How Awkwardly Pornographic Can the American Apparel Ad Campaigns Get?

In I saw... on January 12, 2011 at 7:23 am

Above is American Apparel’s latest campaign poster, featuring ‘Eva’, lifting her arms to reveal underarm stubble. Sexy? Edgy? Totally awkward? I just can’t decide. Then again, that’s exactly what Dov Charney, CEO of the retail chain selling fashion basics, is aiming for. He’s got me talking about it and got you reading about it, looking at it and possibly walking into one of his stores because of it.

Partially pictured below, Charney, 44, known for personally choosing the amateur models featured in the campaigns that he shoots himself, is frequently branded by the media as “creepy”, “perverted” and his work as “nothing more than soft porn”.


Dov Charney, self portrait, doesn't do any favours for his public persona with that moustache!


Nudity is nothing new in high fashion campaigns, but there is something extremely unconventional about the way American Apparel’s models pose so provocatively, often in oddly unflattering positions, without make-up and void of the excessive photo re-touching so frequently used in the industry today.

The girls, often dangerously young in appearance and modeling very little ‘fashion’ at all, are captured in photographs that appear to be very personal, intended only for the eyes of the photographer or even just for themselves (except that they’re blown up on billboards all over town). Taken against everyday backgrounds such as their own living rooms, using very basic film to emphasize a ‘home-made’ and amateur feel; we’re made to feel as if we have intruded upon someone’s private and of-the-moment photographs.

Taking a look back at a selection of some of American Apparel’s most shocking campaign images…

Have they gone too far? Is Dov Charney just inappropriately documenting naïve, young conquests?

Or is this fashion photography in its most purest form?


(But hey, I didn’t take them!)

















Hmmm….. [Eyebrow raised]

Want Messy Nessy’s opinion? You know I’m going to give it to you anyway.

What I don’t like is the underlying reality that Dov Charney is a 44 year old man taking pictures of young girls in seemingly unchaperoned, slightly seedy situations. It’s uncomfortable viewing at best.

Nevertheless, I find these images impossibly hard to ignore and if we’re looking at it from an advertiser’s point of view– that’s a winning ad campaign.

I like the unretouched look. It’s refreshing amidst the high gloss images that bombard us in fashion advertising.

I like that the models are real and they aren’t afraid to show us their flaws.

While most certainly verging on pornographic, the photographs have an element of satire and cheek about them– perhaps not to be taken too seriously.

[UPDATE: Dov Charney Sued by Former Employee for Alleged Forced Sex]

  1. Except that the majority of those photos were taken by female photographers…

  2. ”I like that the models are real and they aren’t afraid to show us their flaws. ”
    what ‘flaws’?!
    I think the only great thing about these campaigns is that they use REAL women, like everyday people. Except they’re a little less shy in front of the camera…

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