A sharable feast of Jeremy Allen White’s Calvin Klein ad

A sharable feast of Jeremy Allen White's Calvin Klein ad

On January 4, a TikTok user with the handle @aaliyarae uploaded a video of three friends on a sensual trip to the corner of Crosby and Houston. Earlier that day, Calvin Klein erected two billboards in Lower Manhattan featuring the star of its Spring 2024 campaign, Jeremy Allen White, modeling the brand’s signature boxer briefs. Fresh from training to play wrestler Kerry Von Erich in “The Iron Claw,” the actor looks as if he’s been groomed by pheromones. The response to the campaign was hormonal. In the nine-second clip by @aaliyarae, which has been viewed more than 3.8 million times, one of the women blows an air kiss toward a billboard on the west corner, with White’s chiseled body in horizontal trisection, as if he were. Too much to take in all at once. Later in the video, her friend collapses to the ground, bowing respectfully to the billboard on the right in which he is prone on the roof, his shapely back leaning against the Manhattan skyline. The clip’s onscreen text reads “A National Landmark”.

White emerged as a sex symbol when his country needed him. The thirty-two-year-old actor is best known for his role as Carmen (Carmi) Berzatto, a young chef who quits his job at an upscale New York restaurant to take over his family’s Italian-beef sandwich shop. FX series “The Bear.” The show is fast-paced, matching the stresses of a real-life kitchen. Dishes are not prepared as much because they are tried. Instead of food porn, we are treated to holy scenes of monastic attention and devotion. But that was okay; For some vocal viewers, the real meal was White himself. “The Bear” premiered in the summer of 2022, and White channels Carmi’s repressed urges, interpreted with knife-edge precision, and rejects the carnality of the pandemic year. He was a snack for people after his tattooed, intense, two-year-old stash of hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes. (As one fan told MEL Magazine, “This is a guy who will eat you in a porta-potty on Warped Tour.”)

White’s appeal and Carmi’s are hard to pin down, and not just because they share a pair of biceps. Every single god moves among men. Carmi is an eccentric, named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef at the age of twenty-one, but you can find him any day in the kitchen of a typical sandwich shop in Chicago. In a similar vein, White has said he still takes the subway or rides a fixed-gear bike when he’s in New York. The Calvin Klein campaign plays into this accessibility. Along with the billboards, the company released a fifty-second ad directed by photographer Mert Alas, which begins with a man marching through Lower Manhattan wearing a white tank, black jogging shorts, high-top sneakers and a gold chain. Shirts and jogging shorts don’t last long, but call it fuccboi minimalism, a piece of beauty known for both on and off camera. The commercial then features White jogging down the building’s stairs before heading to the roof, where he strips down to his skivvies, clearly real wires, and uses the roof’s metal infrastructure as a makeshift gymnasium. (As White explained in a 2022 video with GQ, the free, bare-bones gyms New Yorkers are used to seeing in public parks: “I’ll bring some jump rope, and I’ll do some pullups, pushups, dips, all that stuff.”) Leslie Gore’s “ You Don’t Own Me” ad reinforces White’s image as the people’s heartthrob you can catch around town, jumping rope in the park, selling underwear. But not himself.

We’ve had several Calvin Klein Beefcake commercials in recent years—justin bieber, jacob allordi, and michael b. Jordan has all left true to the brand. But to find an analogue to the public displays of excitement inspired by White’s ad, you have to go back to the excitement of the label’s underwear campaigns in the nineteen-eighties and early nineties, which peaked with marquee brand new modeling. In 1992, the “boxer briefs” hybrid was invented. The company cast male models in bulging briefs and became such a mainstay of urban advertising that the New Yorker cover paid homage to it.

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