Monday, April 4, 2011

Iconic Monday: A Brief History of Briefs (and Bras)

You know it was a slow weekend for me, because I caught myself reading this piece yesterday, which I will now summarize in case you don't want to go to the bother of reading it for yourself.

A poll of Britons, conducted by Outdoor Media Centre, ascertained that the most iconic billboard of all time was the famous "Hello Boys" advertisement from Victoria's Secret, in which model Eva Herzigova is seen admiring her girls, which are cinched up in a Wonderbra. The article says that tens of thousands of Brits were polled. Whether that means tens of thousands of Brits responded, I don't know. If they did, they've got too much time on their hands and might want to find a nice English hobby, like cheeserolling.

The Wonderbra billboard began popping up in 1994. I happen to remember. It was a terrific ad, fulsome, even—with humor—but it was not the most iconic billboard of all time. Even the British should know that.

The greatest billboard of all time was the 1982 advertisement for Calvin Klein underwear that towered over Times Square in 1982. Bruce Weber's shot of lean, tanned male wearing nothing but his  Calvins stopped traffic—and in those days Times Square was a really colorful place, with many interesting things to see in every direction, so it really took something to get traffic to stop.

The model was Tom Hintnaus, a Brazilian pole vaulter. (I could just stop this post here: How much more do you really have to say after you've said  "Brazilian pole vaulter?") Weber took him to the Greek Island of Santorini and backed him up against one of those white-walled buildings they specialize in there, the sky the color of the Aegean Sea (or what I imagine the color of the Aegean to be--I've never been). Hintnaus leaned backward, Weber shot upward, no doubt keeping in mind the all-important rule of thirds as he composed.

 You can look the ad up on Wikipedia and other websites, and you will see that American Photographer magazine named the ad as one of the "10 Pictures that Changed the America." That isn't true; I had just started editing the magazine when we did that story in 1989, and we actually named it one of the "10 Pictures that Changed the World." The image, we noted (as many others have as well), eroticized the male form in a way that had never been done before--or at least in such a mainstream commercial way. Tighty-whiteys went from being functional apparel to being lingerie, and men went evolved from sexual beings into sex objects. So in that sense we can connect the dots between Tom Hintnaus and Eva Herzigova.

Today, of course, the vampire boys in True Blood and the gladiators in Spartacus: Blood and Sand are often seen without any underwear at all, and it's cool. As for Victoria's Secret, the Wonderbra—"wonder" connoting something marvelous that mankind has made—has given way to the Miracle Bra—"miracle" implying some sort of supernatural intervention. And where's the funny in that? Times Square has the Naked Cowboy, of course, but only the tourists from Ohio pay any attention to him.

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