American Apparel, Porn Mags, and the 1970s

English: Photo from official Dov Charney / AA ...
English: Photo from official Dov Charney / AA flickr account. Previously uploaded by someone with incorrect information. Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel, self-portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am no stranger to the advertisements of American Apparel, the clothing company headed by its hyper-sexualized CEO, Dov Charney. On Facebook, the ads for AA’s clothes are splashed all over the place, ironically enough all over my profile. They advertise something called “Le Disco Pant,” which simply are some really, really tight pants; if you want to go for an even more 1970s Penthouse magazine vibe, you can order these pants in skintight silver or shiny latex finishes. In fact, most of American Apparel’s clothing for ladies looks like incidental items you could order out of the back of 1970s porn magazines.


Say what you want about Charney’s methodologies – he controversially has been linked to several sexual harassment cases and infamously engaged in sexual congress during an interview with a Jane magazine reporter – but it’s abundantly clear, to me, that Mr. Charney has studied 1970s advertisements closely for some time, and has aligned himself closely with the aesthetic of the period to market his clothes to guileless, young hipsters.

Most of American Apparel’s clientele does not remember the 1970s, and certainly have not studied the history of fashion advertising throughout the decades. When I first saw the advertisements depicting girls in various suggestive poses wearing latex bodysuits, I was reminded of advertisements by a clothing company out of California called Funky Fashions which asked females “Are you the right kind of woman for it?” These advertisements would ask prospective female buyers questions such as “Can you brew bathtub gin?” and “Have you a perceptive eye, a mind like a calculator, a bent for men who dig bikini panties, a passion for Fibber McGee, a cool head for business, and an obsession for snakeskin backgammon boards?” These ads would typically show two women (scantily) clad in jersey and polyester creations while being flanked by men who vaguely resembled pimps. This ad by Funky Fashions from 1974 shows two women resplendent in black and white vinyl posing in front of a strapping male motorcyclist. This scenario would not look foreign in an American Apparel advertisement. Funky Fashions was apparently created to piss off feminists or appeal to the baser qualities of women – these ads appeared in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, which wasn’t exactly a feminist tome.

…But back to American Apparel. It seems to me the advertising execs from this company have based their entire shtick upon Funky Fashions, or another 1970s brand called Landlubber, who had a 1971 ad featuring a nude man who frighteningly resembles Dov Charney, complete with retro eyeglasses and mutton chops. I feel like an old woman bemoaning “the lack of originality” of modern times, but I feel like it’s fraudulent to nick an entire decades’ worth of advertising and try to pass it off as “cutting edge” to young people who are willing to spend tons of money on overpriced silver tights. Maybe I’m being too hard on American Apparel, but there is a part of me that misses the insanity of 1970s ads, and wants to keep these often hilarious snapshots of a decade locked in time.

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