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Men's Fashion Ads That Tease & Tantalize

The old trope about a picture being worth a thousand words is especially true when it comes to fashion advertising.  In fact, the six ads I've chosen here rely entirely on photographs - there's not one line of copy.  And upon looking at the selection of ads below the first word of each readers' thousand is likely to be "wow".



Famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe snapped this breathtaking photo for this short-lived (and not very highly regarded) apparel company which flamed out in the late 1980s.  It hit the skids when its financial backer, a notorious personal banker, art connoisseur and social climber named Roberto Polo, was jailed in Italy for misappropriation of client funds.





If you didn't know that Rockport sold shoes you'd be hard pressed to figure out what this ad was selling.  But it's a pleasure gazing upon the ad and trying to figure it out.  In business for more than 40 years, Rockport, based in Massachusetts, is now a subsidiary of Reebok International.






Sex appeal conveyed in a gritty, blue collar setting.  Part of this ad's appeal is guessing what the model looks like from the front.  (And why is he looking down?)





Ladies and gentleman, introducing the Versace iron!  Wait, I think it's the shirt that has the Versace label!  This ad is a classic from some 30 years ago.





Most likely the carefree model is skipping off to some oh-so-fabulous destination.  BV is a nearly 50-year-old luxury brand best known for its leather accessories.  The company is a subsidiary of Gucci and is headquartered in Italy.





Nothing brings attention to a shirt like one that is unbuttoned and opened wide (or, as in the case here, almost off), affording a view of a beautiful chest.  (However, a warning label should be at the bottom of the ad that reads: your results may differ.)  Alex Cannon is a menswear company that's been in business since 2003.  The label is sold at Lord & Taylor and a number of specialty stores across the U.S.



Remembering HX Magazine (1991 - 2009)




HX was a weekly gay entertainment guide for New York that began publishing in 1991.  It was briefly called Homo Xtra, and its slogan was: "The totally biased, politically incorrect party paper".  (I still have an HX t-shirt with this tagline on the back.)  It continued publishing until the issue dated July 10, 2009, when it was purchased by the company that published rival Next Magazine (which would stop publishing in the summer of 2016).


Next began publishing a few years after HX, and both co-existed for many years despite having similar content.  (Because of their similarities I sometimes had a hard time distinguishing between the two.)  Both were freebies distributed mostly in the West Village and Chelsea, and in the Pines and Cherry Grove during the summer.  Like so much content on the internet, both publications were able to be distributed free because of advertising support from clubs/bars, restaurants, escorts and masseurs/body workers.  When it first began publishing, HX had an unwieldy fold-out format, similar to a map.  The covers during the first few years were sexy shots of bare chested guys.  These early covers were quite striking because they were B/W on sturdy newsprint, calling to mind the works of Robert Mapplethorpe.  Once the magazine became a 4-color glossy, the covers became a mix of pretty  boys, studs, drag queens and celebrities. 




Here's a sample of some striking covers from the early, "black & white" years:








And here are some standout covers from the glossy, "living color" era, with themes such as Sex; the Black Party; Swimwear/Summer; the White Party in South Beach; and Christmas time:












And, now, some favorite ads: 1) The model in the Thanksgiving ad also did a nude cover for the May 2002 issue of GQ.  (For a brief time we worked together at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, where he was an assistant account executive.)  2) Ads for the annual "Black Party" are always outrageous, but the one shown was even more so because of the inclusion of a cherubic little boy.  3) Splash Bar could always be counted on for hot ads.  It opened at about the same time as HX - and outlived it by four years (closing in August 2013).













TIME Magazine Reports on "AIDS Hysteria" (June 27, 1983)

Despite the grim title of TIME Magazine's cover story which hit newsstands on June 27, 1983, the tone of the article wasn't all doom and gloom.  Although knowledge about the AIDS virus was minimal at this early stage the article reassured readers that the U.S. medical establishment would surely come up with a cure in the not too distant future.  It turned out to be a very naive assumption.




