An American Apparel internal memo leaked yesterday — and it offers a totally different take on the t-shirt company's contretemps with the director Woody Allen than that voiced in the media by the company lawyers.
Allen is suing American Apparel for putting his picture on billboards in Los Angeles and New York City's Lower East Side back in 2007.
Image via Curbed LA
The image, a still from Annie Hall (from the scene where Allen, eating dinner with Annie's family in character as Alvy Singer, imagines himself through Annie's very Gentile grandmother's eyes — or, maybe, it's some combination of how he imagines the grandma sees him, and how he imagines himself at that moment). The Yiddish text, which, along with that prominent American Apparel logo, overlays the still, translates to "the holy rebbe."
The company didn't have the director's permission to associate his likeness with its brand, and now Allen wants $10 million in compensation.
So far, American Apparel's legal team, led by lawyer Stuart Slotnick, has focused its efforts entirely on attacking Allen's image. Slotnick said the director "devalued his reputation by becoming involved with his lover Mia Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, whom he later married," and that therefore, his image on some billboards oughtn't be worth anything close to $10 million. Slotnick also requested, during the discovery period, the nude photos of Previn, taken by Allen, that Mia Farrow found when she discovered Allen had been sleeping with her daughter.
But! "Dov (and everyone else at the company) LOVES Woody Allen," says memorandum-writer "Iris", who is undoubtedly Iris Alonzo, a company creative director and Dov's assistant. Alonzo has modeled for the brand; there was a photo of Dov kissing her in reporter Claudine Ko's infamous Jane article (that was the one where Ko described Dov masturbating in front of her), and the only picture on Alonzo's profile on the company website looks like exactly what it is: her ass with a red handprint on it.
Back in 2005, Alonzo claimed in an American Apparel ad to be busy reading The Collapse Of The Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom by Philip K. Howard. Which must have been as formative as it was informative, for now, she wishes to share her insight into the real nature of the company's sticky situation with Allen.
"Some of you may know," Alonzo writes in the memo, "that the billboards with Woody Allen's picture, and the text 'Our Spiritual Leader' (that's what the Hebrew [sic] letters said) were intended to be a social statement and not an ad. We making [sic] a comparison between Woody Allen and Dov and the scene in Annie Hall where Alvi [sic] is judged by his girlfriend's grandmother. At the time, many people consumed [sic] with the sexual harassment lawsuits that we were facing, and through that experience, we saw firsthand what media scandal feels like and how quickly the truth gets lost."
The memo goes on to say the billboard "was in no way intended to sell clothing," and that the statements made by Slotnick, the company's lawyer, about Allen's compromised reputation "aren't inaccurate" (although Alonzo seems to mean to say that they are inaccurate, since she takes pains to point out Charney's deep and abiding respect for the director and his work — "For the 5 years that I've worked here, I can't tell you how many times I've been made to watch Annie Hall or Zelig or Hannah and Her Sisters again because Dov wanted me to see something amazing just 'one more time.' "). Alonzo also denies Slotnick tried to get the nude photos of Previn: "We did not request the nude photos of Soon Pi [sic] (Woody's wife) and I'm sorry if any of you were under that impression."
The memo wraps up, "for everyone not directly involved, I hope you can trust that we will adhere to the ethical principles that this company believes in." (Alonzo may display an almost touching innocence of conventional English spelling, punctuation and grammar, but she has a certain knack for comedy.)
So there we have it: American Apparel's grand counter-argument is a denial that gigantic billboards with the company's logo (and extensive use of the Allen billboard image online) do not constitute advertising, and that the lawyer in their employ doesn't actually speak for them. And what was supposed to be American Apparel's commentary on "how quickly the truth gets lost" when salacious sex cases make the headlines (by the way, Iris, those vintage 2007 sexual harassment lawsuits? Plenty are still ongoing!) ended up with the company trying those very smear tactics against Allen, because of salacious sex allegations. Which isn't just "ironic", it's actually ironic, if you think about it.
The case goes to court on May 18.
Related: Breaking: Woody Allen on Alvarado/Sunset [Curbed LA]
Woody Allen In Legal Battle With American Apparel [WCBS]
Iris [American Apparel]
Meet Your New Boss [From Jane, via OneAngryGirl, PDF]
American Apparel Plays Hide The Quarter [The Spunker]