FBI investigate Calvin Klein ads

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New York

The hurricane of free publicity enjoyed last month by Calvin Klein when he was forced to suspend a jeans advertising campaign in the United States after allegations that it verged on child pornography is not quite over. It is possible that the fashion baron is beginning to wish that it was.

It transpires that it was more than the conservative columnists and family- values pundits who took exception to the advertisements. The Justice Department in Washington says that the FBI is investigating the pictures to ascertain whether Mr Klein and his company violated federal decency laws.

Abandoned by Mr Klein on 28 August, the campaign featured models of uncertain age - the mood was decidedly prepubescent - in various provocative poses. Billboards pasted to the sides of buses showed, for instance, a young girl with her skirt hitched up to reveal her panties and an afro-haired boy lolling with his legs wide open and crotch partly visible.

Still more controversial, however, were the television spots. In one, a young male stands before the camera and off-camera a man's voice intones: "How old are you? Are you strong? You think you could rip that shirt off you? That's a nice body. You work out? I can tell."

Investigators are anxious to discover, in particular, whether any of the models used in the campaign was under-18, as claimed by some of those who denounced it. If so, Mr Klein could be charged with sexual exploitation of minors.

Mr Klein has a record of stirring outrage with his advertising. In 1980, he presented the world with a teenage Brooke Shields cooing: "You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing". In 1993, he draped a nude Kate Moss, the British model, across a sofa to promote his Obsession perfume.

The Justice Department claimed that it had started its inquiry even before it began receiving letters from activist groups urging it to do so. Yesterday, the designer's company issued only a brief statement saying: "We are confident that we have not violated any laws."