Controversy is almost as synonymous with American Apparel as the disco pant. The high street holy-grail of leggings and basics has been through its fair share of lawsuits, criminal investigations and media storms. You may be thinking, what could this fair trade, anti-sweatshop, gay marriage embracing company be doing wrong? Well, their advertising campaigns alone are enough to cause outrage. For those of you who have not seen an American Apparel ad, imagine something close to softcore porn. Think young g-string clad models in polo necks, lying on a bed with their legs in the air, or a girl in a leotard lying on a sofa with her legs splayed open with the witty line “now open”. There are even whole buzzfeeds and tumblrs dedicated to ‘American Apparel’s raciest ads ever’ for those of you who wish to make further investigation (…perverts). While American Apparel claims these ads are creative, honest and artistic, many people think they are overtly sexual images, which objectify women and appear to show young girls looking vulnerable. As a result many adverts have been banned and are under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The highly sexualised and risqué images that represent American Apparel as a company seem to be representative of its founder and CEO Dov Charney. It is fair to say Charney is unconventional in his approach as a boss; he is a self-confessed unrepentant sex addict who conducts most of his meetings in his underwear or merely wearing a sock (which isn’t worn on his foot, I should add). Charney has been known by multiple sources to masturbate in front of a female journalist in a meeting and even said in a deposition hearing “I frequently drop my pants to show people my new product”. However this ‘unconventional approach’ has landed him in some seriously hot water over the years. Charney has been the subject of at least five sexual harassment lawsuits since the mid 2000’s, although none of these has been proven and nearly all of them have been dismissed, thrown out, or remain pending. Dov Charney relishes his reputation as a libertarian and someone who shocks, and he believes that it is this “creativity” as he calls it, that has been so crucial in American Apparel’s success.
Even recently you may have noticed American Apparel once again being the focus of attention with a new T-Shirt they have brought out depicting a menstruating, masturbating vagina called “Period Power”. Whether you consider this taboo breaking and empowering or disgusting and distasteful, there is no question it will have provoked an opinion. Clearly these provocative acts of t-shirt and ad campaigns have done the company very little consumer damage; would you stop wearing one of their classic hoodies because of a slightly raunchy ad? Probably not. Dov Charney on the other hand should probably rein in his obscene acts, and maybe put on a pair of trousers in the process. The clothes seem to fit nicely, the CEO maybe not so much.