No Accounting for Taste

About three weeks ago, an American Apparel ad showed up on one of the news websites that I frequent. It struck me as unusual and tasteless, so I downloaded the image for analysis. I checked American Apparel’s website, and the image seems to be part of a broader marketing campaign.

Bear in mind this is my interpretation; I am biased and know it. So what do you see in the ad? What do you think of American Apparel’s campaign? Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments.

Style, Not Substance

Most of the pictures on American Apparel’s website seem like they were home-shot at night using a very basic camera and flash. Models are primarily home-grown-looking ladies and gentlemen doing their best model impression. I like this style on premise: the images appear “spur-of-the-moment” and I think that will hook a generation of instant-satisfaction and spontaneity.

Many of the photos are past flattering. Poses are sexual and clothing is minimal. There are many shots of ladies in little more than undergarments or mesh fabric, or bra-less with jackets open other than a single collar button, or exposing their breasts in rare cases.

The borderline and over-the-line nudity is not a problem itself and it fits into the overall concept of the photo slideshows – average, everyday ladies caught feeling like posing in their American Apparel clothes – but how young the ladies appear is worrisome.

Symbolism & Sex

Anyway; the ad itself.

American Apparel Advertisement
American Apparel advertisement

A bra-less woman wearing booty shorts that sparkle and a see-through “shirt”, drinking from an equally sparkly water container. Note that the low-production value .gif shows pink liquid flowing from the bottle to her mouth and down her chin. She’s also pulling at the edge of her ludicrously sparkly booty shorts.

I assume the sparkles are designed to catch attention. They tend to do that. The only thing I can think they would symbolize is the “shine” of new clothes.

The sheer shirt is another eye-grabber, though my eyes find the water bottle and shorts first. The tugged waistline and pouring pink fluid are the next-noticed parts of the photo: obvious symbols of sexuality. The rest of the shoot is even more sexual.

The ad does get my attention, so it succeeds in the most basic way. Past that, my first reaction was “What the hell?”

Generally clothing brands promote a lifestyle. Based on this ad and similar images found on American Apparel’s website, the lifestyle of the company target demographic is filled with poor lighting and masquerading as a photographer to collect photos of barely-clothed women.

The Bottom Line

The ad and campaign grab attention with sparkles and symbols of sexuality; nothing more. If anything, it implies that American Apparel clothing looks best on the floor. The message it sends to young ladies and hopeful models is equally hollow: “show skin to succeed”.

I think I would react differently if the sexuality was equal. I am glad the ladies in each ad have work and are comfortable enough to show off, but every male model is fully clothed while most of the females are semi-clothed at best (I found only one set involving a shirtless male after about an hour of searching). I guess the company is trying to be empowering, but just comes across like a white panel van with blacked-out windows parked in front of an all-girl private school.


2 thoughts on “No Accounting for Taste”

  1. Your links don’t get me to the relevant shoots, but that’s okay. I looked around on my own.

    I did quickly find a shoot with a male who’s not just shirtless, but in the process of removing/applying pants in most of the photos. I’d like to think that’s graceless pandering towards those who are into men, but I have to concur that he’s still showing less skin.

    It’s a (needlessly?) hypersexualized campaign, for sure, and maybe the photography leaves something to be desired. But I am more than a little impressed by some of the model choices. The man removing his pants has body hair and slender arms, and at least one female model is shown to have (gasp!) skin that folds!

    In conclusion, it did more than catch your eye. It got you talking about it; through you, it got me talking about it. It doesn’t inspire me directly to buy American Apparel but I probably will remember this next time I see the brand, which is infinitely more attention than I would usually give it.

    1. I am glad that you mentioned the models. I think that on the surface it is good to have various body types represented, and I am glad American Apparel is not restricting itself to the usual borderline anorexic models that seem prevalent in the fashion industry.

      I am also glad you noted the ad got us talking. That does mean it is slightly more successful than I say it is, though it seems to me that statement toes the line of “all PR is good PR”. I think that phrase is a delusion shared around boardrooms that is exactly like “I totally meant for that to happen!” The ad did not do what it was intended to do, so it serves only to weaken the brand’s perception. The brand will receive more press from me than it ever would, but it certainly will not receive income (I cannot speak for your intentions to purchase).

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