For those of us lucky enough to be wandering the Parisian streets this summer, it would have been hard to miss Eden Park’s June campaign, “For you, guys”. The French men’s, women’s and children’s clothing line, headquartered in Paris with stores around the world, was founded by two rugby players, and offers a men’s line that feels like a cross between Abercrombie and Fitch ‘all-American’ masculinity and a Parisian hipster aesthetic.
What was striking about this particular ad was, firstly, how much it reminded me of the infamous American Apparel ads – and all that relationship implies – as well as the clear provocation behind the creative.
At first glance, the photos seem to be a kind of wink at (female) viewers. “Everyone’s saying women shouldn’t be pigeonholed as domestic slaves, but what’s wrong with doing a bit of housework for my oh-so cute boyfriend – especially if you do it with some attitude?” This seems to be the dominant interpretation circulating the internet. Blogs dedicated to marketing campaigns are on the whole complimentary about the creativity in the ad, and the way it is able to “launch a debate” on gender roles. Many also see the shots as ironic: “No way am I going to iron your shirts for you, buddy!” The ad can thus also be seen as a tongue-in-cheek rejection of the platitude that young women should “take care” of their beaux.
What I find more interesting, and possibly more disturbing, is the clear reference to the American Apparel aesthetic. Through aligning the composition of their photo shoots with AA, Eden Park is making a clear, if implicit statement about the values of their company and the image that they would like to construct. As a masculine-dominated line with strong links to (aggressive) sports (a partnership with the England Rugby Team), the line is cultivating a clear set of values, mission statement and brand promise. “Wear our clothing and you will be as masculine, as cool and as seductive as these professional rugby players!” Adding an association to American Apparel injects another layer into this image. Dov Charney is infamous for his dubious use of young women in his shots, and has been overtly criticized for the exploitative, sexist and arguably degrading nature of some of his more risqué campaigns. These controversies came to a head this summer, when he was ousted as CEO, purportedly over sexual assault allegations by several women.
This parallel is also coming at a time when high-level masculine sports culture in America is coming under fire. An avalanche of sexual assault and hazing cases have been born directly out of sports culture, specifically arising from problems surrounding self-aggrandizing young male athletes who feel that they are above the law. This kind of “high school football star and cheerleader” culture is distinctly American, and exists both in reality and in the collective imagination of the French. “Les pompom girls” and “parties with plastic red cups” were some of the most-elicited stereotypes I encountered when I asked French university students what came to mind when they thought about American schools.
What does it mean, then, that a French clothing line with outlets around the world is making a clear choice to align itself further with this kind of culture? Is this a sign of a blending between collar-popping American prep and Parisian hipster chic? By extension, is it then also a sign of a blending of cultural values? Perhaps most importantly, what conclusions are French girls supposed to draw from this ad, which, I would argue, is as much ‘for us girls’ as for the guys.
By Robin Nichols