In the summer of 1983 only two years had passed since the first few cases of AIDS were diagnosed and the number infected was still relatively low.  However, in the gay community, especially in New York and San Francisco, a quiet feeling of dread was building.  (I remember how practically any illness would cause panic among my friends.)


Stop_aids_get_testedIt would be another two years before the number of cases took off. Deaths then climbed steadily in each of the next 10 years until a class of drugs known as protease inhibitors was introduced. These drugs were the first effective treatment in keeping the AIDS virus at bay in many of those infected.  However, some 20 years later a cure has yet to be found.







Newsweek Runs Cover Story About Lesbians (June 21, 1993)


The issue of Newsweek that was on newsstands the week of June 15, 1993 (June 21 cover date) was titled: "Lesbians, Coming Out Strong:  What Are the Limits of Tolerance?"  Featuring a lesbian couple on the cover (Catherine Angiel, and Ashley Herrin), the article largely contrasted stereotypical "butch" lesbians with more feminine "lipstick" lesbians, who were more likely to go undetected by the general population.  In the eyes of many gay readers, the story served mostly as a primer for straight society on the world of lesbians.




Twenty years later Catherine Angiel (the woman on the cover with the short hair) owns a high-end jewelry shop in New York's Greenwich Village called catherine Angiel (formerly known as Gallery Eclectic).  She and Herrin split a number of years after they appeared on the magazine's cover, and no information is available about Herrin's whereabouts. (By coincidence, for two years in the early 1990s I lived in an apartment in the building above the store.)



43 Greenwich Avenue


Three years later Newsweek would publish another cover story about lesbians that reported on the trend of them having children and raising families (rocker Melissa Etheridge and her partner Julie Cypher were the cover subjects this time).


Here are other ZeitGAYst posts about gay themed cover stories in Newsweek you may find of interest:

Newsweek Publishes "Growing Up Gay" Cover Story (January 6, 1985)

Newsweek Cover Story Explains AIDS to General Public (April 11, 1983)

Newsweek Puts a Human Face on AIDS (August 2, 1983)



Reading Next Magazine - Pass the Magnifying Glass, Please!

Next_magNex_black_model_2012I enjoy paging through each week's issue of Next Magazine but I've become frustrated by the small font size used in many of its articles.  While Next offers an appealing mix of alluring photos and entertaining editorial features it can be difficult reading the articles because of the teeny-tiny print.  (And the font size of side bar columns and captions is even tinier!)  This is especially challenging if one tries reading it after a few drinks in a dimly lit bar, restaurant or club - key points of distribution for the publication.  Unless you're reading it sober under the bright fluorescent lighting of your local Duane Reade you may have a problem.  Sometimes I wonder if it's been done intentionally to dissuade older readers like me from picking it up and keeping the demographic profile youthful.  However, I don't believe there is a conspiracy since the magazine seems to have a decent amount of editorial and photos devoted to the Silver Daddies set. 



Man_with_magnifying_glassThe reason for the small typeface is probably a function of Next's shrinking page size, a cost cutting measure taken by many magazines.  However, at some point the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in.  Having worked in the media planning and research side of the advertising business I know the importance advertisers place on reader engagement.  An unreadable font size is a sure way to discourage engagement and reduce time spent reading - hardly a selling point.


(Post-script: This post was published in 2012.  Next stopped publishing during the summer of 2016, seven years after HX.)







First Issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine Published (June 10, 1991)

After two test issues met with encouraging results, Martha Stewart Living was launched as a bi-monthly magazine with a July/August 1991 issue.  It hit newsstands on June 10, 1991 - with Martha looking like a grown-up Debbie Gibson!  Gay men clamored for it because the multi-talented Martha instructed us on the art of gracious living.  The publication quickly found itself on coffee tables in City apartments and Fire Island shares where it was pored over at poolside or on the beach along with Vanity Fair, Bon Appetit and The New Yorker.  I'm not a cook or decorating type, but even I enjoyed paging through it because it was beautiful to look at - and I was mesmerized by the photos of meticulously decorated cookies and cupcakes.  She was truly a domestic goddess.     




