Men stripped, women clothed: Fashion brand gets dressing down for ‘sexist’ ad
Suitsupply, an international clothing brand, that created news last year for its ad campaign accused of being sexist, has stoked controversy again.
The popular and ‘affordable’ suiting chain will be launching its sister company in New York by October end. Called Suistudio, it will cater to only women.
Suistudio has been aggressively advertising its campaign, #NotDressingMen, quite literally. Photographs, that have attracted social media’s wrath, feature women dressed in smart suits, with faceless and naked men as background imagery.
The images have been called out for being sexist. Is the brand, then, objectifying men? “The problem is in recent history, we haven’t seen men objectified in the background. How strange! If you’re in the beverage business, you objectify thirst,” says Kristina Barricelli, the vice president of Suistudio, USA. “The moment you take an image and photograph it, it becomes an object. We like naked men and I’m pretty sure there are lots of women that like them too.”
Suistudio, however, says it seeks absolute equality. “Taking women’s suiting every bit as seriously as men’s and asserting this collection is stand alone strong.”
The company, incidentally, is heavily woman-dominated. “We also have very talented men. In fashion, it is important to understand your customer and their needs. Our team is selected and hired on the basis of talent, merit, and availability,” says Barricelli.
Suistudio asserts there is nothing wrong with sex, the naked human body, and the inclusion of the same in a campaign. “Sex is a big part of fashion. If a woman has a handsome, naked man in her apartment, she is not objectifying him. Nobody knows what she is doing with that man. He merely becomes an object in the photo as does the couch and the suit and the other objects.
‘Same old objectification, replacing women with men’
Historically, advertisements for men’s products have often objectified women’s bodies, using them as props. Asked if the brand is challenging this stereotype consciously by flipping the genders, Barricelli says, “Labeling her (the brand) as flipping a gender puts too much emphasis on flawed impositions that have been put on the sexes for far too long.”
The internet, however, is of a different view. Users have commented that this kind of gender-flipping is insulting men. It is not empowering women and is certainly not feminist. Sample some reactions to the campaign:
A few social media users have commented that the ad is a weak attempt at reverse-psychology to ‘make feminists feel better about themselves.’ “This is about a woman free to do whatever she wants. She is not reversing anything. She is just being herself,” Barricelli says
The campaign, however, has a few admirers too.
‘Selling suits or misogyny?’
Suitsupply has a history of using controversial ads to gain publicity. In a 2010 campaign, titled ‘Shameless, the company used images that were called out for being exploitative and degrading to women - a man holding a woman down by her throat, another man lifting a woman’s dress.
The adverts were reportedly later removed from Facebook.
In 2014, the brand advertised its clothing with photos of women in bikinis alongside fully clothed men. The website gave visitors the option to view the campaign images either censored and uncensored. The uncensored images showed the women topless.
In 2016, the Amsterdam-based company drew criticism with an ad campaign, called ‘Toy Boy’, that showcased men photoshopped onto oversize semi-naked women. Pictures included men in suits sliding down women’s bodies and sitting between their breasts.
CEO/Founder Fokke de Jong issued a statement saying the Toy Boy ads were sexist towards men, if anyone, not women, BuzzFeed News reported. “It’s called toy boys depicting the men as little dolls together with giant beautiful women that play with the men. Sexism implies inequality, If you want to read any form of sexism in here than it has to be towards the men they obviously do not have the upper hand here.”
Despite the sexist ads, Suitsupply has built a global name for itself in countries such as the US, the UK, Germany, and China. It has also been featured in GQ and the Wall Street Journal.
Sexism and objectification in advertisements is not new. Major companies such as Volkswagen and Van Heusen have indulged in everyday sexism for brand promotion.