Feminists are going to have a field day with the new promotional campaign for Agent Provocateur‘s spring 2014 collection, which revives the classic 1950s fantasy of the foxy housewife who cleans house in her underwear.
You know the one — whether cooking, vacuuming or on her knees scrubbing the floor, she’s always in the kitchen, and always ready for sex.
AP’s Behind Closed Doors campaign is meant to be an ironic send-up of Mad Men-era revisionist glamour, but a lot of women won’t find this kind of cleverness very funny.
Photographer Miles Aldridge poses his Stepford Wife models suggestively holding a vacuum cleaner hose, a rolling pin, a mixing bowl and other household devices, all while fetchingly attired in AP’s latest slinky, kinky gear. The effect is to equate domestic servitude with sexual availability — the same template that drove so much chauvinistic advertising in the 50s and 60s, and provided so much fodder for the women’s rights movement.
Agent Provocateur routinely courts controversy in its advertising campaigns, generating a bonanza of unpaid advertising and press attention around the world. And, just as routinely, it gets accused of portraying women as mere sextoys — willing, erotic consumables.
The company’s usual rejoinder is that it’s trying to portray women as powerful, independent beings in control of their own sexual identity. That’s going to be a tough sell this time, though.
But the most questionable thing about this campaign isn’t that it’s regressive or intentionally provocative, it’s that it’s also really, really unoriginal.
The retro sexist fantasy of the hot housewife is almost a cliché in the advertising world, a dependable trope that triggers familiar associations. As you can see in the examples below, nothing excites the male libido like a picture of a semi-nude woman gripping a vacuum cleaner hose.
This kind of idea has been used widely in lingerie advertising and magazine editorials and, in fact, AP’s campaign is a transparent, if polished, knockoff of a similar shoot done three years ago by the small Australian label Elegantly Scant, which you can see here. Even one of AP’s closest UK competitors, the luxury label Damaris, offered a modern update on the housework-in-lingerie theme in their 2010 promo film, Chore (below).
Of course, the horny domestic servant is also a familiar fixture in porn videos, and that’s the association that Agent Provocateur is really trying to trigger here. No matter how humdrum your suburban workaday life, it seems to be saying, the fantasy realm of porn-quality sex is just a change of knickers away.
Yep, you’ve come a long way, baby.