Pimp used to be a dirty word. To be accused of dressing or acting like one was an incontrovertible term of abuse. Now, however, it is the height of fashion. At least to some.
"Pimp chic" has entered mainstream culture, with the music industry, luxury shops, clothes designers and even airlines adopting symbols of the culture to advertise their products. Sharp-suited men with scowls, skimpily clad women looking up to them in awe, flash cars and lots of bling may be nothing new when it comes to selling glamour and "cool", but observers say they are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect of marketing these images, especially to children.
Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, hit out yesterday at the trend. She said: "A lot of people seem to think that it's cool to be a pimp or whore. It's not cool. The reality is dark, evil and appalling and unregulated. The reality is sex trafficking, which is about young women being forced into rooms to have sex however many times a day so that the pimp can take all the money."
She added: "There are thousands of ads, mostly focused on women and young girls, that say you are not attractive, you are not sexy, you are not intelligent, unless you look like this. In kids' magazines there is a passivity and a stupidity that is seen as a great way forward. Something has gone very wrong."
Dame Anita criticised stars such as Beyonc and Britney Spears for simulating sex in their music videos, and highlighted the trend among some hip hop artists to make porn films to be marketed alongside the graphic lyrics of their songs. "What we have now is what I call "pimp and ho chic" with all aspects of the sex industry presented as hip and cool," she said. "Pole dancing as exercise, lap- dancing clubs as places to see celebrities, fancy-dress balls and the everyday use of the words "bitch" and "ho" to refer to women are just some of the examples I have come across."
The film director Spike Lee has also hit out at pimp culture, using a lecture at the University of Florida earlier this month to criticise rap stars such as Snoop Dogg for glamorising prostitution at the same time as reinforcing stereotypes about black men.
He said: "We are bombarded by these gangsta images again and again and again and again... they do make a difference to human behaviour. No one gets upset any more that pimpdom gets elevated on a pedestal."
It is not just the music world that has embraced pimp chic with such fervour. Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic launched an advertising campaign for its new Upper Class airport clubhouse last year that featured the slogan: "Pimp My Lounge." The department store Selfridges ran prominent advertisements last Christmas depicting a man in "pimp chic" clothes, holding a glass of champagne, with two semi-naked women draped over him. Alongside the image, a strapline read: "Get your Christmas booty."
Last week Madonna - no stranger to raunchy videos and suggestive choreography - appeared on the MTV show Pimp My Ride, in which the DJ Tim Westwood turns ordinary cars into bling-laden vehicles. And Hustle and Flow, a …