go see what they’re doing

Last week I found out that Dov Charney sold American Apparel… just as a some commentary on Charney and AA was developing on a recent post. AA is one of those companies that elicits strong opinions.

I’ve included 2 articles in the comments that are the background for this. One is “Meet Your New Boss” from Jane Magazine, June/July 2004, the other is an article from the Wall Street Journal from Dec 19 2006. (via the fashion spot)

(Edit note: There used to be a picture of Charney and a model here, from a billboard that used to be at Queen and Spadina subtitled “Come see what we’re doing.” American Apparel asked me to delete it in October 2008, so I did.)

Feelings about Dov Charney run so high when it comes to his company’s sexually charged advertising and his own behavior. Especially volatile is the infamous Jane Magazine article, where the reporter describes witnessing Charney masturbate multiple times.

In the Wall Street Journal article, Charney says “There is a new kind of international adult that’s emerging in this next generation. We want to feed into that.” (emphasis mine)

The article in question the reporter encouraged the sexual situations. All of the sex in the article was consensual. Charney was up-front about being perverted.

That’s why I don’t buy the sexual harassment stuff. Dov Charney’s sexual preferences are no secret, he has his choice of people to hire, and the ones he is looking for are cool with his MO and consensual adults. Maybe if he was pretending to be a saint of chastity it would be different. But he presents all of his perversions up front so these women are free to choose to go work somewhere else.

The women in AA’s ads and the ones who work for him are legal – 18+. They send him emails with their measurements and sexy photos of themselve – of their own free will. They live in the world of the people they are selling their clothes to… and if you don’t know who those people are, look at Vice Magazine or Last Night’s Party. These are “young metropolitan adults”. They trade their privacy on the internet for freedom of expression, hate faux sexual ethicality and demand transparency. This is the bleeding edge of the death of the pornography taboo, perhaps due to ubiquity of prOn in internet culture.

Plus, this is the fashion industry we are talking about here. It’s hardly like American Apparel invented the provocative fashion advertisement.

I’ve said before that I think American Apparel is the Gap of the Naughty Aughties. So it’s interesting to read about the transition to a publicly traded company, although I don’t understand the financial details very well.

It’s interesting to speculate on the development as AA becomes more ubiquitous and mainstream – you can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting an AA jersey t-shirt, outraged reactionary opinion or genuine brand-love. They are going to be huge in meatspace now. Like Starbucks ubiquitous. Reading about the trials of the Gap these days (via I want – I got) brings the life cycles of fashion companies into focus. But that’s for further reading…

I don’t think I’ll ever work for AA – I’m way too square – but I definitely admire their success, and the determination Charney has demonstrated to do business differently from other retailers and manufacturers. From the employee benefits to the pr shock tactics, there is a lot to be learned from the American Apparel story. Let’s see what they do next.

9 thoughts on “go see what they’re doing”

  1. I also find the American Apparel story fascinating. I don’t know where to begin – from the sexual antics described above, to the socially conscious working conditions, to a firm grasp of social media culminating in the first retailer to open shop in Second Life.

    I’m too square for this type of work environment as well. Maybe it’s me but I find the clothing quite basic. Perhaps that’s why Charney relies so heavily on sexualizing his product – it sure draws a lot of attention.

  2. I’m past square. I’d be so far out of my element it’s indescribable … but I’m also not part of the market AA is shooting for!

  3. The problem with the sex is that it seems that there is a “fame” factor in exchange for the sexy images. I mean, is not like this girls are interested in the dude per se…more like the AA BOSS. It is the same power game involving sex, but of course when it is framed under a liberation tag anything goes.

    My problem with AA and the sex thing is that the man is the one making the big bucks…like a super pimp dressed in cotton suits.

  4. You make a good point Maria.

    To me, part of the liberation thing is admitting that women have the power to make their own sexual choices and the responsibility to deal with the consequences. “He made me do it” is a bogus excuse to avoid paying the price of the sex/power/fame game.

    The actions of these women and Dov Charney seem to be very deliberate to me, not coerced – they were there to shock. It’s their choice.

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