Candies Foundation founder Neil Cole sets himself up as the saviour of teenage girls, shaming teen mothers and promoting abstinence. But does this modern-day American prophet practice what he preaches?
Neil Cole’s Candies Foundation is named after his clothing line – a line aimed at very young teenage girls. Its website even lets visitors use their webcam to take a photo of themselves with the Candies model and tantalizingly offers a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at the modelling shoot – things which wouldn’t be of interest to older teen girls. The site sells clothes for girls as young as 7 years old. And THIS is how Candies markets its products to young teenage and preteen girls:
Yep. Playboy model Jenny McCarthy naked and displaying her underwear. And here’s another ad, featuring a pose that’s more 50 Shades than purity pledge.
Jenny McCarthy speaks against teen pregnancy for the Candies Foundation – while dropping her underwear to model for them in a pose that has scat or watersports undertones. In the 1980s Neil Cole used presidential hopeful Gary Hart’s mistress to market his jeans. And she’d only recently been outed as Hart’s mistress.
Is Neil Cole pushing the old patriarchal message “be sexy but don’t have sex” as this blog alleges? Or does this 55 year old man’s obsessive interest in underage girls having sex have a more unhealthy, darker side to it? I’m not suggesting that Neil Cole is an ephebophile. What I am suggesting is that Neil Cole’s choice of sexually charged marketing strategies might indicate that he has an above average interest in sex.
And, sometimes people want to talk about sex – a kind of social-sexual interaction. That’s normal. Some talk about it with their friends or even family members such as sisters or cousins. Others find their outlet by creating art, writing fiction or documenting their sex lives anonymously online. But for those without liberal-minded friends and without the time, skills or artistic inclination to take advantage of opportunities provided by the internet, they’re deprived of an outlet for expressing themselves. So, some people – like Neil Cole- may find socially acceptable ways to talk about sex – like teenage pregnancy.
Or we could go with the cynic’s hypothesis – that Candie’s inappropriately sexualised advertising attracted criticism so Neil Cole started his purity crusade to counteract the bad press.
Neil’s suitability for the office of Controller of Young Women is in question: he’s committed fraud since he set up the Candies Foundation. In 2003 he was fined $75,000 after he and several top Candies staff committed fraud; they neither denied or admitted the various allegations. Given this man’s own behaviour, I hardly think he’s in a position to moralise over the rest of us. And fraudsters are not exactly the sort of people that teens should be looking up to.
Neil isn’t your ordinary guy, either. On his 50th birthday he rented out a swanky art gallery for a party which was attended by celebrities, including Beyonce and Jay-Z. His father became a millionaire selling the Candies shoe and his even more successful brother Kenneth married the Mayor of New York’s daughter. Neil himself married a beauty queen then divorced her 15 years later before marrying again. So Neil Cole clearly is an influential figure with lots of connections to some of the biggest names in Western society.
The Candies Foundation campaign is chock-full of mixed messages. From teen moms preaching abstinence to Playboy models shaming mothers to a company selling sex to preteens while repressing the sexuality of legal adults, it’s got it all.
USA Today rejected one of the Candies ads because it was offensive – and in today’s climate of moral panic over teen pregnancy, it must have been very offensive to be rejected. The single line I’m able to read calls teen pregnancy “an epidemic”.
To me Neil Cole seems the very embodiment of the patriarchy: a rich, powerful, straight white man controlling the sexual behaviour of young non-affluent women. As has been going on for centuries.