Mink Stole and John Waters in a new ad for Calvin Klein.

Writer and filmmaker John Waters was the face of Nike in 2019. He modeled for Saint Laurent in 2020. This year, nothing comes between Waters and his Calvins, as he and best friend Mink Stole appear in a new ad campaign for Calvin Klein Inc.

Waters and Stole are two of the personalities chosen to promote Calvin Klein’s “This is Love” fashion line, which celebrates “chosen families” and was launched in time for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month in June.

The campaign features videos of different sets of “nontraditional” yet “unconditional” lovers, discussing their relationships and what family means to them – all while sporting items from Calvin Klein’s collection.

Seated on a posh living room sofa and holding hands at one point, Waters, 76, and Stole, 74, are filmed talking about how they met and why they think their friendship has lasted so long.

Waters wears a yellow cap with a “This is Love”/CK logo and matching yellow socks, a crisp white shirt with ruffles and a dark suit. Stole wears a pink T-shirt with the message “This is Love”/CK over a white shirt that has an oversized collar and cuffs, with pink socks and a dark suit.

“We met in Provincetown, which is not Baltimore, where we both lived at the same time, ‘bout 1966,” Waters recalls. “I remember Mink looking like a proper Roland Park girl but one that wanted to go bad, and she found the right person.”

“John was probably the most self-confident person I had ever known,” Stole replies.

Waters is gay. Stole, whose real name is Nancy Paine Stoll, is straight. Waters named her Mink Stole, in the same way that he gave actor Harris Glenn Milstead the name ‘Divine.’ The name stuck, and so did their friendship.

“I just think that friends — a man and a woman, maybe one’s gay and one’s straight — can be the best friends forever, because there’s never jealousy about boyfriends or girlfriends,” Waters offers in a minute-long video filmed for the campaign.

“Well, there’s no sexual tension, which makes it really easy,” Stole says, adding, “I was never in love with you.”

“I was never in love with you. That’s why we bonded,” Waters responds. And yet, “This, this is love.”

“This is love,” Stole agrees.

The campaign sends a provocative yet affirming message while showcasing Calvin Klein’s latest collection with a “cast” that consists of “LGBTQIA+ trailblazers, entertainers and advocates.”

Besides Waters and Stole, the list includes actress Sasha Lane and her brother Sergio D’Arcy Lane; three employees of The Trevor Project; members of the House of Xtravaganza from New York’s underground ballroom scene; boyfriends and actors Justice Smith and Nic Ashe; Ellicot City musician Snail Mail and her community; hairstylist Holli Smith and her fiancé, Pony, and the Afrofuturistic arts collective, Tribe.

On May 19, Klein released eight minute-long videos that provide a glimpse of the models’ various relationships. A final video brings the models together, talking about love and family.

“This is Love celebrates chosen families within the LGBTQIA+ community,” the company states on its website. “Our cast of friends, partners, lovers, neighbors, allies and more share what family means to them, highlighting the spectrum of intentional and important connections that exist within the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Styled in ‘This is Love’ apparel and other “Calvin Klein essentials,“ the models are photographed with their loved ones in “quiet moments of connection, private instances of intimacy and playful expressions of their relationship,” as the website puts it. “Nontraditional, unconditional, real: this is family through the lens of Calvin Klein.”

The collection includes apparel, underwear and activewear. Items range from jackets, hoodies, shorts and rompers to tank tops, T-shirts, swimsuits, caps, socks, bralettes, briefs, bikinis and jock straps.

The campaign includes still shots that evoke prints from a photo album, as well as videos. John Edmonds was the photographer. Unlike the Saint Laurent campaign that Waters shot, with black and white photos depicting him snarling and generally looking like a troublemaker, this one boasts bright, cheerful images.

According to the company, the collection’s colors were inspired by the Progress Pride Flag. Each item includes a label that states what each color of the flag represents: black for beauty; brown for power; pink for sex; orange for healing; yellow for sunlight; tan for harmony, white for nonbinary; turquoise for magic, and blue for serenity. The Reimagined Heritage Underwear Collection incorporates bands and fabrics with swirled combinations of these colors in a nod to the “intersectionality that exists throughout the LGBTQIA+ spectrum of sexualities, gender identities and sex characteristics.”

Waters is performing spoken-word shows in the U. S. and Europe this month and next, and he’ll be a commencement speaker for the School of Visual Arts in New York on June 27. He plans to spend the summer in Provincetown, his 58th on Cape Cod. His next exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, featuring objects from the private art collection that he’s leaving to the museum when he dies, opens in November.

A longtime ally of the LGBTQ community, Stole has appeared in all of Waters’ feature films, going back to Roman Candles, Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs. One of the Dreamlanders, Waters’ ensemble of regular cast and crew members, she was Connie Marble in Pink Flamingos; Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble; Peggy Gravel in Desperate Living and Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom. Waters wrote about taking LSD with her in Provincetown when both were past the age of 70 in his book, Mr. Know-It-All, The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder.

A Baltimore native, Stole recently moved away from her hometown to be with a boyfriend in Los Angeles, Waters told the audience at his Baltimore Soundstage show on February 14.  “Mink is leaving Baltimore forever,” he lamented. “Last night we had a goodbye dinner.”

In the video for Calvin Klein, Waters alluded to their long history, “The craziest thing we ever did together was probably a conspiracy to commit indecent exposure,” he said.

“We always hung around with a mixed crowd,” Waters said at another point in the campaign. “Straight guys, girls, bikers, drag queens, everybody. That’s why we stayed friends for so long because we weren’t just like each other.”

“We had to be together…we get each other’s jokes,” they added.

Like Waters, Stole stays busy with speaking engagements and other appearances, including a recent online Q&A with drag queen Peaches Christ. She’s one of the “Special Guest Counselors’ at Camp John Waters, the annual camp for John Waters superfans in Kent, Connecticut. She plans to be buried with Waters and other Dreamlanders in Towson’s Prospect Hill Cemetery, near Divine’s gravesite. They call that section of the cemetery “Disgraceland.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

One reply on “John Waters and Mink Stole featured in new Calvin Klein ad campaign”

  1. Thank you Ed for this great article.

    John Waters has the envy of me. I tried to tell my teenage kids of how cool it was to hang out in the 70s when everyone who wanted to hang out, were forced together in weird places. Yes, many different walks of life got together as a whole. We were sometimes/always at odds with one another but we crammed ourselves into clubs and party places because we just wanted our fun after hours. I can’t tell you what a pleasure that was versus what I’m seeing now, although I acknowledge the world has changed around me. I do however entertain my teen kids with tons of old stories about being chased around from people who’d want to kick your ass as soon as you left a club, but meanwhile you were just partying with them an hour earlier. It was crazy times back in Florida.

    Also, my kids don’t understand that yeah I’m their father and then occasionally I’m going to say things that are inappropriate for today’s day and age, but they don’t understand where I’m coming from. I try to stay up with their terminology but it’s hard because, to me, a fag is a compliment. I was proud to hang out with my rough-boy friends back in the day, even though I’m straight. In some ways it was a beautiful mix I’ll never forget.

    Of course my kids will never get it…. they just see an old guy with white hair and immediately think, oh, here’s a white guy with white hair, lol.

    This is why I’m envious of John Waters rather exemplary life. But don’t worry, I wouldn’t go changing anyting. Except for maybe trying to find a place where old queens hang out, and reminisce about the good old days.

    Oh but I found a place, it’s called The New York Times comments section.

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