This major research paper (MRP) examines the visual semiotics of Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Le Male” fragrance for men and how this brand appeals to gay male audiences. It seeks to address the following questions: How do product packaging, print advertising, and video advertising use visual semiotics to appeal to gay male audiences? What image of masculinity is being communicated? And how is gay male desire being commoditized? To answer these questions the study examined three artefacts through a compositional interpretation and a visual semiotic analysis: the fragrance bottle, a print advertisement, and a video commercial. The research demonstrates that “Le Male” appeals to gay male audiences through three strategies: (1) sexual objectification of the male body; (2) use of gay iconography, especially depictions of homoeroticism among sailors and homage to the illustrated erotica of Tom of Finland; and (3) gay-coded visual polysemy. Furthermore, it depicts attractive men with ambiguous sexual orientation as objects of worship.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Le Male” integrates the idealized male form into its cologne bottle design, print and video advertisements. Its carefully crafted homoerotic fantasies resonate with a queer aesthetic, but do so within a minimal set of superficial values reflected in the fleetingly beautiful body. This study is relevant to how professional communicators can weave a coherent, visual story through a deeper understanding of rhetorical signs and symbols that resonate with specific subcultures. Findings from this MRP will be discussed along with suggestions for the brand to retain its success among gay consumers. The study also initiates further research in the areas of empirical confirmation, feminist gaze theory, intercultural theory, and multi-sensory branding.