American Apparel Now Sponsoring Bloggers & Porn Stars (NSFW)

Everybody's favorite love-to-hate t-shirt hawker has announced a new partnership with fashion site Chictopia. This follows the retailer's quiet unveiling of a unique ad run for a few select sex blogs last month. Jump NSFW.

Chictopia, a fashion social networking site whose genius idea is that users can upload pictures of their outfits for other users to comment on so everyone can feel comfortably supported in her precious online fashion-maven status, is now hosting sets of American Apparel ads featuring their three top-rated members wearing the company's designs, as well as its vintage line, California Select. Chictopia is one of those places where the internet telescopes and distends to the extent that being on Chictopia for other people to comment on and rate becomes prima facie evidence of supposed fashion expertise, which supposed fashion expertise becomes a reason to be on Chictopia for other people to comment on and rate. The entire vain and mindless feedback loop was aptly (though unwittingly) summed up by Mashable, which noted newly minted American Apparel model, Chictopia girl Karla "is a beautiful stylista actively pursuing her passion via Chictopia and creative expression on her own blog." Actively pursuing, people!

And just as blogging and uploading self-taken pics of your original hipster creations is an ersatz kind of fashion activity, posing for American Apparel is an ersatz kind of modeling.

The company's hipster girl-next-door aesthetic was fine and good, and its claim to never airbrush its advertising is refreshing, if true. For a while, American Apparel's ads seemed kind of like the company's wares: basic, cute, cheeky, cool. There was none of the aspirationalism of mainstream fashion, and that was nice. American Apparel, a purveyor of dependable cotton garments that don't change much from season to season, didn't position itself as a fashion brand and wasn't taken as one. The whole point was that they didn't have to sell us on their products with lavish, fantastical ads with otherworldly imagery, because the clothes were good, the clothes were needed, and the clothes were inexpensive.

But then their ads started getting sexier and sexier, the female bodies in them became perkier, less blemished, and thinner, and they were shot in ever more compromising positions (not so the dudes, unfortunately) and all around the company set about becoming exactly the same kind of aspirational pseudo-fashion mall brand as anything else. The "real people" thing became a vestige of the old way of doing things that had the advantage of also cutting costs. (When you aren't actually, but look like you could be, a professional with an agency to negotiate your rates, it's easier to be hoodwinked into thinking that $50/hour for a national campaign involving billboards, online, and print ads, is a good deal. It's not.)

I suppose picking the coolest girls in the internet class to model for them — and then write adoring posts about how OMG cool it was to become a real model!!! — is the natural apotheosis of this trend.

The press release excerpted by Chictopia reads:

[This campaign] rebels the notion that fashion is dominated by models held to unobtainable body standards. Chictopia's tools give girls with no access to agents or expensive makeup and clothes the ability to segue into modeling for a major fashion company within just a few months. American Apparel, who is well known for refusing to use airbrushing in their advertisements, and Chictopia are showing that traditional media beauty standards are obsolete and inefficient.

Leaving aside the fact that "rebel" is not a transitive verb, I object mightily to the notion that American Apparel is selling the experience of becoming one of their online banner girls as "modeling for a major fashion company." (And...they expect us to believe their models are neither airbrushed, nor wear make up? Come on.) It's unethical to paint this experience as some kind of entrée into fashion modeling. It's just another chance to get your kit off for Dov Charney, only now to even do that, you're expected to be an internet Somebody who can write a gushy post about it.

Around the end of last month, new ads in a raunchier but similar vein started appearing as exclusive content on outré blogs like The Reverse Cowgirl and Debauchette. Featuring porn stars Sasha Grey and Charlotte Stokely — American Apparel apparently learned girls who can be paid to take their clothes off, and more, are more pliant than hipsters, and has sneaked porn stars such as the pseudonymous "Jillian" (Faye Valentine) into its ads for over six months now — the ads beg the usual boring 'Has American Apparel gone too far?' question.

American Apparel Now Sponsoring Bloggers & Porn Stars (NSFW)S

American Apparel Now Sponsoring Bloggers & Porn Stars (NSFW)S

But frankly, I'm less worried by the ads — porn is great; the idea that we ought to emulate porn stars in our daily lives is easily dismissed — than I am by the glowing posts that Debauchette and Susannah Breslin, the author of The Reverse Cowgirl, felt motivated to write. "I'm looking forward to seeing the new AA ad for my site. They've got me very intrigued about the next one," squealed Debauchette. "If you haven't noticed it already, I've got a new American Apparel ad up on the site," points out Breslin, helpfully. (I almost missed the topless girl in a pleather miniskirt and combat boots disrobing in Flash animation, actually.) Both bloggers seek to justify including the advertising as a kind of political point; Debauchette writes about her dislike of "North American nipplephobia" and the hypocrisy of a national culture that teaches young women to display their sexuality (Britney Spears) but is disturbed when they practice it (abstinence-only sex education). (I'm not sure how Sasha Grey's pubic hair combats the latter without adding to the objectionable commodifying quality of the former, but whatever!) Breslin points out the ads were conceived by a woman. (This woman, Kyung Chung, in fact.) If they're going to get so defensive, why take the ads? Is it the blurring of (presumably independent) editorial content with paid advertising? The commodification of women's sexuality? The involvement of a company whose founder is famous for his predatory behavior towards female employees and reporters? (Says Debauchette: "I think sexual harassment is wrong. I also think it's complicated.") I hope the ads paid Breslin and Debauchette — and Chictopia, for that matter — handsomely for the credibility hit writing posts that look an awful lot like advertorial must entail. The advertiser in question being notoriously cheap, however, I somehow doubt that.

Chictopia <3s American Apparel [Chictopia]
My New American Apparel Ad [Updated] [The Reverse Cowgirl]
Notes [Debauchette]

Earlier: American Apparel's Plans For The Recession: More Sex, Please
"I Went Home, Grabbed Some Spraypaint, Took The Train Back And Waited Until 4am To Climb The Scaffolding."