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Hennessy - The Civilized Way to Lay Down the Law (1986)


Oil on canvas by Jeff Koons, an unaltered replica of a vintage ad advertising the Hennessy cognac. This ad was part of a series of 1980s advertisements featuring the tagline "The Civilised Way", marketing the Hennessy cognac in U.S. market.

Hennessy is arguably hip hop's most beloved liquor today, and part of this affinity stems from its earlier efforts to market directly to the African American consumer in the U.S., who were otherwise historically sidelined by other mainstream luxury brands.

In this ad, an African American couple share a glass of Hennessy at the end of the day, in an elegant Harlem apartment (spot the Chrysler building outside the window!). A bookshelf to the left and the oak study table the couple sit around hints at the man's intellectual pursuits. Meanwhile, his female partner proffers him a glass of Hennessy, an invitation to wind down. Reinforcing her suggestion is a well-pillowed bed, seductively lit in the backdrop. Here, Hennessy becomes a guaranteer of both economic and sexual gratification.

The line "civilised way to lay down the law" may have been reference to the prejudices faced by black people, even as they were carving out increasingly prominent roles in public discourse during the 1960s. The advertisers were no doubt aware of such racial anxieties, using it as a touching point to position Hennessy as an enabler of upward social mobility.
 
 
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