Yves St. Laurent under fire for ‘porno chic’ ads ahead of International Women’s Day

These images in a new Yves Saint Laurent advertising campaign have critics, particularly women, up in arms for being “sexist” and “degrading” to women.
These images in a new Yves Saint Laurent advertising campaign have critics, particularly women, up in arms for being “sexist” and “degrading” to women. Yves Saint Laurent

One of the models, wearing rollerskate stilettos, bends over a tall stool, her backside suggestively high in the air.

Another female model, wearing sexy fishnets, sprawls on the floor with her legs open to the camera. Her face is half-hidden, but that’s not what draws the eye.

Those and other images for a new ad campaign for French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent and the debut collection of new creative director Anthony Vaccarello raised a ruckus during Paris Fashion Week.

Critics, many of them sounding off on social media with the hashtag #YSLRemoveYourDegradingAd, call the photos plastered all over Paris “porno chic.” Protesters attached “SEXISTE” (Sexist) stickers to a window displaying one of the ads.

The images are particularly galling to many women because they appeared in the days leading up to International Women’s Day, which is Wednesday.

“Bravo @YSL for your misogynist ads. In the run up to 8th March, it’s in the best possible taste,” the French feminist group Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) tweeted sarcastically.

The French advertising watchdog, Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité, has asked the company to suspend the campaign.

The ARPP has received more than 100 complaints since the ads went up across Paris on Friday.

Some people pointed out how far the company has not traveled in its treatment of women over the last five decades.

In the 1960s the fashion house debuted its iconic “Le Smoking” suit with advertisements that “became somewhat like posters for Paris’ second-wave feminism movement,” notes Refinery29 while making the case that thin models posed in compromising positions in little or no clothing still works for European fashion houses.

“50 years separate these photos. Woman according to YSL 1967-2017,” reads this tweet:

The campaign violates the advertising codes relating to “respect for decency, dignity and those prohibiting submission, violence or dependence, as well as the use of stereotypes,” Stéphane Martin, director of the watchdog group, told Ad Age.

They way the women are posed, as though they are being “offered” to the viewer, turn them into objects and suggest sexual submission, Martin told Ad Age.

“They trivialize sexist stereotypes and are in this sense likely to shock the public sensibility,” he said.

Yves Saint Laurent has been knocked for crossing, or at least stepping on, the line of good taste before. British advertising authorities banned one of its ads in 2015 for using a wafer-thin model.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the model in the black-and-white photo was “unhealthily underweight” and that her rib cage was “visible and appeared prominent.” The group also complained that “her thighs and knees appeared a similar width, and looked very thin.”

Saint Laurent also shows up on many “most controversial fashion ads” lists for its infamous 2002 photograph of a naked male model — photographed full monty from the front — used in a campaign for its M7 fragrance.

Susannah Breslin, writing for Forbes, wondered whether there was another way to view the new, controversial images.

“As the French see it, exposing young girls to representations of women that glorify female objectification and thinness is potentially damaging,” Breslin writes. “But are the ads sexist — or is there some other message behind the photographs?

“One could argue the images capture the reality of what it’s like to be a woman. She is sexually objectified because of her gender, causing a kind of terminal instability of personhood, as evidenced in the heels-on-wheels. The viewer is forced to focus on her femaleness; as a consequence, she is destablized and disempowered.”

“Apparently,” Breslin concluded, “Parisians don’t view it that way.”

The fashion house has not publicly addressed the controversy. The images remain on its social media sites.