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Gay Dads Fashionable
From Chereskin to IKEA, where "My daddies are also a set."
By Michael Wilke


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NOV. 13, 2003. Every so often, fashion likes to try on something a little different. Openly gay clothing designer, Ron Chereskin, who owns the 25-year-old line that carries his name, decided the time was right to picture gay dads in the brand's advertising.

In one ad, a pair of twenty-something models, one with chin-length, strawberry-blond locks, and the other, a tight-cropped brunette, are posed sitting Indian-style with three infants. Two of the kids are also light-haired with blue eyes, sitting in the blond man's lap, while his partner holds an Asian child. The headline asks, "R you ready to adopt a new lifestyle?" The R has a circle around it, part of the Chereskin logo.

The ad, Chereskin's first gay-specific effort, appeared over the summer and fall in GQ, New York Times Magazine, and OUT magazine. Some billboards are also being considered. Created by Rotter-Kantor, New York, the campaign intends to show "different options in a man's life," says Ron Chereskin through his spokesman. "It was to make a statement, up front, but done sweetly." Other ads from the campaign show one of the same men alone, and two others show him with a woman, but no children.

But why the same man with a woman too? "Maybe he's living a double life," jokes Chereskin, who notes that the same-sex pairing shows up more often than the opposite sex ones.

Gay Parents in Politics and Ads
Gay parenting has been a big issue in politics in recent times, especially in states like Florida, which overtly bans lesbians and gay men from adopting. That's also where Rosie O'Donnell drew national attention to the issue. Popular programs like "Queer As Folk" and the new ABC sitcom, "It's All Relative," which features gay dads, have dealt with the parenting issue from the start.

"We thought the time was right to do this," says Chereskin. While same-sex couple adoptions are still a touchy issue for some, Chereskin reports that the ad has generated "no flack, no bad feedback. It's been a very matter-of-fact experience."

It seems that gay parents are having an advertising moment. This year, Ford Motor Company's Volvo brand also broke a campaign that shows a male couple holding an infant, and a female couple with one of the pair pregnant in which the headline read, "Whether you're starting a family, or creating one as you go." John Hancock Financial Services carried a ground breaking commercial in 2000 that featured a female couple adopting an Asian baby. That ran during the Olympics and World Series.

In the Netherlands in 2002, IKEA ran a print ad showing a man kissing his partner, their daughter on top of a pair of tables, and the headline, "My daddies are also a set." In 1999, furniture maker Mitchell Gold ran an ad in shelter magazines and The Advocate with seemingly gay dads and a little girl. Politically oriented Benetton was first, back in 1990, when it showed a black woman and blonde woman wrapped in a blanket and jointly holding an Asian baby for its United Colors of Benetton print campaign.

Fashion Is Edgy, But Not for Gay Images
Even while fashion typifies the "sex sells" conventional wisdom, and openly gay designers like Chereskin are everywhere, the industry nonetheless rarely likes to cross the fence with gay-specific ad imagery. Instead, designers prefer to keep consumers guessing with gender-bending and gay vague imagery for fear of losing mystique and sales.

"I think people are more hesitant to come under fire, especially in this political climate, even if, in their heart of hearts, they want to be up front," notes Chereskin. "A lot of these public figures are hardly in the closet, even Calvin. Maybe it's a fear of being branded as a 'gay company' or a 'gay designer.' Look at John Bartlett. He was marginalized by the commercial community. Fashion is a business built on perception and image. You want to sell to as many people as possible. It really comes down to numbers."

The size of the company can also have an impact on decision making. "We're not a huge corporation like Tommy Hilfiger or Kenneth Cole," he notes. "If we want to make a gesture like this, we can go ahead and not have to answer to a board."

So, what makes Chereskin take the risk? "Fashion is a business based on change. We wanted to have an edgy appeal, to show who we are and speak to the gay community, who are big supporters of our brand," says Chereskin.

But there's a personal reason too. "So many of our friends are adopting now that it's become a new version of the American family!" Will he and his life partner, Howard Goldfarb, be adopting a child any time soon? "I don't think so; we have our dogs."

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.



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