Brooke Shields Confesses Backlash Surrounding Sexy Commercials Was ‘Ridiculous’

Brooke Shields was a teenage model and actor when designer Calvin Klein tapped her to star in a series of commercials to promote his new line of jeans. Little did she know that the sexy ad campaign would generate such a heated response from television viewers who were shocked at their suggestive nature. While it was the response that Klein hoped for and helped skyrocket sales of his jeans, Shields ended up taking the brunt of the backlash. Forty years later, Shields reflects on the “ridiculous” response to the ads.

brooke shields stands in front of calvin klein marquee
Brooke Shields | Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The sexy ads Brooke Shields starred in for Calvin Klein

Klein hired Shields to appear in a series of overtly sexy print and television ads in 1980. Famed photographer Richard Avedon shot these for Klein’s line of women’s jeans, a market he hoped to dominate. After photographing her for Vogue Magazine, Avedon chose Shields to star in the commercials, said the book Obsession: The Life and Times of Calvin Klein.

The objective of the spots, said the book, was to keep viewers interested in what the young Calvin Klein model had to say about the jeans. In total, Avedon shot 12 different commercials. However, the twist was not to refer to the clothing as jeans but rather, Calvins to personalize the experience.

The commercials featured double entendres coupled with lengthy shots of Shields’ body in the clothing.

While many spots were innocent, including one called “Giggler,” where the teen laughed and said she was “going to split her Calvins.” Another called “Bookworm,” where she claimed, “reading is to the mind what Calvins are to the body,” it was one spot in particular that generated the most backlash.

In a spot formally called “Feminist II,” Shields uttered the now-classic line, “Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

Brooke Shields refects on the “ridiculous” nature of the backlash 40 years later


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When the ads came out, Shields was unaware of how much negative press they would receive.

“I was away when they all came out. Then I started hearing, ‘Oh, the commercials have been banned here, and Canada won’t play them.’

“paparazzi and people screaming at me and screaming at my mother, ‘How could you?’ It just struck me as so ridiculous, the whole thing,” Shields recalled in an interview for Vogue Magazine.

She continued, “They take the one commercial, which is a rhetorical question. I was naive and didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t think it had to do with underwear or that it was sexual in nature. Those words could be said about my sister, ‘Nobody can come between me and my sister.'”

“If they had intended on the double entendre, they didn’t explain it to me. If they’d explained it to me, why? Would they have wanted me to say it differently? It didn’t phase me. It didn’t come into my sort of psyche as it being anything overtly sexual, sexualized in any way,” Shields concluded of her opinion on the now-infamous ad series.