By AMANDA MARTINEZ
Angelina Pacado, co-owner of West Wind Automotive near 15th Street and Valencia, was clear about why she objects to American Apparel moving into the neighborhood. “He does a good thing because he hires a lot of Asian and Latino immigrants in Los Angeles, but I find he’s also exploited younger girls so I do not want to have him here.The way younger girls are photographed is offensive,” said the 40-year-old who was still recovering from a half-marathon she ran over the weekend.
Up the block, Jeff Farnsworth of Farnsworth 20th Century Design, also raised the issue. “The individual himself is questionable,” he said, referring to American Apparel owner Dov Charney. Charney, he said, had been involved in sexual harassment lawsuits.
Pacado and Farnsworth were among the few to address an issue that has earned Charney notoriety elsewhere. Activists, bloggers and journalists from around the world have written unforgiving posts calling Charney exploitative, equating his company’s advertisements to soft porn.
American Apparel’s founder, creative director and CEO Dov Charney has said in numerous interviews that he takes most of the photos of the young women and men. In a 2007 CBS interview with John Blackstone, Charney explained that he photographs—sometimes in his own home—employees, friends and girls he meets on the street for the company’s advertising campaigns.
Once inside the store locations, well-intentioned shoppers eager to buy fair-wage, sweatshop-free and wholesale-priced hoodies will often find themselves surrounded by ’70s-era vintage porn displayed on the walls, and graphic magazines at the cash register. As others have discovered, sex sells.
At the newest American Apparel store in Union Square, graphic ads—such as one of a girl wearing only underwear while straddling a child’s toy—are displayed downstairs away from store windows. Sales Associate Pete Ryan said that in the four weeks the store has been open he hasn’t heard any complaints from community members or shoppers.
Charney’s advertisements haven’t been the only reason some have heard about him. He became notorious in 2004 for masturbating during an interview with Jane magazine reporter Claudine Ko. In an issue of BusinessWeek a year later, Charney explained he had befriended Ko over the course of the two months it took her to research the piece. “I’ve never done anything sexual that wasn’t consensual,” he said.
Some of his employees would disagree. In January 2008 the Los Angeles Times reported that Charney has four sexual harassment cases against him. According to the report, Charney has denied all of the allegations.
However, in July 2006 he testified in a deposition for one lawsuit brought by former employee Mary Nelson that at work he sometimes referred to women as sluts and used explicit terms for the female body. He also argued that taking off his pants at his work place was appropriate given that he is the company’s underwear model.
“There were months I was in my underwear all the time. It became very common,” he said, according to the deposition that later aired on MSNBC.
According to records filed at the Los Angeles superior court, there are seven civil lawsuits filed against Charney, all related to employment complaints, wrongful termination or civil harassment. Of the seven cases, which date back to 2001, three have been dismissed, three are pending, and one has been moved to the federal courts.
When asked about the issue of sexual harassment lawsuits and their status, Ryan Holiday, a spokesperson for American Apparel, said he would not comment because “the suits are shrouded around controversy.” He directed Mission Loc@l readers to an article published by HollywoodInterrupted.com last November. He said the article is a good representation of their side in four of the cases.
Holiday would only go on to say that sexual harassment charges tend to be common in the fashion industry. “It is something I think follows fashion personalities,” he said.
On his personal website, Charney remains unapologetic for his overt sexuality. He writes: “Sexual freedom, art and photography are important to me,” and “At times, to make progress, you end up offending people. And people were offended by many things I have done over the years. But I did what I felt was right, especially from an art and creative point of view.”