Flickr Creative Commons // Mai Le
My online shopping addiction has gotten me into trouble on occasion, but the latest incident was not due to financial reasons. What began as an innocent attempt to purchase a bandeau warped into what felt like a dirty online porn viewing session. Although my computer hadn’t been spammed, I was being bombarded by images of girls in strange poses, their eyes and nipples too glaring into my soul, convincing me to buy… a transparent metallic lace leotard? Welcome to americanapparel.net.
American Apparel has an oddly dichotomic brand image, making it the perfect company to represent the U.S.A. While it flaunts commitment to fighting sweatshops and using organic materials, the past seven years have been a more of a flurry of controversy full of court cases, boycotts and bankruptcy rumors. The advertising that caught me off guard — and created a circle of girls clustered around my computer expressing a look of shock, disgust and intrigue — has often been the eye of the media storm focused on the company.
Yes, Fashion is an art form, and American Apparel’s main customer base is a trendy and forward thinking group likely unconcerned with the amount of cleavage or contortionist flexibility of the models. It’s true that advertising is sexual and provocative. Sex sells…most of the time. Does it, however, when we are too distracted by the odd and borderline vulgar use of said sex to notice what we are supposed to be buying?
The content of scantily clad women in compromising positions shouldn’t be new to any of us that have opened a magazine or set sight on a billboard in recent years. The styling, however, is what really makes the difference and gives the shock factor in the American Apparel ads. In what the company calls an attempt to use “real girls,” the images featuring average sized models with little make up and natural lighting project an almost voyeuristic feel, as if the viewer is catching the models in an everyday setting rather than at a photo shoot. Consequently, sexy quickly turns to creepy. This styling is in stark contrast to the overly stylized, fantasy world of other brands famous for using sex in advertising such as Guess and CK. The two jeans giants’ print ads typically feature standard models and actors in equally sexual poses, but in a more artistic manner, often shot in black and white, ergo furthering the viewer’s distance from the subject.
The super sexed up ads currently gracing American Apparel’s lingerie page may just be another cry for attention from the brand. Yet, considering the company’s recent financial trouble and continual claims against CEO Dov Charney for sexual misconduct, it may want to develop another method to promote leopard print leggings and ice skater dresses.