You can imagine Klein was genuinely excited by the famous 1982 Bruce Weber underwear campaign that started it all, or lining up a muscle-tank wearing Jenny Shimizu alongside Kate Moss for the iconic 1994 ads for CK One, the first commercial unisex fragrance. (A note: a 2014 campaign for the fragrance’s reissue also featured two women kissing, including Soko, who has had relationships with women). But at a time when authenticity is the ultimate marketing goal, Bella x Miquela just doesn’t have it – it feels like an ad agency wet dream, as if some execs threw darts at a wall covered in buzzwords: “lesbian kiss!” “graphic streetwear!” “supermodel!” “AI Instagram influencer!”
You could argue that any major mainstream LGBTQ+ visibility is better than nothing. But that’s not what this is: Bella Hadid can kiss the digital image of a girl rather than actually kissing a girl, can appropriate a virtual queerness, without taking any kind of risk involved in actually coming out in an industry where, despite its progressive reputation, there are very few visible high profile lesbians and LGBTQ+ models are sometimes still encouraged to stay closeted. (In the last six months, I have on at least two occasions had models’ agents ask me not to mention the fact that they were lesbians when writing about them).
“Bella Hadid can appropriate a virtual queerness without taking any kind of risk involved in actually coming out in an industry where, despite its progressive reputation, there are very few visible high profile lesbians”
After the departure of Raf Simons, whose coldly arty campaigns just didn’t seem to shift enough product, CK has been turning back to its steamy #MyCalvins days, releasing a series of ads featuring Gen-Z friendly talent like Billie Eilish and Shawn Mendes. In more genuinely inclusive moments, some openly LGBTQ+ talent are also featured – Troye Sivan reflects on being the “scrawny gay kid”, while one video sees rapper Kevin Abstract holding hands with guitarist Austin Anderson.
If Bella too is queer, I’d hope she feels like she could stand forward and be welcomed in this industry. The decision to come out should always be up to the individual, but the fact is, there are about a hundred queer, bisexual, or lesbian-identified women who I would rather see kissing in a Calvin Klein ad – and taking home the surely substantial paycheck that comes with it. Why should that cash go to a) a computer simulation, and b) someone who does not identify as LGBTQ+?
“No one else can define our own truths” the caption on Lil Miquela’s post reads, and sure, I hope for a world when coming out isn’t even a thing, when everyone is free to define and live and love how they like. But as the backlash to Rita Ora’s bisexual bop “Girls” proved, if you’re going to promote (and profit off) LGBTQ+ identity without actually claiming that identity with pride, you can expect to get called out on it. This isn’t 2008 – that “I Kissed a Girl” schtick just doesn’t fly any more.
While Hadid and Miquela can flirt with the appearance of lesbianism for a thirty-second video, the idea that queerness might be seen as something you’re just ‘trying on’ as a straight girl contributes to a kind of stigma that actually keeps women – especially bisexual women – in the closet. The theme of Calvin’s latest campaign, hashtagged below the video, is #MyTruth (I told you authenticity was trending). But while living your truth is a phrase and action that conveys real power and meaning for LGBTQ+ people, paying an outwardly straight supermodel and an avatar to kiss doesn’t represent any kind of truth at all.