A large part of the appeal of the magazine was that every page was a personification of Martha - a talented, hard-driving perfectionist and savvy businesswoman.  What is it about "bitch goddesses" like her that gay men find so appealing?  Most likely, it's because we appreciate smart women with a vision who know how to achieve it without being hindered by men.  (It's quite amusing to see a woman make straight men squirm.)  That's been the key to success for other female movers and shakers as well, such as Madonna, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Eva Peron, and Anna Wintour (and her fictional doppelganger, Miranda Priestly).




The magazine immediately met with success and soon it was publishing ten issues a year.  Within six years its circulation had rocketed from 500,000 to 2.3 million, making it one of the nation's twenty-five largest magazines.  Few new magazines have been such an out-of -the-box success (one exception was Oprah's magazine, which launched in 2000.)  And this was just one part of her empire, which would also include cookbooks; special interest publications for babies, weddings and holiday entertaining; a TV series and numerous guest appearances on TV shows; and product tie-ins with K-Mart, Macy's and JC Penney.   





Newsweek Cover Story Explains AIDS to the General Public (April 11, 1983)

Two years after the first puzzling cases of failing immune systems were reported among gay men in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, Newsweek ran a cover story (cover date of April 18, 1983) about the spreading plague titled "Epidemic: The Mysterious and Deadly Disease Called AIDS May Be The Public Health Threat of the Century.  How Did It Start?  Can It Be Stopped?"




The article reported that although the ravages of AIDS on the body were well documented, medical researchers had yet to determine how the infectious agent was introduced into the body.  As long as this mystery remained unsolved it would be impossible to arrive at a medical solution.  And until that time arrived AIDS would largely continue to be a death sentence for those who were infected.  Here is the story's opening paragraph:


Since it came into public view in 1981, derisively called "The Gay Plague," AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which ravages the body's immune system, has stricken 1,300 Americans - more than half of them in the last year. And there is no cure in sight. "In my professional career, I have never encountered a more frustrating and depressing situation," says Dr. Peter Mansell of Houston's M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute. "People who you know are likely to die ask what they can do to help themselves, and you are forced to say, more or less, 'I have no idea'." (To read the full story click here.)


QuarantineSince many of those who were already infected during these early years were unaware of their status they could unknowingly infect others.  Additionally, wild misconceptions about the disease were running rampant.  As a result, there was unsettling speculation over whether the federal government might (or should) take drastic measures, such as a quarantine of gay men, to prevent the illness from spreading to the general population.  (An action that was taken by Cuba.)


Time_Magazine_AIDS_Panic_1983Newsweek_GayAmericaA few months later TIME Magazine ran a cover story with the subhead "AIDS Panic" and later that summer Newsweek ran another cover story about AIDS, this time showing two gay men as a way to give the story a human dimension. 


Ellen DeGeneres Reveals to TIME Magazine: "Yep, I'm Gay" (April 7, 1997)

Ellen_degeneres_yep_im_gay In preparation for the April 30 episode of her eponymous ABC sitcom in which her character was outed, Ellen DeGeneres herself "came out" in the pages of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME Magazine (which hit newsstands on 4/7).  And what a lovely cover it was.  (14 years later, in ads for Cover Girl, Ellen looked as fresh as she did in 1997, thanks to the marvels of retouching).  Although TIME had a famous cover story in 1975 titled "I Am a Homosexual", in which Sgt. Leonard Matlovich talked openly about his homosexuality, the Ellen cover story was the first time an entertainer had come out in such a public fashion



After this story ran it seemed for a while that DeGeneres and her partner, actress Anne Heche, were turning up everywhere, supplanting Harvey Fierstein as the media's favorite token gays.  Then a year after TIME's cover story Entertainment Weekly ran one titled "Yep, She's Too Gay".  It reported on the backlash against Ellen's sitcom and its gay storylines.  And in 2000 Ellen and Anne ended their relationship




