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Who loves me, follows me.

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 Verbal and Visual Etymology of a Changing Society

Written by Luca De Nardo

Not everyone knows that in Italy, in the early 1970s, an affair with explosive contours took place. Philosophers, thinkers, writers, official religious authorities as well as legal and public security ones were involved.
Yes, because here we are not talking about an affair linked to a mere image, it does not concern a single photo, but a complex case that overwhelms an entire social system of customs, which was revolutionary for Italian society, poised between past present and future, involving the world of communication and, if you like, even the world of art and the free expression of ideas and concepts.

I still remember my mother’s comment….
“Look where we are heading to …” as she stared dumbfounded at that image in the streets of Rome, not knowing that it would soon become one of the most important events in the history of Italian advertising.
Pro-censorship factions on one hand and liberalism on the other fought and discussed principles, rhetoric, ideals, rules and non-conformism.


Even Pier Paolo Pasolini published an article in the Corriere della Sera in response to the Osservatore Romano: starting with a disquisition on the rules of communication and defining the slogan as an aberrant and anti-expressive expression in complete antithesis to expressivity as an eternally changing form of humanistic communication with infinite interpretation, he ended by analysing ‘Whoever loves me, follow me’ and ‘You shall have no other jeans but me’.

In conclusion, therefore, he identified ‘in the entire communicative package’ […] a new fact, an exception in the fixed canon of the slogan, revealing an unforeseen expressive possibility and indicating a different evolution from that which conventionality – immediately adopted by the desperate who want to feel the future as death – all too reasonably predicted.] (*)

But…what are we talking about? That’s simple: JESUS JEANS
Complete packaging: SLOGAN + PHOTO

Let us take a step back, a summary to lead by the hand to all those who have no memory or knowledge of the story.
Jesus Jeans was the first Italian brand of jeans, produced from 1971 by Maglificio Calzificio Torinese (MCT) and which, according to many, was not even of very good quality when compared to other brands.

At the time, Maurizio Vitale was head of MCT and in order to create a brand with appeal, he commissioned the creative agency ‘ITALIA’, the only one operating in Italy together with Armando Testa, to launch his jeans.
The choice fell on the word JESUS, no doubt also because of the great success at the time of the film-musical ‘Jesus Christ SuperStar’.
Two creatives from Agenzia Italia, Michael Goettsche and Emanuele Pirella, aided by the brand name, came up with the first slogan ‘You’ll have no other jeans but me!’.
Subsequently, Pirella alone, supported by the visual genius of Oliviero Toscani, coined the second slogan ‘Chi mi ama, mi segua’ (Those who love me, follow me).
It was precisely this second slogan, with Oliviero Toscani’s epic shot of American model Donna Jordan’s bottom forced into a pair of skinny denim shorts, that triggered the pandemonium: it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

L’Osservatore Romano from its pages branded the whole campaign and its creators of blasphemy. The following day, the ‘Vice Squad’ came to the headquarters of Agenzia Italia on the order of Official Salmeri to seize the posters and photographs relating to Jesus Jeans.

The accusations: provocation and blasphemy.

In the first slogan, the text could be traced back to the First Commandment, while for the second slogan, there was an obvious reference to a passage from the Gospel according to Matthew: ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’.
But the visual references were no less, insulting decorum and decency.

The first image accompanying the first slogan depicted a bare-bellied figure wearing a pair of jeans unbuttoned to pubic height.
The second image (which definitely set the dust on fire) portrayed a close-up of a woman’s bottom suggesting some implied nudity from the waist upwards.
Not only that: the careful posture emphasised the roundness of the buttocks, the sinuous position of the body and the legs slightly crossed over each other denoted a sensual and provocative message.
In Oliviero’s mind, nothing was left to chance. Or perhaps none of it, but rather the fruit of Toscani’s pure compositional and aesthetic intuition.

For those who wish to devote a few more seconds to analysing the compositional structure of Oliviero Toscani’s photo, they may find and discover absolutely extraordinary compositional elements, still powerful, balanced, harmonious, where the belt at the top is a structural masterpiece, useful to close the perceptive fugue of the crossed legs as a counterpoint, to give then a structural fugue again at the top and in the opposite direction to the remaining torso.
In short… a masterpiece.

Can we draw any conclusions?

I would like to avoid dwelling on brain-teasing arguments and instead leave you to the concluding words of Pier Paolo Pasolini, in his Corriere della Sera article, which could not better describe the marble stone that this ‘Slogan + Photo’ duet has left in the history of Italian communication and advertising and which has indelibly influenced the decades to follow.

[…even if perhaps the judiciary and the police, set in motion immediately, will succeed in tearing this manifesto and slogan from the walls of the nation, by now it is an irreversible fact even if perhaps much anticipated: its spirit is the new spirit of the second industrial revolution and the consequent mutation of values]. (*)

(*) The «crazy» Jesus jeans slogan. Pasolini on “Corriere” on 17th May 1973

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