Designer label Calvin Klein has been forced to apologize over a commercial, released this week, showing model Bella Hadid locking lips with a realistic-looking female robot — but not for the reason you might think.
The 30-second ad, released Friday, actually stars the robot — “19 year-old digital robot Lil Miquela,” to be specific (according to Elle Magazine). The ad shows both Hadid and Miquela dressed in Calvin Klein, staring at each other and then moving into a passionate kiss. Hadid’s voice can be heard over the spot saying, “Life is about opening doors, creating new dreams that you never knew could exist” — presumably referring to the new “door” of making out with mechanical humanoids.
The video, Calvin Klein says in an accompanying statement is titled, “Bella Hadid and Lil Miquela Get Surreal,” adding that the video is about trying to discern between what’s real and what’s imagined: “19-year-old robot Lil Miquela blurs the lines of truth and fiction with Bella Hadid. Is this a dream or real?”
— Miquela (@lilmiquela) May 16, 2019
Miquela has designs on being the first robot fashion model (or, more specifically, the first robotic Victoria’s Secret angel), has an album, and is an aggressive advocate for LGBT rights, at least according to her Twitter feed.
But while the concept of making out with humanoid robots might not sit well with some, it really ran afoul of social justice warriors who accused Calvin Klein of first farming out a job that a living, breathing LGBT human could do to a robot, and then for “queerbaiting” — deliberately and cynically using the cause of LGBT rights to attract viewers and sell products without fully dedicating itself to the LGBT cause.
Critics called the ad “exploitative,” reports the Huffington Post.
“Who is gonna tell Calvin Klein you’re supposed to wait until June for your tone-deaf queer-bait ad campaigns!!” an editor at New York Magazine wrote, referring to the idea that June is LGBT Pride Month. “Lil miquela and bella hadid out here smooching two weeks too early!!!”
Others were just confused, questioning what, exactly, Hadid was doing in the video, especially given that she’s a heterosexual who is in a public relationship with a male.
Calvin Klein, sensing trouble, apologized in a Tweet issued Saturday, explaining that its “#MyCalvins” campaign — which can trace its roots all the way back to the 1990s — is about challenging stereotypes and practicing tolerance.
“This specific campaign was created to challenge conventional norms and stereotypes in advertising. In this particular video, we explored the blurred lines between reality and imagination,” the company said in their statement.
“We understand and acknowledge how featuring someone who identifies as heterosexual in a same-sex kiss could be perceived as queer-baiting,” they added. “As a company with a longstanding tradition of advocating for LGTBQ+ rights, it was certainly not our intention to misrepresent the LGTBQ+ community. We sincerely regret any offense we caused.”
The Calvin Klein robot video is just the latest in a series of very public missteps by major fashion houses. Gucci, Burberry, Prada and others have all struggled against the critical eye of social justice social media, releasing either ill-thought-out products — in many cases products that could be considered racist or embrace racial stereotypes — or ill-thought-out ad campaigns.