Some brands evoke a time and a feeling. Calvin Klein is one such brand for us: It's the '90s, Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss in pristine white underpants and jeans. It's the deliberately mod black logo text against white, and opaque bottles of CK1, its gender-neutral scent an unavoidable cloud in every high school hallway in America.
Back then, Calvin Klein cut a chic figure against the technicolor polos of Ralph Lauren and the color-contrasted puff jackets and accessories of FUBU and Tommy Hilfiger. It had a pared-down, subversive and near-naked runway vibe, back when the runway was defined by Moss' waifish frame and everybody's hair was always wet.
But time passes. We change. And brands do, too. (Look at Tommy the brand today!)
Has Calvin changed?
Directed by Jonas Linstroem with Iconoclast, "I Speak My Truth" builds on the long-standing #MyCalvins platform. It's still moody, and there's still lots of underwear and wet hair, but it also feels punchy, modern and a smidge more diverse.
The anthem ad, above, features musicians Chika, Shawn Mendes and Billie Eilish, as well as Netflix star Noah Centineo of The Perfect Date and To All the Boys I've Loved Before.
They all want to speak their truth. What is that truth?
For Eilish, framed by clouds that match her hair, the truth is that "you can't fake authenticity." Fair enough.
Eilish is a nice match for the brand, given CK's history and where she is in the pop scene right now. She's subversive, confusing, a little grungy and a compelling musical darling.
Like the brand, she also resists much specificity, which is maddening. But it would also be unfair to judge the overall campaign—or Eilish, or Calvin—by this annoyingly short video, more a photoshoot than an ad.
Iconoclast also created longer pieces that feel more like a documentary, and that actually express something that feels true.
Set to her song "When the Party's Over," in a separate :30 spot, Eilish talks about why she wears baggy clothes.
Mendes, stark and tidy-whitied à la Wahlberg, also appears in his own videos below, one after the other, in versions varnished and not.
In her first video, Chika, reclined across a couch in an industrial space, makes a statement: "I am not a moment. I am a force to be reckoned with. I … am Chika."
Well, good on you, snowflake. But in the second video, which is one minute long, she freestyles, and the words are gorgeous and full of feeling.
Lastly we've got Netflix darling Centineo, mostly submerged in water in the first video. "Sexy as fuck, they say? Nah," he smirks. "I'll take wacky as fuck."
If you saw that video on its own, you'd probably hate that guy. We did. The one below's a lot more relatable, closer to the guy we like in his movies, scarred and vaguely broken.
In sum, the campaign is positioned as featuring "today's most influential voices telling their own stories, in their own words," with an invitation for others to do the same. As demonstrated, it features each influencer in a :15 variant and a longer one.
These variants are strange when paired. Each first video feels tightly produced, a study in what casting directors call "good sides"—more brand masturbation than anything remotely approaching truthfulness.
If we had to judge the campaign on these pieces alone (and indeed, they were the only ones sent to us), we'd accuse Calvin Klein of failing to grow up, to understand the difference between the world we left and the one we're in now. They're just too polished, uncommitted to anything concrete; their hair is still wet.
But in the longer variants, CK steps out of those acid-washed trousers and into something approaching imperfect, touching reality. The glimpses are small, but feel honest, at least.
Seen side by side, we understand, better, what we're looking at. Marketing today is mostly video, thus mostly social, and mostly glimpses of "real" but "influential" people, cut into snackable variants to accommodate a variety of different media specifications. In the first videos we see Calvin being Calvin, giving everybody a nice, slick photoshoot; and then we see the truths themselves, blissfully undressed, and that's a lot nicer than more underwear shots.
But why have both, so starkly different?
The world's changed, a lot, in 20 years. When last we left Calvin and its Kates and its Marks, Kurt Cobain died and his published journals felt like a precious glimpse into a famous, broken soul, back before social hosed all that at us on a daily basis.
Then we were saturated by "influence"—gorgeous images, lives we can barely approach from a stylistic perspective, even when they're people we know: food porn, gorgeous vacations, #blessed with those insufferable praying hands.
Now we're reckoning with the end of the influencer, and influencers themselves are abandoning the tightly terraced Instagram aesthetic that made them famous in the first place. We're running out of trust in institutions, trust in social media, and are angling for something that matters more than looking cool and being skinny; the biggest descriptor of burgeoning Gen Z right now is activism.
The end result of all this is that we've all become marketers of ourselves and also of our respective missions and passions. We are all actively, mercilessly policed by one another, even as we all struggle to be something better and more meaningful than a cog or a selfie.
The contrast of both video styles together says something about that truth—that where we are has become a complex negotiation of our curated, social media-ready selves and how we actually move in the world. It remains unclear which of those truths will win.
Production Company: Iconoclast
Director: Jonas Lindstroem
Managing Director: Charles-Marie Anthonioz
Executive Producer: Jean Mougin
Producer: Grace Bodie
DP: Chayse Irvin
Editorial: Rock Paper Scissors
Editor: Jamie Foord
VFX: The Mill