Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The End of Dov’s Era

What now for American Apparel?

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 20:05


The unceremonious and sudden firing of Dov Charney from American Apparel is the end of an era for perhaps more than just a clothing company. Charney embodied the “spirit” of the made-in-America store with its deep V neck sweaters becoming the default uniform of people from Brooklyn to Belfast. American Apparel has struggled in recent years, expanding rapidly internationaly, but carrying net losses of over $100 million.

Charney built the company, and masterminded its image of skinny models in their pants in its advertisements. The image worked, with American Apparel going from cool to mainstream, with its durable and comfortable hoodies, dancer lycra, underwear, headbands, shiny jackets, leggings and pro-LGBT slogans loved by consumers. While its sweatshop-free philosophy was applauded, Charney was better known for his well-documented questionable sexual behaviour, allegations of sexual harassment, and criticised for the very image that propelled AA to success. What were ethical shoppers to do, when one of the few high street fashion brands was upfront about its manufacturing, yet headed by a guy who was dogged by lawsuits?

With Dov gone perhaps the wider picture is that seedy just aint cool anymore. In Britain, the almost endless conveyor belt of “vintage” celebrities being arrested for rape and sexual harassment is lifting the lid on an entertainment industry that tolerated questionable to criminal behaviour. Back in the US, the fashion industry and the people who write about it are still in a crisis of conscience about Terry Richardson. This rather ambiguous Richardson interview with New York Magazine raises more questions than it answers, and is a useful companion piece now we know the flavour of the Lady Gaga you weren’t meant to see being unearthed by TMZ.

American Apparel was – and still is – incredibly popular. The image worked and works. A few weeks ago, I was in the Dublin store while potential employees were signing up for what seemed less recruitment and more casting. There was a huge line of young people waiting for their shot, although tellingly, it’s certainly the largest number of people I’ve ever seen in that shop.

While Charney was a figure of fascination for the media, his principled position on manufacturing and paying workers fairly was awkwardly overshadowed by his behaviour. That was for a while seen as borderline cavalier – notorious but tolerable, but seediness as not just a trait, but a brand characteristic is over. We are not celebrating a 70s porn aesthetic anymore. It’s not ironic. It’s not just hipster bulls***. It’s just seedy.

(Photo via AmericanApparelTumblr)