It's been a bad week in a series of very bad weeks for American Apparel.
On Wednesday, news broke that Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a suggestive American Apparel ad featuring a young-looking model as it "could be seen to sexualise a child" (the company shot back, confirming that the model was 20 years old). Today, reports are surfacing that the company—which last year outfitted storefront mannequins with gigantic merkins—has quietly started airbrushing out the nipples and pubic hair of models featured on the website.
Here's what we're used to seeing in the lingerie section of americanapparel.net:
And here are some new arrivals, which Animal New York estimates were digitally altered in the last week or so:
According to Animal New York, at least some of these newly 'shopped images are in their second iterations, having existed on the site previously with their anatomy un-tampered with.
New CEO Paula Schneider has been doing a lot of press recently, discussing the changes she hopes to implement now that former Chief Troglodyte Dov Charney is (mostly) out of the way. In an interview with Marie Claire, Schneider described the company as needing "tweaking," explaining that customers "expect social commentary"; she appeared less sure-footed about what customers expect, nipple-wise:
American Apparel ads have always been a bit salacious—do you see that as part of the brand DNA? "I think it's fluid. We will have some sexy ads, we do have lingerie and that is sexy, and it's obviously a part of what we do here."
In a January interview with Forbes, the writer was more explicit about this omission:
She was less eager to discuss the brand's history of borderline-pornographic, often misogynistic advertising, much of it seeming to stem from founder Charney's sleazy persona. "I think American Apparel is a cutting edge brand and there are moments in time too for different types of advertising," Schneider said. "We're continuing to evaluate who our consumer is and aligning our products with their beliefs and their fashion tastes."
I will allow that this area of American Apparel's DNA certainly does pose a significant challenge to Charney's successor. Is it possible to balance the erotic imagery of the brand against the fact that a single mention of "American Apparel" conjures images of sexual misconduct and worker exploitation? The company's take, apparently, is no, and their fix is to just pretend that the female anatomy does not exist.
If this photoshopping is, in fact, a new across-the-board editorial policy and not some weird one-off situation, it's absolutely the wrong decision. It's retro, sloppy, sends a scary message about female sexuality, and is likely to spark the exact brand of privileged semi-outrage that American Apparel would like so badly to participate in. "Free the Nipple" is not gonna like this, and you know what? Neither do I.
If we no longer have to imagine Dov Charney's leering face behind the camera—because that's what was skeezy, not the women in these photos—there's an opportunity here to take some less drastic and far less controversial rebranding steps. My unsolicited advice: Keep the nudity and nix the submissive postures and predatory creepshots, re-framing these models (pubes and all) in a strong, modern, human light. Nobody thinks you're a misogynistic sex offender, Paula. Use that.
An American Apparel spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Lede image via Flickr/scottlynchnyc; additional images via American Apparel
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