Friday, 23 September 2011

Bye Bye American Apparel, Hello Nancy Upton!

For a number of reasons, I've always avoided talking about American Apparel on the blog. However, a couple of days ago I came across something that is just too brilliant not to discuss! You may have heard about some of American Apparel's customary activities: coke-fuelled orgies, sexual harassment lawsuits, best ass contests... all the normal occupations of a serious retail company, what? Well, this year, on top of all that, there was the... (drumroll) Next BIG Thing (bahboom-tsh!!!), a contest aimed to find the perfect model for AA's new plus size range of clothing. It worked like this: contestants had to post their pictures on the company's website and the one who got more votes from viewers would be the winner. Enter Nancy Upton, a pretty (and pretty smart) girl from Texas, who decided to participate in the contest not to win, but just to sort of get back at the mildly obnoxious contest slogan, "booty-ful" (it must really have taken a poetry genius to come up with that one). So she posed for her friend Shannon Skloss brilliantly parodiating some of the fashion industry's commonplace ideas about food, fashion, sex and curvy women. The pictures are pretty fantastic.

Nancy didn't count on winning the contest. But she did. And that's where the media circus began.
Instead of being offered the immense privilege of starring in an AA campaign (which offers incalculable professional opportunities, for as we know many of AA's former ad girls have gone on to pursue a profitable career in the porn industry) , Nancy received a letter written by a tantrum-throwing AA employee, scolding miss Upton for her "stunt", and featuring some unforgettable sentences about AA's CEO Dov Charney ("Dov is a great American Industrialist", "we really like Dov and we passionately believe in his vision", "a lot of people would be very sad if this company wasn't around") and about Nancy's photos ("It's a shame your project attempts to discredit our positive intentions", "we have decided to award the prize to someone who truly exemplifies the idea of beauty inside and out"). I wonder why a "serious" company would react to a setback like a high-school mean-girl prom queen realizing that "OMG, the fat girl is now far more popular than me, that's like totally not happening!". Yeah, well... dear American Apparel: bad crisis management.

"Is butter a carb?"

Not that I'm surprised by their bad management; after all, they showcase it repeatedly with their near-bankruptcy business numbers, their lawsuits every other week (by employees who have been sexually harassed or by Woody Allen himself) and their ad campaigns proudly objectifying women. Of course it's probably easier for a company to go awry when 90% of its employees are coked-up high-school dropouts who can barely read but that compensate it by partying 8 days a week and being the coolest people on earth, gold-lamé-spandex style.

Throw in a turquoise lamé headband and this is some people's idea of "too cool for school"

However, I don't think Dov Charney is stupid at all. On the contrary, his business was planned very carefully and with great subtility: by hiring brainless sellers and making them feel cool and sexy and special, he was making sure that those sellers would look at anyone setting foot in the store like they were lepers, and that they would look down on regular customers with the mild annoyment of a star surrounded by autograph-begging fans. As we know (thanks to Mean Girls again), despising a teenage who desperately wants to be modern, and cool, and liked, is a sure-fire way to make him look up to you like you're some sort of Old Testament god. Thus Mister Charney created an army of hipster zombies that would give anything for a piece of clothing that was synonym with "winner".

"Sell us hipster clothes! We can't exist without hipster clothes!"
And who is that glorious Old Testament god? That Zeus who is admired and followed by all hipsterdom like some sort of mix between Elvis and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? Voilà!

"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?"

Dov, as we know, is a Great American Industrialist. He is also, according to himself, a great lover of women; if loving women means throwing them in a not too clean-looking bed and making them look -and feel- like cheap crack whores. What amazes me is the amount of girls who have gladly become submissive floozies for the almighty American Apparel.

"womanhood aka piece of ass"

Or should I say ex- almighty American Apparel? Truth is hipsters have become something of a has-been joke and people are bored with fast fashion (and especially with expensive fast fashion that disintegrates the first time you put it in the washing machine). Let's face it: Mr. Charney got stuck in the noughties and his own success, and now he just doesn't know how to cater to clients in today's recession.

This Next Big Thing thing was nothing but a desperate try to get new customers (can you imagine the looks a 46-size girl would have gotten a couple of years ago had she the temerity to enter an AA store?). Nancy Upton exposed all that with a brilliant - and truly feminist, yay! - statement (cheers, Nancy). "Booty-ful"? I don't think you're ready for this jelly.


  1. This reminds me of the Pantene campaign in Spain.

    It happened last year, in 2010. Pantene made this contest to find the "best Pantene hair". The participants had to shoot themselves sensually moving their hair. The most voted video would become "the best Pantene hair".

    The thing they wouldn't have expected not in a thousand years would have been a heavy, hairy and bearded guy throwing himself a bottle of water on a slow-motion video, really ridiculous and funny at the same time.

    Obviously he was the most voted, and somehow, he turned upside down the whole contest.

    Pantene didn't give him the award, however. Another case of bad contest management.

    Here's the link to the video. You'll have some fun, that's for sure ;)

  2. I can't believe I hadn't heard about this! Thanks for sharing. American Apparels' ads have always rubbed me the wrong way. Nancy's photos are clever, funny, and she's pretty to boot. They should've just gone with it! That probably would have avoided some backlash.

    Also, those tights are ridiculous.

  3. haha so true.
    I feel intimidated walking in AA store. So I just don't shop there.
    Awesome post. Honest and full of humour!


Thanks for your lovely comments.