While Australian heartthrobs 5 Seconds of Summer compel us to envision frontman Luke Hemmings’ small-town hookup wearing his American Apparel underwear and listening to a mixtape straight out of ’94 (a mere two years shy of Hemmings’ birth), American Apparel founder Dov Charney has been run out on a rail. The company released a statement Wednesday declaring that Charney has been removed from his duties as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors.
The decision comes as a result of Charney’s infamous sexual deviancy and poor public image, and the fact that these are in no way helping to alleviate the financial troubles that have plagued the company over the past half-decade. The new Internet Age of conscientiousness about sexual assault has created a young public that eschews the exploitation of women and sees Charney as less of a bad boy and more of a scumbag.
Dov Charney’s spotted reputation extends backward for some time. Since 2000, the former American Apparel CEO has been the target of half a dozen or so sexual harassment lawsuits, none of which have yet resulted in his guilt thanks to a mandatory secrecy agreement signed by all AA models. (He was also sued, not coincidentally, by fellow alleged sex offender and Los Angeles Jewish person Woody Allen.) In addition to these suits, Charney has been accused of terminating employees on the basis of ugliness, holding meetings while stimulating himself or wearing only a sock, and calling his female employees colorful terms unfit for publication. He has also been criticized for the overt sexuality of his advertisements, many of which he photographs himself, particularly when they feature teenage girls.
While sexual assault is completely indefensible, Charney, as a person, may not be. His company’s ads are simultaneously praised for their lack of airbrushing, presenting the human body in its natural form (even if it’s exclusively the natural form of the young, slim, and attractive). He strongly supports immigration reform, being the grandson of an immigrant and the Southern Californian employer of many immigrants. He famously avoids job exportation by keeping his company’s goods Made In America, and best of all, he’s well known for paying his factory workers relatively handsomely, often exceeding double the minimum wage, and offering them affordable health coverage.
So if it turns out, when all is said and done, that Charney is in fact a bag of scum, an important question arises: should we stop buying American Apparel underwear (or listening to 5 Seconds of Summer, for that matter)? The question is intimately related to the matter of whether and how the status of an artist affects the status of her art. If the allegations against Woody Allen turn out to be true, should we stop watching Sleeper, or should we consider artists’ lives and works independently? Or, as with Van Gogh or Cobain, do the artist’s flaws in some way produce the art? In such cases art admirers must begrudgingly be thankful for the shortcomings of the artist.
Is Dov Charney’s inappropriate lust for the young human body what has allowed him to decorate it so well?
In any case, he’s gone now, so buy all the underwear you want.