The sex appeal and humour of Pete Hawley’s illustrations makes the world of Jantzen swimwear instantly recognizable
In the first episode of “Mad Men’s” 4th season Jantzen Swimwear hires ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to attempt a new sales strategy. At Thanksgiving 1964 the show starts with Don, Roger and Pete at a sales call, trying to pick up the business of Jantzen swimwear. “Do you want women who want bikinis to buy your two piece, or do you just want to make sure women who want to buy a two piece don’t suddenly buy a bikini?” Don Draper asks the Jantzen people at the beginning of the episode. In a later meeting Don Draper pitches an ad of a girl with a Jantzen bikini, her breasts covered with the tagline: “So well built, we can’t show you the second floor.” Jantzen doesn’t like the pitch, it considers itself more a “family business” than anything else. Don doesn’t care. He walks out of the meeting with Roger on his heels. When Roger asks him to rethink the campaign, Don storms back in and kicks Jantzen out of the office. He remarks that Jantzen is “a company stuck in the mud.”
To understand Don Drapers remark you have to imagine where Jantzen came from. Jantzen advertising in the 40s and 50s century became legendary thanks to Pete Hawley (1916-1975), who created ads that were playful with vibrantly colourful images of gorgeous young females and horny looking men lounging, playing, teasing and chasing each other. The Jantzen account proved to be one of the most fortuitous business relationships an illustrator could ever wish for. The goal was to give swimwear a sense of energy and glamour; one must appeal to both women and men to sell swimwear was the thought behind this concept. Illustrator Pete Hawley and his team of illustrious colleagues like McClelland Barclay, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, Jon Whitcomb, illustrated over 100 magazine ads in 17 years for the various divisions of the Jantzen clothing company.
The coloured drawings of Pete Hawley have an instantly recognizable style. His work celebrates as an idealized healthy, radiant sporty image of post World War II America and he did not hesitate to add a touch of sex appeal and humour. In spite of the development of photography and the gradual disappearance of the illustrations in the 60s, Pete Hawley kept working on ads for Bell Telephone System (he created a cute character named ‘Betsy Bell’), an ad campaign for the Coca-Cola brand, many movie posters and his greeting cards. His designs for American Greetings cards are still the most popular.
Did photography and television destroy the world of illustration? It is true that in the 60s photography and television were rapidly gaining ground over illustration, but it did not stop people from liking the ads. Nowadays there is a renewed appreciation for the quality of Pete Hawley’s playful and stylized illustrations and his ability to portray a sort of innocent sexuality that was perfectly suited to the 40s and 50s era. Texts like “What man would not go wild…beautiful things like this rising from the sea all summer long” or this is it, “it” as in Italy, this glamour, Italian style, sono attraenti (divine)… the new all-girl natural beauty look, the alfresco, the look of Gina and Silvana and Anna”, evoke a state of nostalgia. Whatever the case may be, I admire the craftsmanship of the illustrations. Take a plunge too, all you need for romancin’ and entrancin’, for fun like this, is a “Pete Hawley.” He makes “you feel as though you own the earth, all the water, all the sun … as though you own the summer.”