Hennes gets back to bare necessities

Christmas in Sweden means a Hennes & Mauritz underwear campaign. Or at least it used to.

For the last two years H&M has broken with tradition. The company has wrapped up its models nice and warm for Christmas. Whether or not the policy change was a reaction to the annual barrage of complaints from outraged feminists became the subject of some debate.

Every Christmas prior to that billboards the length the length and breadth of the country bore larger than life images of Claudia Schiffer, Kylie Minogue and Anna Nicole Smith in H&M undies. And each time the company faced accusations of sexualizing the public sphere and objectifying women.

Feminist activists everywhere spent advent clutching cans of spray paint and expressing their disgust by means of snappy slogans and unsubtle paint jobs painted over the H&M hoardings.

But now it is time once again for a scantily clad model to advertise H&M’s underwear. Unlike before however the model in question is more advanced in years. French actress Emmanuelle Béart is 41 years old and the mother of two teenage children.

“Since we are doing a film as part of our campaign we wanted somebody who was comfortable on screen,” H&M’s spokeswoman Jenni Tapper-Hoël told The Local.

“Also, we wanted a more mature model, and a model who could show the collection in a good way,” she said.

Tapper-Hoël explains the two-year break from underwear as a necessary move to shift focus from the models to the clothes.

“We thought it had started to become a bit expected. People were more curious about the models than the fashion,” she said.

So there is no suggestion that the hiatus came as a reaction to outside pressure?

“Of course we always listen to critics. For example there has been a lot of discussion about models being too young and now we have a campaign with an older model.

“We have the same campaigns in 24 countries and the overwhelming majority of our customers have been very positive.

“But there is a small group of people who do not like what we do, especially in Sweden. There has been a lot more criticism here than anywhere else,” said Tapper-Hoël.

One of the most vociferous critics over the years has been Gudrun Schyman, leader of Feminist Initiative.

On hearing that H&M was due to launch its new Christmas campaign, Schyman denounced the move as “soft porn” and “pornification”, according to Dagens Nyheter.

“We absolutely disagree. We are very serious about our campaigns and we like our models to have integrity and self-assurance,” said Jenni Tapper-Hoël.