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When the Bra Got Sexy

When lingerie advertising got sexy

Aubade and the Happy (French) hour

Why did this innocent-looking Aubade ad shock the famously liberated and unprudish French? To answer the question, let's travel back to the swinging 1960s, when the world was still shaking off the 1950s (and America, in particular, was still in bobby socks). Back in those hippie heydays, lingerie was still primarily viewed as utilitarian and hadn’t grown into its current embodiment as a fashion item of incontestable seductive power. In fact, the very idea that lingerie and sex might be implicitly connected was best left unacknowledged.  My, how times change.

In this Aubade ad from back in the day, a young woman is about to unhook her bra (or is she hooking it back up?); a young man is enjoying a suggestive smoke. (Is this before or after?) The caption reads:

Her: How do you find me? Do you think I’m beautiful enough to model an Aubade bra?
Him: Yes, I love you – you, your regard, your hair, and your Aubade bra.

Further into the ad itself, the couple muse to the reader:

Her: Aubade is neither a shampoo nor a beauty cream. Aubade is a bra – and what a bra…I understand now why he enjoys me so much more when I wear an Aubade bra.

Him: Even though I love her a lot, I judge her every moment and I’m merciless when it comes to her Aubade bra. Aubade is pretty. Aubade goes perfectly with her body. Aubade pleased me, it’s true.

The title declares:  

For those moments of tenderness, Aubade is your discrete accomplice.

Ooh-la-la, la scandale!

The emphasis on Aubade (the bra, the lingerie) as a purveyor of seduction, the unmade bed, the open curtains that reveal it’s daytime, and the suggestive post-coital cigarette – it all comes together to suggest that this young couple is enjoying an extramarital tryst, or a cinq-à-sept. Cinq-à-sept literally means 5 to 7. For Anglo-Saxons, that window of time after work is fondly called Happy Hour, when we can relax before heading home and kick back a low-priced margarita. The French, on the other hand, refer to it as that discrete moment when one is presumably free to engage in (and get away with) an extra-marital affair.

Look up cinq-à-sept in Urban Dictionary and you get this definition:

Pronounced "sank-ah-set", literally means "five to seven".
Cinq à sept is a French term for a visit to one's mistress...Cute name for stuff you do discreetly with someone other than your spouse between five and seven o'clock so no one notices...

“Cute” perhaps in 2016, but back in the 1960s it was considered so outrageous that, according to author Catherine Ormen, certain French people “forced advertisers to produce a new, less suggestive image: the man has stopped smoking, the curtains are drawn, and the lovers are probably wearing rings. With this new conception of advertising, a page has been turned…”

Indeed, a page was turned forever. From that moment onward, Aubade continued to push the envelope on seduction. It developed an aesthetic, lexical and visual manifesto around the philosophy of love that was translated into its advertising and has remained the same ever since: Sexy, mischievous, provocative and cheeky, Aubade advertising is specifically intended to gracefully titillate the imagination.

This particular ad – and subsequent advertising campaigns from the 1960s, 70s and 80s  - put Aubade’s advertising identity on the cultural map, with subtle hints that would foreshadow the appearance of its audacious Lessons in Seduction that debuted in 1992. Decades after their launch, Lessons in Seduction continue to leave an indelible mark on the lingerie landscape and reflect not only the changing nature of our times, but how lingerie itself changes with the times.

April 26, 2016