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Brooke Shields responds to controversial 1980 Calvin Klein ad

The actor reflected on causing an uproar in a commercial for Calvin Klein jeans when she was a 15-year-old model.
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Brooke Shields has opened up about what it was like going through the controversy over her commercials for Calvin Klein jeans as a teen in the early 1980s.Craig Barritt / Getty Images for MoMA

Brooke Shields was a 15-year-old model when she was caught in the middle of a media firestorm after uttering the words, “You want to know what comes in between me and my Calvins? Nothing."

The iconic 1980 advertising campaign of her posing for Calvin Klein jeans and saying her famous line caused an uproar after critics deemed it sexually suggestive, resulting in the commercial even being banned in some countries.

Shields, 56, has reflected in a Vogue interview on that turbulent time and her role in it.

1980s USA Calvin Klein Magazine Advert
Brooke Shields found herself embroiled in controversy after doing a Calvin Klein ad in 1980 as a 15-year-old model.Retro AdArchives / Alamy Stock P / Alamy Stock Photo

"I didn’t think it was about underwear or sexual in nature," Shields said. "What was shocking to me was to be berated by ‘Oh, you knew this was happening. This is what you thought. You were thinking these thoughts.'

"I was a kid, and where I was, I was naive. I was a very protected, sequestered, young woman in a bubble. I think the assumption was that I was much more savvy than I ever really was."

Shields was not instantly aware of the controversy, but the backlash reached her quickly.

"I was away when they came out, and then I started hearing that the commercials were being banned,” she said. “The paparazzi would scream at me and my mother, ‘How could you!” It just struck me as so ridiculous.” 

She remembered a serious of "condescending" interviews in which she was repeatedly asked if she felt bad about doing the commercial, which was directed by famed fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

"At 56, I can go back and look at the camera and say, 'Oh well they’re zooming in sort of on my crotch area and then it comes to my face,' but sex has sold since the dawn of time," Shields said.

"If they had intended on the double entendre, they didn’t explain it to me."

Rather than hurt the company, Calvin Klein himself told Shields in a recent interview that the commercial put the company on the map.

Despite being so young and being caught in the middle of the backlash, Shields was not scarred by the experience.

"It didn't faze me," she said. "It didn’t come into my sort of psyche, it being anything overtly sexual, sexualized in any way. I appreciate being so protected in my naivete because I feel as if I was relatively unscathed."

Shields also laughed at how in the years following the commercial, she became famously known for still being a virgin, not too long after she said she was seen as this calculated, Lolita type because of the Calvin Klein ad.

"I was a virgin, and I was a virgin forever after that," she joked. "Then that became the thing that people hooked into."

Shields could only imagine how a commercial like that would be received today, when the hyper-sexualization of young women has received criticism and scrutiny.

"On the one hand I don’t think you could get away with a lot of what I did in the ‘80s now, but by the same token so much more is done now than we would’ve ever dreamt of doing."