By  on September 7, 1994

NEW YORK -- Some like it hot. Some like it plain. And some like it downright weird.

Steamy, sweaty, even raunchy images have been used for at least 20 years to sell jeans and build brands. Calvin Klein and Guess have built numerous immediately recognizable image campaigns using the hottest models and biggest photographers.

But does sex still work as a hook for denim?

Other big names, such as Levi's and Lee, focus on a kinder, gentler combination of lifestyle and product, including Lee's "the brand that fits" TV ads and Levi's animated TV commercials featuring thought-provoking scenarios that don't mention jeans at all.

And then there's the strange. In that camp is the Italian-based Diesel, which sets up surreal situations in laboratories, living rooms and trailer homes. There's also Joop Jeans, based in Germany, whose nonproduct ads have raised eyebrows since they had their debut last year. One of its first ads showed a child on a leash, with copy that read: "A child is the ultimate pet." Another showed fish swimming, with copy that said: "In the uterus of love, we are all blind cavefish."

Paul Marciano, president of Guess and a standard-bearer for sexy -- or "sensual," as he prefers -- denim advertising, divides the field into two areas.

"Totally boring or totally sexy," he said. "Denim is really attached to young, trendy people, and sexy is definitely attention-getting. Even if we don't see that much product in the ads, the idea is to be there with the current attitude, the current model, the current location.

"But it's also an eternal image. Think of the Thirties, Forties, Fifties -- there's always someone you can name who was wearing denim. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift. I remember very specifically Natalie Wood in a movie where she was wearing a denim shirt slightly unbuttoned, and a white skirt. It was pretty provocative."

Marciano has used various models over the years to evoke that sultry, glamorous image, most recently with the Russian-born Larissa. Guess's advertising is consistent across product categories, from sportswear to innerwear to swimwear. Marciano noted, however, that he can create advertising that has a foot in both camps.

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