved around them. While this celebrates the familiarity at the heart of the Dolce and Gabbana brand, it also, and similarly to Lanvin’s recent recruitment of the women of Advanced Style for one of their campaigns, celebrates style and beauty at any age.

8) Celine: Joan Didion


The spring 2015 campaigns were filled with iconic muses. Givenchy recruited Julia Roberts, Louis Vuitton recruited Charlotte Gainsbourg, but the high watermark of this excellent trend (please let the replacement of social media stars with talented muses be the future of fashion) was the Celine spring-summer 2015 campaign, featuring none other than Joan Didion.

Liked this? Read these articles about the fashion industry:

1) Non-Animal Leather Will be a Thing by 2016

2) Oxfam: Why Just Jeans Should Sign the Bangladesh Accord

3) 4 Big Takeaways From Future Talks

4) Real Talk: On Fashion Modelling, With Ollie Henderson

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