American Apparel publicly suspended its Founder and CEO Dov Charney this June and ousted him completely only thirty days later. This came after many years of scandals, lawsuits and harassment claims finally prompting the company to unanimously vote for his termination.
While always controversial, Charney was the driving force behind all of American Apparel's marketing and advertising campaigns, often taking the photographs himself with models he sourced straight off the street or from his stores.
His overtly sexualised persona has always kept him close to controversy and tales about his proclivities are well-known. In this wake lawsuits were frequent but he always denied any wrong-doing with American Apparel too declaring them all as libellous. This was until the discovery of "new information" in regards to a pending lawsuit.
“We have heard for years allegations and rumours in newspaper stories that were not sufficient to take action," said new co-chairman Allan Mayer, but apparently this all changed, “what came to our attention was not allegations and rumours but established fact”.
This was announced by Mayer after a former employee claimed Charney had held her against her will as a "sex slave" which amounted to a lawsuit and was settled in arbitration. It is unconfirmed what the new information was found to be but it could have been linked to any of the five sexual harassment cases filed against Charney in the past ten years.
It was hoped that Charney’s departures would mark the beginning of a new direction for American Apparel. A popular opinion is that their openly sexualised content and deliberate marketing strategy is directed at teenage girls with models poised in explicit poses - at times in-front of school lockers - earning strong reactions and drawing criticism.
Change still seems far away. Even after Charney’s unceremonious sacking, their “Back to School” skirts and accompanying marketing campaign involving girls bending over in short skirts was released eschewing all good taste and going beyond provocative into something borderline fetishist.
Depending on how it is delivered, these kinds of photographs do have their place in the darker recesses of the weird and wonderful internet. Like it or not this whole “up-skirt” does appeal to some sort of demographic but it is surprising to see this kind of one-dimensional perverse photography in a company whose audience is teenage girls.
Why they have taken this direction is beyond comprehension and it isn’t a one-off instance. American Apparel also sells crop tops which they have named “Lolita”, a term now known for female sexual behaviour but originated in popular culture after Nabokov’s 1959 novel about an older man who fantasises and sexualises a 12 year-old girl.
What this does is diminish the good aspects of American Apparel. To a certain extent they are an environmentally conscious company and the clothes they make are enormously popular. It’s a strange loop. They are known for their sexually charged campaigns and perhaps they feel it is what is expected. Maybe the only thing to do is to treat them as the attention starved children they seem to be. Take away their ball, stop paying attention and let them eventually tire out.