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French lash out at 'porno-chic'

By CNN's Avril Stephens

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It is not uncommon to find women's breasts advertising men's shirts in France -- but it appears the French are growing tired with lurid and gratuitous sex in their adverts.

Never known for their prudery, the French have tolerated, even praised adverts which would shock or outrage their more conservative Anglo-Saxon cousins.

An advert for the perfume Opium which showed a naked and spread-eagled Sophie Dahl sparked a string of complaints in the United Kingdom, but was admired in France.

But the French are now beginning to say "non!" -- especially to the use of exotic imagery to advertise products that are completely unrelated.

They are also against something increasingly being used by fashion houses, and known in the advertising trade as "porno-chic," which some say show, or hint at, sado-masochism, lesbianism, and bestiality.

One advert that has caused disgust portrays a virtually naked woman on all fours eyeing a lamb in a field, with the caption: "I want a pullover." The product? -- a jumper for the clothes shop La City.

Porno-chic began last August and spiralled after fashion houses tried to out shock each other.

The French government stepped in with a report last month compiled by the women's rights minister Nicole Pery.

The report noted the growing frequency of adverts "regarded by many people as humiliating and degrading."

In the run-up to elections next year, the report made mild recommendations for better self-regulation in the industry and for changes to the wording of French laws.

Jacques Bille, who is acting head of the French branch as well as managing director of the pan-European Association of Advertising and Communication Agencies, said the industry was already cleaning up its act.

He told CNN: "There is a trend towards a bit more sexually explicit advertising based on fantasies and the portrayal of women in scary, fantasy attitudes or situations.

"But these are mainly in luxury items such as shoes, clothes and perfume which traditionally by-pass advertising agencies, going in-house.

"The government's report has good orientation, but we have already started working on improving our self-regulatory code."

He added: "We are no fools, and we see the background to the report as political. We have elections next year, and we understand that the minister is trying to rally women to the party."

Dr Oliver Gray, director general at the European Advertising Standards Alliance, said advertisers had to keep in tune and respond to changing moods and tones within society -- or miss the target.

"A self-regulatory industry has to have its fingers on the pulse of society," he told CNN.

"Advertisers may influence people, but often advertising mirrors society. You cannot be more Catholic than what is already out there.

"That means that if consumers' attitudes change advertisers cannot stick with traditional values -- they have to change."

It is also dependent on different cultures. Some adverts would be more tolerated in some European countries than others.

A picture of lesbians hugging was accepted in Britain but was scorned upon in France.

Dr Gray added: "Nudity and stereotyping in Spain and Italy have traditionally not been an issue in advertising.

"But in Germany and Austria, they have a lot of complaints because of their strong women's rights groups."

• The Euroepan Association of Advertising and Communication Agencies
• The European Advertising Standards Alliance
• French Government: Women's rights

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