The series of ads shot by controversial fashion photographer Terry Richardson features not a single treadmill or elliptical machine. Instead, it stars waif-like women languishing around a mansion in sexually suggestive positions. While one photo bares the ripped abs of a male mannequin, the female contingency boast more bones than muscle. As a result, the ad's getting people worked up, not worked out.
"Equinox is promoting health and fitness, so I would like to see some healthy and fit women on their ad campaigns who look like they could actually survive a typical Equinox class," complains one woman amidst a choir of criticism on the club's Facebook page.
"What is the point of two anorexic women arm wrestling over a cake? Is that supposed to be inspiring?" adds another.
In fact, it is. Equinox, which opened in New York 1991 and has since expanded to cities around the country, has branded itself as more of an elite club than a gym. The company's tagline—"It's not fitness. It's life."—suggests that pricy membership fees afford not only good health, but social status.
To that end, Equinox has invested in glossy campaigns that take their cue from Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana spreads. Past photographers for the gym's campaign read like a library of coffee table books: Gilles Bensimon, Ellen von Unwerth, and Steven Klein. Richardson, however, is particularly controversial. The celebrity snapper was recently accused of requesting sexual favors from a model, though the incident was unconfirmed.
Considering most fitness and diet propaganda comes from a place of empowerment, scandalized photographers and rail thin models are risky choices for ad execs.
"Another couple million spent on the degradation of women. Good work fitness guys," writes a frustrated Facebook commenter.
In fact, the "guys" behind the campaign is a woman. Equinox's in-house Creative Director Bianca Kosoy, a Parsons graduate and former Gap creative executive, is a fashion industry veteran. She oversaw the shoot and hired Richardson for a second time after working him on a campaign in 2011.
"One of the reasons we chose to shoot with Terry ...is because of his signature approach to gritty flash photography that makes the viewer feel like they have just witnessed a private moment," Kosoy said in an interview with PC Mag about last year's ads. "Our goal was to blur the lines between fashion, fitness and lifestyle by capturing intimate moments that reveal the benefits of fitness without overtly focusing on the act itself."
But not everyone's feeling the benefits of this year's promotion. Shine reached out to Equinox for a comment, but a spokesperson offered only: "We think the campaign speaks for itself."
Meanwhile, Kosoy's been busy posting links to articles about the controversy on her Twitter account. Clearly, the company isn't too disturbed by the attention.
But will it affect membership? "These ads are embarrassing. I would never come for a massage after seeing the ad for it," states one commenter. Another begs to differ: "I love the new ad campaign...The selection of models and the images show Equinox as high fashion, cool, hip and edgy." What do you think?