I like to think of Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, as the 21st century Andy Warhol. In both good and bad ways . Good because I think it’s brilliant to take such a simple concept of plain shirts, hoodies, and leggings and design them so that they become fashionable and iconic in their own way. Like Andy Warhol, Dov Charney took something extremely familiar and re-created it. With quality, sweatshop-free fabric and innovative design, American Apparel became a huge success. Bad because like Warhol, Dov isn’t exactly doing anything new. He just thought of the concept first.
What I am skeptical about, is Dov Charney’s entrepreneurial tactics. Known for sexually harassing his models and commodifying Woody Allen without his consent, Dov Charney hasn’t always been a model figure as far as CEOs go. Furthermore, some of American Apparel’s ads are pretty much soft porn. If you go to their website, you can find several photos of models posing in see-through leotards, bras that don’t quite fit their breasts, and socks (literally just socks, though). Even though I’m not totally opposed to sexual ads (I mean, that’s what American Apparel is all about. If you disagree, then don’t buy their clothing, right?), but I have noticed that most of the models that wear the skimpiest outfits are female. You don’t see too many male American Apparel models stripped down to nothing. My point is that American Apparel has always been racy. It’s always been the store that puts the “sex” in “sexpensive”.
So when Dov Charney collaborates with 19 year-old artist Petra Collins (and her art platform, The Arduous), why am I still surprised by the results? As in the newest American Apparel product called the “Period Power” tee.
Collins, a former employee of American Apparel, created this image to put “three very taboo topics about female sexuality – ‘pubic hair, masturbation and menstruation’” out in the open for all shoppers to see and potentially purchase. Collins states, “This image is stating that women are not a subordinate creature to just be entered. We are our own beings [in] control of our own sexuality. I find it interesting that images addressing sexuality and reproduction are hidden and often looked at as disgusting.” Collins has also created other graphic tees, including the “Wet Tee” which featured a naked woman’s chest pressed up against a white t-shirt as though it was soaked.
I am all for the celebration of women’s bodies. I want to hide under my covers and eat microwaved butter popcorn, Snickers bars, and Midol all week whenever I have my period, but I do respect the power we women have when we menstruate. It’s natural. It’s feminine. It symbolizes strength in womanhood. There’s no reason to be ashamed about that, and it’s certainly not “disgusting”. In fact, I applaud Collins for being so ballsy and creating a loud discussion about society’s squeamish views on vaginas and periods.
However, wearing a t-shirt that displays a bleeding vagina is maybe going too far. In an interview with OysterMag last year, Petra informed them that she uses her work to force people into confronting a “reality they would rather ignore.” But I think there is a difference between loving and cherishing a woman’s body as an organic whole and explicitly wearing a t-shirt that shows a woman masturbating while she’s on her period. Is this shock value or is this truly confrontational art? Maybe the more important question to be asking is whether wearing this t-shirt is purposely shocking or making a bold, feminist statement.
For all we know, this could be part of Dov Charney’s evil mastermind plan. Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, and I was meaning to order a new hoodie for autumn anyway!