The NY Observer wants to know why, in a month that might arguably be called financially eventful, Conde Nast Portfolio has put old-newsy sleaze-monger Dov Charney on its cover. They raise a good point: the American Apparel founder's creepiness, idiosyncrasies, success and commitment to "vertically-integrated manufacturing" are not exactly secrets. But it's kind of a good profile, and from it we've been able to extrapolate a definitive Dov Charney dossier than hopefully obviates the need to ever profile him again ever.
American Apparel Is Completely Ridiculous: But you knew that. Charney lives in a "gated, marble, gold-encrusted mansion on a hill" with a rotating roster of hipster employee/roommate/assistants plus:
A young, loud, pear-shaped man named Johnny Makeup wanders in wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater, purple jeans, and shiny loafers. Johnny says Charney recruited him from an American Apparel store in New York after being charmed by his sense of style. Now he's apprenticing in the P.R. department, where his tasks include putting together music mixes, updating his MySpace page, making Charney salads, and keeping him company. He lives in Charney's mansion and calls him Daddy.
"Daddy," he says, as he plops onto the leather couch next to the desk, "I saw a vagina for the third time today."
Dov Charney Is Pervy:Again, we knew this. The not-quite-ironic retro-porn aesthetic, the legions of sexual harassment suits, the tales of sexually-charged work environments (yes, putting it mildly), underage shenanigans, one on one photo shoots with the boss, personal hiring sessions, naked and near-naked romping, coke orgies, orgy-orgies, financial shadiness, and the on-record masturbation are legendary in the bad way. Quoth The Dov,"'Fashion is about sexuality...It's hard to be fashionable and sanitize it and take the sexuality out of it. It's tasteful. It's utility-it's not Frederick's of Hollywood. It has to make you feel attractive. Sex makes you feel beautiful or handsome.'" Well, okay then!
Dov Charney Is Genuinely Obsessed With Tee Shirts: Although An Immigrant, Charney was always obsessed with the preppy American style of the 80s; visiting his grandparents in Florida, he fell in love with Lacoste and Gant. "In 1988, while a high school senior, Charney started American Apparel." It bore the slogan, "Canada's direct source for American-made T-shirts and fleecewear." Even today he's allegedly obsessive about the product - weird, since it's kind of notoriously crappy.
American Apparel Really Is An Okay Place To Work: In a city full of sweatshops, AA's 4,000 plus employees make $12 an hour, get health insurance, and have access to "an in-house health clinic, subsidized meals, English-language classes, and a host of other cushy incentives." When Charney had to fire 30 workers who didn't have paperwork, he gave them each $30,000 of company stock.
Charney Seems Really Committed To Free Trade: The pro-immigration ads AA has been running lately are a testament to the company's stance; not surprisingly, Charney's been served with a notice of inspection from Immigration, which is yet to take place. Lately he's been working on prioritizing AA's "Legalize L.A." website. The company is also highly involved in the May 1st immigration protests, which apparently involves Johnny Makeup carrying around a Paris Hilton cutout and screaming, "'Immigrants are hot! Come party with the immigrants.'" How would Charney characterize his positions? "'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall! It's because I'm a Jew! Birds are free! We want to go somewhere, let's go! I just don't believe in borders, in the end. The Americans who do just don't trust humanity.'"
American Apparel Is Really Paternalistic:Whatever its virtues, critics allege that Charney only wants his workers happy on his own terms, that he needs to play Lord Bountiful. They claim that he bullied his workers into not unionizing. Says Kimi Lee, director of the Garment Workers Center,"'It isn't a shining star, but it's not a sweatshop. It could be better. Even though Charney talks about workers' rights and trumpets all the things he's done, he's not letting the workers speak for themselves. It's significant that he doesn't. It's very paternalistic. He believes he's treating them better than anyone else could'."
Dov Charney Is Crazy:"'See! That's what a beautiful, intelligent woman wants, to go to dinner in a pair of pants that makes her look good. She's on top of the fucking world. That's what it's all about. The pants! The pants! That's all a beautiful woman wants! A pair of pants that takes her into a restaurant. She looks beautiful. She looks intelligent! She's got a pair of pants! She's on top of the world-and it's the pants, the pants!'"
Here is the real issue: According to the piece, Charney is for real. He's really pervy. He's really into tee shirts. He's really committed to free trade. And he's really, really crazy. His persona is not a hipster pose; it seems to be who he is. As a result, it's silly to regard anything about American Apparel as a business model; it's one (crazy) guy's dream. Charney seems genuinely aggrieved that people can't forget all about his silly old sexual harassment and focus on all his good works. "It's a victory that we're able to make clothing that people love in a place that isn't embarrassing. Get over the ads. Get over the complaints. Get over the fact that I made a mistake making a comment to one or two girls. How selfish! Why couldn't they just walk away? Think of the thousands of suppliers, the thousands of sewers, the workers!"
It doesn't seem to occur to him that living with a bunch of college students, or representatives like Johnny Makeup don't exactly enhance the company's "seriousness" profile. Says one of his defenders, "Dov is a character, and it's easy to make him a target." Um, okay, except that no one's forced him to be the completely public face of his brain child. He's obviously infantile, thinks he's a victim, refers to himself as "an immigrant" repeatedly - allying himself with his laregly Mexican workforce - breaking into Québécois French. It would almost be one thing if he were like, "our aesthetic is offensive and demeaning but the kids like it and clearly we're onto something, and that allows us to make the changes we really care about."
But that's not what he thinks; he and the company are creepy and skeevy. Hipsters think it's ironic. Probably in the hands of marketers it is; but there's no irony or contradiction to Charney; whatever he wants is good, and right, and of a beautiful piece. Which is kind of scary. It's not unusual in the history of industry for a mogul to be a monomaniacal egotist. But for that kind of craziness to be the basis of a real lifestyle movement? Unsettling, to say the least.
Barely Legal [Portfolio]
Earlier: American Apparel Will Make You Look Like A Fat Hooker
If You Go Work For American Apparel Can You Really Expect Dov Charney To Wear Clothes?
American Apparel's Dov Charney Explains It All For You On SNL
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