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August 10, 2019

L’Enfant: The Model, the Poster and 3,000 Women

L’Enfant, better known as Man and Baby is a photographic poster depicting a shirtless male model (Adam Perry) holding a young baby. The image, photographed by Spencer Rowell in 1986, and was first published and distributed in the 1987 by British company Athena Posters. The image reportedly sold over 5 million copies, making it among the best-selling posters ever. The photograph was said to herald the “sensitive but sexy New Man” aesthetic.


In a 2004 British television documentary about L’Enfant, The Model, the Poster and 3,000 Women, Perry claimed that as a result of his poster fame he had slept with 3,000 women. The program also identified the baby as Greek-Cypriot Stelios Havatzios. Stelios currently lives in Limassol Cyprus with his family and works as a lawyer. In 2013, Havatzios appeared as the Mystery Guest on The Big Fat Quiz of the ’80s.

In an interview in 2018, Spencer Rowell offered this opinion as to why the poster was so successful:
The nature of the iconic image is that when you look back it is what everybody thought was ideal at the time. The idea of the male model wearing denim really sold the narrative to a wider audience. He could have been any class, or any profession; he represented a new man who changed nappies and shared the responsibilities of parenting.
Spencer Rowell’s man and baby poster L’Enfant is a perfect example of a new concept of gender portrayed through photography. The image of a naked man and a baby captured the heart of millions of young women in the UK. It continues to be seen today as phone wallpaper, and as a screensaver, and is still selling in the US.

In 1986 the Athena poster L’Enfant, signed by the photographer, was so popular that it sold over five million copies, making Spencer Rowell famous. Rowell’s poster showed the male figure as a proliferation of identities; father figure, husband and lover, the decision for the model to wear ripped Levi’s signifies the importance of the jean at this time.

The poster was sold in an ordinary poster rack with other Athena or pop star pinups in high street retail stores such as Argos and Woolworths. Without any extra marketing, the success was astonishing. “It was sat in an ordinary rack with Duran Duran and other music posters. The time was right for a poster like this; black and white imagery made a huge comeback in pop videos and promotional material” and it was perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times:
Men and women wanted the same thing; men wanted to be seen as more sensitive and stop looking at me as the bread winner. It became cool to become a sensitive male, and this came at the same time as the poster that symbolised what both sexes want and even the gay scene identified with the acceptability of showing a feminine side. This was refreshing and remains part of everyday life.
By capturing the image for L’Enfant, Spencer Rowell moved from being simply a photographer to being an innovator as well. Recent publicity about the poster, including articles and a television documentary in which the model claimed to have slept with 3,000 women, have damaged the message of the image and rewritten the story. Spencer Rowell believed that the model deliberately set out to destroy the message behind the image and contradict the dream that women were buying into. The original image may be tarnished by what we have discovered by the model’s revelations, but this is an iconic image which captured the spirit of the decade in which it was created and can firmly be placed, because of the way it is styled and posed, within the decade.

Spencer Rowell had a proven track record as a photographer before L’Enfant he had worked on the Lois jeans campaign, which used images which were Gothic, black and white and grainy. With his experience and reputation as an advertising photographer, Rowell believed that:
Advertising follows the patterns of street culture, and combining music with imagery touches the soul. Though the use of photography is becoming more popular, there still remains only a handful of images which become iconic. Being in touch with your feminine side is acceptable but in the eighties it was new and in the music scene the New Romantics wore make up and feminine fabrics. All expressed the same thing, men wanting to say ‘I am heterosexual but also sensitive and caring’.”
The image of L’Enfant, which depicted a man who would not be ashamed to express his feelings, reflected new attitudes that would trickle into the mainstream, and which modified the public’s perception of manhood. Popular imagery, such as the Spencer Rowell poster, illustrates a new respect for the body in heterosexual men. In the contemporary men’s magazine Men’s Health the importance of becoming body conscious through diet and exercise is a constant theme. Calvin Klein’s fashion and aftershave campaigns show inspiration taken from L’Enfant, shot in black and white, they used seductive imagery to take the aftershaves Obsession and Eternity to number one in the market place.

(via Denim ID)



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