Last year, around these months of January and February, a close friend of mine sent me a text messages and two images. I felt the urgency through my iPhone and the cosmic exchange epitomized that special lingua franca amongst those who regularly engage in gossip both salacious and political. I figured: this could be really good or really bad.
I wish I could state it verbatim, but my friend told me that what he just sent, I needed to write about STAT for this very site. The images were of itty-bitty men in clean suits, perchance moving in a risible inducing matter on the vividly glowing, tall, and by far “normal” human sized women models in bikinis. It was bizarre. Like a weird take on Polly Pocket. I saw that in one of the two photos, two men were sliding off the bare breasts of a woman. She stood there as if all she was doing was basking in the hottest sun above her. By SUITSUPPLY, a menswear line based in Amsterdam, and with a flagship in New York City, I later Googled that the campaign was titled “Toy Boys.”
My friend was on to these ads because he is a highly lettered employee and growing historian of modern men’s fashion. We both agreed the ads were a mess. As gleaming as the high gloss quality of the ads were, what SUITSUPPLY tried to evoke here did not happen. The fantasy or turning point of men living in a woman’s world. From them, it wasn’t provocative, just distasteful. This is a concept that could’ve been ground for terrific observations of the tired battles of the sexes. Or a more courtly chance to show that girls go crazy for sharp dressed men with a side of male feminist qualities. I am asking for a lot for a brand that sells suits. Except that for other brands, whether The Gap, Dove, or Ralph Lauren have taken small steps for (a kinder) mankind and they’re just trying to sell deodorants and polo tees. SUITSUPPLY pasquinaded the reality of women expected to be a parade for men’s entertainment at the snap of a finger. Take a closer look at the ads. They are ridiculous and I actually let out a few “give me a break” laughs.
I originally didn’t know where to begin when I sat down to write about Toy Boys. The following paragraph I, however, wrote when I got to drafting some kind of deep thought. “Something about the happy-go-lucky White men sliding off the Black woman’s breasts came across disrespectful, almost seedy. Instead of seeing this gorgeous Black model with her glowing skin representing this all-mighty Queen, I saw a Queen used as a toy, an inanimate “thing” for ol’ White boy’s amusement.”
I definitely took a slight misogynoir approach in tackling SUITSUPPLY, but more so because I had pitched it to as a news story to an online magazine or two. Truthfully, the Toy Boys adds were just lame and sexist, and SUITSUPPLY were slick in that they did not discriminate in using only women of color models. White women were invited to their House of Foolishness too. I also asked myself, then, if the ads were really that bad? Looking back a year later, yes they are. I’m more so just over them than offended. Last year, my friend informed that “Toy Boys” wasn’t the first time the Dutch brand used sexism to sell gentlemen wear. “Toy Boys” had just gone too far. Some of the ads were plastered outside of their Manhattan store, so there wasn’t even a need to go inside to get your eyebrows raised.
(Okay. I admit that the ad here is damn hilarious. What is going??)
SUITSUPPLY is a European brand, and the topic of sex is unperturbed in its home continent than in America. Sex is treated as every day as drinking coffee before work. In America, sex is just as much for sale but is muddled with guilt, shame, and sometimes a total lack of actual sex appeal. SUITSUPPLY might’ve been inspired by American photographer Terry Richardson. His notoriously crude and shiny photos were once the toast of fashion and pop culture. At one point, he was regularly hired by Harper’s Bazaar and even got to capture Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. Accusations of sexual assault and torment by undiscovered models disheveled his status symbol. But the tonnage of his high-wattage, simple white background photos have impressively inspired advertisements and photographers since the 2000s. The Richardson touch is evident in “Toy Boys” and they certainly got the nauseating feature down pat.
So where do we go with ads like these as everyday people consumers? I’m sure most of us are pretty jaded at this point. The biggest brainteaser I’ve got is that do ads like SUITSUPPLY’s “Toy Boys” or past controversial ones like the pubic hair shaved into a “G” for Gucci really move units? Such ads are geared towards getting the attention of a younger fanbase because they are bright and outrageous, but the most loyal consumers that a storied fashion house like Gucci has are not millennial types. (Don’t believe everything hypebeast fashion sites tell you). And SUITSUPPLY may be an afterthought after a disastrous fitting elsewhere or with another brand. Does sex really move merchandise?
I wasn’t bothered that SUITSUPPLY attempted to use sex in selling their clothes. It’s just that”Toy Boys” wasn’t of the provocateur nature. The ad campaign was rather another round of man-children acting like the Lost (Frat) Boys (of Peter Pan reference) and putatively, not a lot of people wanted to take out their wallets to see such antics again. At least in relation to $500+ menswear. Save it for a literal jungle gym fellas.
(As reported by Dutch paper Het Parool, captured was one Toy Boys ad that was defaced with tampons as protest of the sexist picture).