Suffice it to say, the Akoo Clothing billboard in Newark, New Jersey, has ticked off more than a few people. After witnessing what has transpired over the past few days it might seem suitable to call this whole fiasco a gimmick. Keep in mind, however, that this is the fashion industry, and whether Black, White, tan or blue, what many may perceive as risque or over the top, fashion marketers simply see as good advertising. Forget the jeans, the girl, or the allegedly implied fellatio; Akoo was a virtually unheard of brand. Without countless celebrity plugs from the likes of Clifford Harris (aka T.I.), pricey TV ads, or senseless promotions, Akoo accomplished in three days (thanks to media giants like CNN, ABC, and NBC) what some companies only hope to accomplish in a year.  Not only did the media frenzy generate awareness of the Akoo brand by creating a dialogue, Akoo pulled more than 300 posts on the net, and in the process expanded their advertising reach and possibly their demographic. At the end of the day, what’s in “good taste” is always subjective, and everyone is entitled to their personal opinion. Including a 26-year-old, full-time communications major in her senior year at Oglethorpe University.  A southern gal straight from Hattiesburg, Dawn Montgomery also happens to be the model in Akoo’s controversial billboard. After all the fire and flames, blog commentary, and outrage, ESSENCE.com got the exclusive from Montgomery herself. We wanted to know why she thinks the ad may have been hard for people to swallow, and moreover, why she isn’t taking any of the scrutiny personally.
ESSENCE: Go back to the day of the shoot, what was Akoo’s concept? MONTGOMERY: They wanted to do something that was sexy, urban, but could cross over into mainstream. Something that could easily be seen in Calvin Klein, Dolce and Gabbana, Diesel, or Abercrombie and Fitch.   ESSENCE: That being said, what direction were you given? MONTGOMERY: They had a visual wall, and the shoot included me and two other young ladies, who were all told which scenes we would shoot. The scene they had prepared for me, (the billboard shot) was an image they were attempting to emulate from Calvin Klein. The photographer, along with Akoo, asked me how I felt and if I was comfortable in capturing that image. I felt that there was a better way to capture the image, knowing the urban circuit would take this totally left field, and insinuate more immediately. So I proposed instead to do my take on the image, and if they didn’t like it we could talk about doing something different. ESSENCE: Obviously they did like your take on the original image, but describe the Calvin Klein image they attempted to emulate? MONTGOMERY: It was a young lady who was on her knees–and, for the record, I was actually sitting on the floor, not on my knees–the model was facing his private area and pulling him towards her. Which is different than what you see on the billboard, although I still have my hands on his pants in a suggestive way, but my face is towards the camera, more laying on his leg. ESSENCE: Playing such a major role in the shoot, do you think the way feel people about the sexuality of the ad is justified? MONTGOMERY: They are overreacting. What people fail to realize is if you do your research on this industry, fashion campaigns in mainstream America often feature both men and women naked. Fashion usually is the place to showcase raunchier imagery. However, when it comes to urban modeling, you rarely see a clothing line take you to that level. That’s what Akoo was trying to do. ESSENCE: Public backlash is one thing, but has there been personal backlash? MONTGOMERY: I had already called and reached out all my family about it beforehand.  My mother was caught off-guard when her co-workers told her about the image, after hearing the ad was on CNN. Of course, initially she wasn’t for it, but she, like the rest of my family, respects the decisions I have to make day-to-day as a model, and supports them. My whole family knows, including my four-year-old son, who has seen the image. ESSENCE: Wait, so as a mother you wouldn’t feel upset driving down the street unable to control the imagery your child sees? MONTGOMERY: I feel it’s my parental duty to explain certain images to my child. At his age, my son can’t necessarily comprehend the concept behind the image, but the first thing he said to me when he saw it is, ‘Mommy, you’re on that man’s leg, and you don’t know that man.’ That’s what came out of his mouth. As a model and a mother I put him first when I make my decisions. After I make my decisions, just like this shoot, I stand by it. When he gets older he may or may not have to defend his mother, but he will be equipped. ESSENCE: It’s easy to imagine what the ad alludes to. Do you feel like people have a valid argument about it being too suggestive? MONTGOMERY: I don’t think it’s too suggestive, but I realize people do have a small argument. However, not big enough to be on CNN. I already was prepared for the all the blogs being an urban model, but CNN? For me, it was shocking to see something I was a part of get such an overwhelming response to where even the mayor of Newark is commenting. At the end of the day, the real argument is mainstream modeling vs. urban modeling. ESSENCE: The real argument might be why he has his hand on the back of your head. How did that happen? MONTGOMERY: That was the first thing my mother commented on, and I do think it is suggestive. The hand on the head took it to the edge, but when you look at models in Calvin Klein having threesomes, I had to say, ‘Mom this is the industry and I know how far I would take it. I was posing on his leg, he had a free hand and placed it where he didn’t have to cover my face.’ The big thing was to capture the moment. ESSENCE: Miss Thing! Your shoulder wasn’t free? MONTGOMERY: Yeah, he could have put his hand on my shoulder, but I was focused on the look I was giving the camera and what look I was giving to sell the jeans, I probably blocked out everything else going on around me. ESSENCE: Back to mainstream vs. urban modeling. Do you feel race plays a part in this issue? MONTGOMERY: I can’t deny it. I do see it, but I would hate to pull the race card. ESSENCE: Would you do it again? MONTGOMERY: I would. As a model you have to take that chance, and as my full-time job, I take it seriously, helping the client to market their product. ESSENCE: In the end, was all this necessary to sell the jeans? MONTGOMERY: Akoo’s marketing was genius. I’ve been approached by four or five guys who already purchased a pair.  Akoo wanted to take their campaign a different route and push some buttons, but not break down America. They accomplished want they wanted 200%–they have woken up urban America and let them know they are here. Read more: