The corridors of power…

It is not often that underclothes make it into the headlines but, when they
do, they really make a splash.

International quotas do bring out the wacky side of life. The Americans, who
are happy to flood the world with US products, kicked up a huge fuss a couple of
years ago over imports of cheap prawns from the Far East. They said it was
driving those good ol’ boys down south out of business.

But there is something about underclothes that gets us all steamed up. Who
can forget the notorious ‘underpant’ wars of a decade ago? Unilever spent £200m
plugging a new soap powder, Persil Power, as part of its fight to the death with
Procter & Gamble, maker of Ariel.

Then pictures of rotting underpants began appearing -­ proof, or so it was
claimed, that a manganese catalyst in Persil destroyed fabrics. Unilever wrote
off nearly £60m in unsold product.

Then came Marks & Spencer with its ill-advised attempt to woo the larger
ladies. Its first-ever ad campaign, launched in 2000, featured a rotund woman
running up a hill in Somerset, discarding items of clothing along the way,
before screaming to the world: ‘I’m normal.’ Yeah, right.

Now we have those wonderful Dove advertisements (Unilever again) featuring
‘real women’ stripped to their underwear. I love this campaign. The girls look
really happy, unlike the anorexic waifs who stare sullenly out of the pages of
the glossies.
So I say, let us have more underwear. But keep Peter Mandelson out of it if

Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer

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