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Sexy photos anger O.C. fitness club members

Longtime members of the former Sports Club/LA in Irvine are outraged by the larger-than-life, provocative photos recently posted in and outside the fitness center by new owner Equinox. The photos are in Equinox clubs nationwide as part of the company’s 2012 ad campaign “to reflect our brand: provocative, sexy, edgy, aspirational and inspiring,” according to a club representative. Orange County members complain that the photos of scantily clad people that went up Jan. 2 “focus on sex and objectification of women,” as Irvine immigration attorney and 20-year member Angelo Paparelli put it. Members are especially angry that one photo of a half-dressed male on top of a female lying on a sofa has been placed at the entrance of the fitness center’s kids club, where members can leave their children while they exercise. Member Richard Van De Plasch wondered, “Perhaps the city of Irvine has some type of morals advertising law that prohibits the public display of this type. Certainly it’s not for children and only appeals to prurient interests of adults.” The city has taken action according to spokesman Craig Reem. “The city received complaints that the signage is offensive; we issued a code enforcement notice for the sign to be removed (by Jan. 19 because) it is a non-permitted sign visible from the exterior of the building that is not part of an approved sign program.” Member Amy Kajiya said, “I find the campaign extremely offensive but I’ll adjust, but I have three kids – ages 5, 3 ½ and 2 – and how do I explain that picture? One of the reasons I chose that club was the kids club.” New York-based Equinox owns 53 “luxury fitness centers” in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Dallas and Washington, DC, according to its website. It bought the Irvine facility and three other Sports Club/LA in October. “We understand that some might find a certain execution too provocative,” Michael Conigliaro, Equinox’s general manager in Orange County, said in an email response to Kajiya’s complaint. “These images are in all our locations. … In all cases our members have not had issues with our campaigns. … “We did have input as to the placement of the photos and believe the existing location (outside the kids club entrance) made the most sense,” the email continued. “The original location … are the actual kids club windows where you would see the images from the inside of the kids club.” Equinox Corp. headquarters has not responded to a Register phone call. The photos are only part of some members’ dissatisfaction with the new ownership, according to Paparelli. The new owner pipes loud music throughout the club and has changed some rules. For example, kids club employees will not change babies’ diapers, as the Sports Club/LA did. But the placement and nature of the photos have drawn complaints even from men, said Jim Casey of Corona del Mar, who has been a member of the fitness center for more than 20 years. “These huge, huge photos, some of which are pretty provocative … I think cross the line. It’s pretty raw.” He said he had complained to Equinox but has not yet received a response. He said he’s not even considering changing fitness centers because “this is the best club in Orange County, the best location, best exercise equipment. It has valet parking. I think the clientele is more sophisticated than their typical, stylish exercise-as-a-lifestyle thing.” In his email to Kajiya, Conigliaro said clubs in Palos Verdes; Preston Hollow, Texas; and Greenwich, Conn., are similar to Irvine and that those members have not complained. Irvine club member Murphy Curtis, who also received the Conigliaro email, said she doesn’t believe that claim. Also, she has been in sales and marketing for 10 years and questions the effectiveness of such a campaign. “I think they miss the boat of what might align with their customers. … It has been a hot topic of conversation in the locker room and I haven’t heard any comments that (the photos) are OK. They’re going to have a hard time keeping members who have any issues with the club.” Curtis said she will consider changing to Renaissance ClubSport in Aliso Viejo if the photos remain. Ellie Krupnick, a New York resident, also suggests that complaints about the photos are coming from members beyond Irvine. She writes on the Huffington Post that members have complained about the ad campaign apparently by photographer Terry Richardson and describes the photos as “overtly sexual and feature plenty of slender, half-clothed women with red lips and ‘come hither’ eyes” but they’re not exercising. And people have posted to Equinox’s Facebook page such comments as, “Another couple million spent on the degradation of women” and “I would like to see some healthy and fit women on their ad campaigns who look like they could actually survive a typical Equinox class.” Contact the writer: 714-796-7927 or

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