I was prompted to write this article not because of the ongoing tsunami of advertising that invades my inbox from American Apparel (AA) but because of their most recent advertising campaign, ‘Cali Fun & Sun’. I confess, sometimes I’m a fan of AA’s ‘un-airbrushed’ advertisements and professed commitment to featuring girls of all shapes, sizes and colours. But there’s something about this particular ad campaign that makes me feel a little bit squeamish.
Much of AA’s advertising has been shot and influenced by notorious ‘uber-creep’ Terry Richardson. An extensive Jezebel article sums up why he is the most “fucked up fashion photographer ever”. It highlights accusations of sexual harassment against him, detailing an interview he gave for The Observer where he confessed to have an intern whose duties included, “doing his dishes and posing for photos fellating Richardson from the kitchen trash can while wearing a tiara that reads ‘slut’”. It also quoted him as saying that in order to break into the modelling industry, “it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.” The myriad of quotes from this sexist turd make me ill and if you’re thinking – so the guy’s a dick, that doesn’t mean his photos are bad – I urge you to Google his pics.
AA is also owned and run by multi-millionaire creep, Dov Charney. He’s a fashion pioneer in sweat-shop free production, but he seems to think that this gives him the right to mistreat his staff. Since the early 2000s he has been fighting off law suits from employees, accusing him of various offences. One 21-year-old woman alleged that he kept her as a “prisoner” and as his sex slave. Charney denies everything, except for the fact that he says ‘slut’ in front of employees and does not consider that offensive. Aside from battling law suits, it’s worth pointing out that Charney does photograph some of AA’s ads, a number of which have been banned in the UK for featuring models that look underage. If you’re still not convinced, just look at the Swedish clothing company who photographed male models in the same poses as AA’s female models; you might get a glimpse of Charney’s thought processes.
Although many past campaigns have not been without controversy over sexism, I was able to put up with them to an extent because, while demeaning, they have featured un-airbrushed, ‘real’ looking women. Plus, the sex sells marketing technique is hardly unique. But ‘Cali Fun & Sun’ is different. It features self-described ‘audio/visual/sex artist’ Bunny Holiday, who has carved a career out of her child-like looks. She’s done this through dressing in school girl-esque outfits and producing videos in which she encourages her audience not to worry about her “tender young flesh” and to “just eat the cherry cream”. Now it’s possible that there’s a not-so-clever parody here but that’s beside the point. In my opinion Bunny Holiday can do whatever she likes in the realm of ‘slutwave’ (whatever that is) but her AA campaign changes the game. When one of the world’s major fashion retailers decided to feature Bunny they actively promoted the infantialisation of women and the early sexualisation of young girls.
When I look at Bunny Holiday in her metallic spandex non-clothes I see a tall eleven-year-old in ‘clothes’ that are designed for women with A-cup breasts or smaller, and that freaks me out. What troubles me the most, however, is Bunny’s face – the wide-eyed stare that she has perfected throughout her video career gazes at you in every shot – she knows she looks underage and she’s daring you to go there, and so are AA.