A topless woman wearing skin-hugging tights. Another woman wearing a see-through t-shift that exposes her nipples. Yet another photo of a woman's rear-end, with someone pulling down her panties and exposing her buttocks.
These are among the racy ads that have come to define American Apparel (APP), and which were the brainchild of its founder, Dov Charney. But despite Charney's surprise ouster on Wednesday, the company said in a statement sent to CBS MoneyWatch that its "philosophy is unchanged. The company has a strong creative team and design department, and they will continue to do their thing."
While the advertisements are often criticized as racy, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority has held a more grim view of the marketing campaign, ruling that it sexualized a model who appeared to be younger than 16. (The company denied that the model was underage.) But others championed Charney's vision, given that under his leadership the company reached out to the LGBT community and put out an open call for "transgendered/transsexual" models, and also featured a 62-year-old, grey-haired model.
"Sex is inextricably linked to fashion and apparel," Charney told the public-radio show Marketplace earlier this year. "And it has been and always will be. And our clothing is connected to our sexual expression so of course, advertising related to clothing, there's going to be a sexual connection forever, whether it's Calvin Klein, American Apparel, or brands we haven't even contemplated."
Asked if he ever thought his campaigns had gone too far, Charney responded, "Absolutely." So what happened next, in those cases? "We put up another [billboard]," he said.
In the case of Charney's ads, what's appealing to one consumer may be repugnant to another. In my hometown of Burlington, Vermont, one local newspaper, Seven Days (for which I've freelanced), has long come under fire for running American Apparel ads on its back page. While some see sexual liberation, others see degrading and exploitative messages.
"Don't you have a moral obligation, as a newspaper that seems to thrive on reporting on many local, moral issues, to send respectful messages about girls and women -- and everyone else?" one local reader wrote earlier this month.
Charney's dismissal comes after he has been plagued by misconduct accusations, including lawsuits for sexual harassment.
"We take no joy in this, but the Board felt it was the right thing to do," Allan Mayer, who was appointed co-chair to replace Charney as chairman, said in statement issued Wednesday. "Dov Charney created American Apparel, but the Company has grown much larger than any one individual and we are confident that its greatest days are still ahead."
Along with its marketing approach, the company said it will remain committed to sweatshop-free clothing that's manufactured in the U.S., the company said.