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It's Junkie Chic.
Calvin Rankles Drug Foes, Kids Say Oh, Ho Hum

Allison Steel; Linh Trieu
The Kansas City Star Co.
February 25, 1997

Calvin Klein is still at it - rattling middle-class American

Eighteen years ago model Brooke Shields breathily told America "nothing" came between her and her Calvins. In 1995 Klein presented
young models as pubescent teens in sexually provocative poses.
Then last year, in a campaign to promote his unisex fragrances cK1 and cK be, he downplayed glamour by using models of less-than-stunning appearance. Last spring his ads went one step further, importing from Europe a look known as "junkie chic."

It's a look that features models who look like they just stepped out of "Trainspotting," the Scottish movie about heroin addiction.
Nervous, seedy models who look more strung-out than decked-out, their hollowed eyes, tangled hair and thin bodies stare out from fashion spreads in Elle and Vogue and Details.

As anti-drug advocates complain Klein's ads make drug use appealing to the young, fashion experts say it's just another gimmick to get people to buy his clothing and fragrances.

Young people, for their part, say they don't see his ads advocating drug use. They just see something new to buy from Calvin.

Vahn Phayprasert, 19, plasters Calvin Klein ads all over his walls, saying the models are people you want to look at.

"It makes you want to be like that, but in a fashion sense," he said.

Phayprasert also said that although he usually dresses nicely, he
sometimes wants to imitate the junkie look presented in Klein's ads.

"It's a statement, a style, but I have never wanted to try drugs because of it," he said. "When I look at Calvin Klein, I never think of drugs; I think, 'Wow, he has great taste in fashion. ' "

But Sue Rusche, director of the drug-prevention organization National Families in Action, sees a connection between Klein's ads and increased drug use among teens.

According to a 1996 Partnership for a Drug-Free America report, teen-age heroin users have increased from 22,500 to 40,000 the last five years.

Advertisers "know what they're doing. They know how to research. They know how to sell things to people, to target," Rusche said.
The influence advertisers and the fashion industry have over teen-agers is "enormous," she said.

The National Families in Action is boycotting Calvin Klein, primarily because teen-agers are buying more of Klein's products than any other designer's. Because of that, she said, Klein has more of a responsibility, one which he is shirking when he makes ads that she says glorify heroin use.

Some fashion industry experts disagree, however. Among them is Ruth Rubenstein, a professor of sociology at the Fashion Institute in New York.

"I don't think the average kid is trying to decipher the sociological implications of Calvin Klein's ads," she said.

"There's a certain group in American society who try to be the gatekeepers of our morality, or what they think should be our morals. Some people would like to censor what other people do or wear."

Rubenstein said teens are more likely to imitate their friends than to be influenced by the media.

"Adolescents always try to find their own world," Rubenstein said. "They try to be like their friends and they may try the clothes, but doing drugs is a very important decision, and they don't take it lightly."

Irma Zandl of the Zandl Group, a marketing consulting firm in New York, said advertisers who put out provocative ads are "working really hard to break through the clutter of advertising."

Breaking through is not a problem for Klein. He has a reputation for his outlandish ads and their searing imagery, be it pubescent teens or the heroin look. The controversy is whether Klein is targeting teens not only to buy his clothes, but also to use heroin.

Zandl said that all this hype is unnecessary since many designers, Klein included, are searching for a new look. Besides, she said, the used-up junkie look is over - what's "in" now is smiling, healthy-looking people.

Hollis Officer, a local advertising photographer, said the junkie chic look is "just an attempt at saying 'this is real. ' The ads came about because the lifestyle exists. " The ads appeared, Officer said, while the advertising industry was going through an "anti-beauty" trend, what he described as the "before you shower, before you put on makeup" image.

But, he said, "as soon as we want to be a representative of reality, it becomes an illusion."

Chris Glenn and 10 friends from Pembroke Hill turned illusion into parody. For an advertisement in their yearbook, they hired Officer to take pictures of them posing as models for Klein's anti-beauty cK1 ads.

"We thought it'd be real funny and also kind of cool," Glenn said.

He clearly sees the phoniness of the campaign.

"His point with those is that you don't have to be a model," Glenn said, "but they obviously are."

Illusion or not, Damian Murtha, 19, loves Calvin Klein jeans.
Although he sees an implication of drugs and sex in the junkie chic ads, that's not the reason he buys Klein. Murtha, who is also a fan of Polo and Tommy Hilfiger, buys his clothes for the brand name.

He said he sees the ads as gimmicks since "the clothes that they put out in the stores don't even look like what junkies would wear."

Officer, like Zandl, does not believe that the junkie image will last. He said the look will cycle through, as other looks before it have, and things will change. Officer has a simpler explanation for the Calvin Klein ads.

"It's meant to sell blue jeans and T-shirts," he said. "That's the bottom line."

Allison Steele, who attends high school in Philadelphia, was a
guest writer for TeenStar. Linh Trieu is a member of the TeenStar

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