Sailor-crazy Jean Paul Gaultier offers a rare phenomenon -- a cross-dressing woman -- in his first TV advertising in the U.S. since 1997.
Ironically set in a homoerotic fantasy bar, a boyish-looking sailor in uniform saunters through the bar as other sailors' heads turn in fascination. The sailor passes through a beaded curtain, and into a room where another sailor is lounging in a chair; the first sailor walks up to the second, and plants a kiss on his lips.
Then, the young sailor removes "his" uniform to reveal a corset, long blonde hair -- and that "he" is a she.
The ad, of course, first appears to be gay in nature but then reveals itself not to be. "You can see many things in it but at the end of the day, it is a heterosexual ending," admits Kory Marchisotto, marketing manager for Jean Paul Gaultier perfumes at Beaute Prestige International USA, New York.
The message of the commercial? "Things are not always what they seem," she explains. "The element of surprise, that's how Gaultier feels he wins customers over."
While gay viewers paying attention will not be fooled by the gender twist -- the kiss close-up shows the boyish sailor wearing makeup -- the approach is unusual in that it features a woman playing a man.
Gaultier himself was the commercial's art director and anyone familiar with the designer's advertising recognizes the brand by the commercial's look. It features his trademark sailor theme and the accompanying black-and-white striped, form-fitting T-shirt. Similar imagery was featured as two sailors arm wrestled in print ads that ran in OUT
magazine in December 1996.
"The first thing you notice is the commercial is definitely Gaultier," notes Marchisotto. "He's definitely trying to stand out. No matter how you look at him, he is a designer with a difference and he doesn't want to look like anyone else."
The Gaultier brand entered the gay market as far back as 1994, and has also featured racier imagery of a pierced, tattooed, shirtless man whose genitalia showed prominently through his jeans.
Marchisotto says that the gay market is "very important for as a gay man and he supports it. He wants to portray who he is -- he's not afraid of his sexuality and it comes out in all of his work."
Gaultier is one of few openly gay fashion designers. Often closeted, or keeping their sexuality as an open secret, such designers prefer ambiguous sexual ad imagery and rarely dare to have overtly gay advertising.
Previously, a handful of fashion print ads have employed same-sex couples, including those from openly gay Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana, as well as the Diesel and Banana Republic brands.