image: Saint Laurent

image: Saint Laurent

International lawmakers and watchdogs, alike, are increasingly paying attention to the advertising campaigns of fashion brands and consumer goods companies, more generally. The British Advertising Standards Authority, an independent regulator of advertising across all media in the United Kingdom, has long – and very notoriously – slapped the hands of fashion brands and publications – including Saint Laurent, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs, Condé Nast, and American Apparel, among others – when their campaigns run afoul of the its guidelines by being “misleading, harmful, offensive or irresponsible.”

Since then, French legislators have taken to addressing the content of ad campaigns, enacting legislation last year that requires brands to label campaign imagery that has been significantly retouched. 

Now Stockholm is joining the push towards regulatory action, as the City Council of Sweden’s capital is expected to approve a ban on racist and sexist advertisements, as already agreed-upon in December by one division of the council.

According to the BBC, the new ban, when enacted, “will follow the same guidelines about what constitutes a sexist or racist advertisement as those set out by the country’s nationwide advertising watchdog, Reklamombudsmannen.” But, as the publication notes, while the Reklamombudsmannen lacks the legal authority to issue sanctions to companies in breach of the guidelines, the new division will be able to order them to take down offensive billboards [and other roadside advertising]?within 24 hours.”

Founded in 2009, the Reklamombudsmannen is a self-regulatory organization tasked with “reviewing commercial advertising and making sure advertising standards are kept high.” The watchdog supplements Article 4 of the International Chamber of Commerce Consolidated Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication about gender discriminating advertising with the following criteria: “Advertising portraying men or women as sex objects that can be considered offensive (objectifying); advertising portraying men or women in a stereotypical way in terms of gender roles and where men or women are represented in a derogatory way (stereotyping); and advertising that is discriminating or derogatory in any other way.”

The move in Stockholm “follows a similar initiative in Paris a year ago, when the city council voted to bid au revoir to sexist or otherwise degrading adverts on public billboards, following a controversial ‘porn-chic’ campaign by Saint Laurent,” states the BBC’s business reporter Maddy Savage.

Does Sex Still Sell? 

It is clear that sexist and other offensively-themed ad campaigns are going out of style with lawmakers and watchdogs; various Stockholm City Council members have said that they hope the ban on sexist and racist ads extends to other cities and towns in Sweden, for instance.

The question remains, however: Is the fashion industry  which Footwear News’ Sheena Butler-Young noted “has spent nearly six decades abiding by the mantra ‘sex sells’” – on board? 

While there are certainly outliers, change does appear to be afoot. As Eric Korman, the founder and chief executive of fragrance brand Phlur, told Bloomberg not too long ago, “The same gender stereotypes and generalizations that have applied over the past 25 years don’t apply today. They don’t resonate.” A quick glance at the ad campaigns of some of fashion’s biggest names, suggests that Korman might just be right. Gucci, for instance, has done a complete 180 in terms of the sexual explicitly of its ad campaigns.

But there is, of course, something else at play in this equation aside from changing consumer preferences.  As The Cut’s editor Stella Bugbee wrote early this month, “The recent allegations of sexual abuse by Bruce Weber and Mario Testino suggest that the tension that gives most fashion imagery its charge might come at a very human cost.”

Butler-Young also reflected on the state of fashion advertising recently, writing, “At a time when individuals and corporations are facing a day of reckoning for turning a blind eye to sexual misconduct, the fashion industry is rightfully compelled to take a meaningful look at its own contributions — in particular, how advertising has reinforced harmful gender identities and cultural ideologies.” 

Still only mere months after the fall of Harvey Weinstein and when it comes to fashion photographers, just a week or so following the latest bought of allegations, it might be too soon to tell if fashion has decided to move away from selling shoes by way of sex or if the movement towards less explicit sexualization of women in ad campaigns is just a passing trend, right along with tartans and plaid.