Ellen's career foundered a bit after that, but then she made a triumphant return as host of the Emmy's a few weeks after 9-11.  And six years later she hosted the Academy Awards (and a second time in 2014).  She was also the voice of the blue fish, Dory, in the high-grossing animated movie Finding Nemo.  Besides being a spokesperson for Cover Girl she also appeared in ads for American Express.  And her success extended to publishing as she wrote five books during the decade, including the best seller Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Love Story.  Then another career hiccup occurred two years ago when she was a judge on American Idol and found herself uncomfortable dishing out criticism. 




Since 2003 DeGeneres has had her own Daytime talk show and there was even speculation about her replacing Oprah when O retired - although Ellen's audience was a fraction of Oprah's, and her show's content much lighter.  (FYI, Ellen came out to Oprah on her show the month before TIME's cover story).  




I've written posts about two other cover girls:

Suitable for Framing - Cher's Classic TIME Magazine Cover

Madonna, Good Housekeeping Magazine Cover Girl


Madonna, Good Housekeeping Cover Girl (March 15, 2000)

Madonna_goodh_housekeepingWhen thinking of Madonna it's doubtful the word "mainstream" comes to mind.  Yet, there she was on the cover of the April 2000 issue of Good Housekeeping that hit newsstands in mid-March.  (To be honest, not a very flattering cover.)  Who knows the reason behind M's decision - it's not as if she were following in Linda Ronstadt's or Rod Stewart's footsteps and doing a CD of standards that needed to be promoted to Middle America (her CD Music came out later in the year).  However, for Good Housekeeping it was an attempt at reaching a younger reader, sending the message that "we're not your mother's Good Housekeeping". 


Madonna_and_family At the time Madonna had a 3-year old daughter, Lourdes, and was pregnant with British film director Guy Ritchie's child - a boy they named Rocco, born on August 11 (five days before his mother's birthday).  She and Ritchie would marry at the end of the year.  (She's since adopted two other children from Africa and divorced Ritchie in 2008.)



Madonn_britney_kiss Despite this cover, it didn't mean Madge had put her provocative ways behind her as three years later she caused a stir at the MTV Music Video Awards by French kissing Britney Spears on stage.  No word on whether her "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" was revoked.  


Previous posts I've written about Madonna's career:



Using Men as Sex Objects in Magazine Ads

Sexguy_carAs the series of ads I've shared in the past have shown, men are often used as sex objects to sell a wide variety of products - much as women are.  However, the two sexes won't be truly equal until auto advertisers put a few hunks spread-eagled on the hood of a car!  Now let the objectifying of the male body begin: 


  • Cross Pens.  No, it's not an ad for bedding, a hotel or eHarmony, but rather for prestigious Cross Pens.




  • Westin Hotels & Resorts.  These ads ran in the Advocate.  Perhaps an even more effective ad would have shown them sleeping together.







  • Martex.  A sexy ad for sure, but for me it's marred somewhat by the lack of a question mark after the line of copy that reads, "Nice towel, huh".




  • Yves Saint Laurent.  Truth be told, I'd much rather smell the natural scent of pheromones oozing from every one of this lothario's pores than having it masked by his cologne.




  • Flos Lighting.  This could be easily mistaken for an underwear ad (or for a gym).  But as nice as it is gazing at this butt, it does pose a distraction for anyone trying to picture this lamp in a room.




  • Jack Daniels.  Some of them mountain boys can be durned sexy ...




If you haven't already seen the other three installments of my "Sexy Magazine Ads" series, here are their links:    

Print Ads with a Gay Vibe

More Sexy Magazine Ads - The Sequel

More Magazine Ads with Animal Magnetism

Saluting Ads That Exude Virility

Sexy Magazine Ads Dripping with Testosterone