Like a Car Wreck: You Just Can't Look Away

Dov Charney

Dov Charney

So, one of the reasons I chose American Apparel to cover this semester is because I am fascinated by the company’s CEO, a bizarre Jewish Canadian guy named Dov Charney.

Charney has become infamous in the retail world for his unusual business practices–both good and bad. In the good column: He’s completely against sweatshop labor. He pays his employees a minimum of $12 an hour, and he provides them with benefits. In the bad column: Charney has had at least five sexual harrassment suits brought against him, four of which have been settled out of court.

(Also, just for good measure, Woody Allen is suing Charney for the use of his image in an LA billboard.)

Maybe the singular most controversial aspect of Mr. Charney besides the harrassment allegations levied by former workers is his marketing scheme. The photos that appear in American Apparel ads have come under fire many times throughout the company’s existance. The photos often feature tiny girls and guys who look underage, wearing a single piece of skimpy clothing. The photos have been compared to pornography, and Charney does most of the photography himself.

Billboard in Lower Manhattan in 2007

Billboard in Lower Manhattan in 2007

So, what’s more disturbing than Dov Charney’s prepubescent-porn creative vision?

Dov Charney in the nude.

A former American Apparel IT worker, Roberto Hernandez, has charged that Charney conducted business meetings at his LA home in the nude, tried to cook accounting books, and took employees to strip joints under the quise of marketing.

As reported in InformationWeek.com, Charney instructed Hernandez to electronically manipulate American Apparel’s inventory records “in order to lure potential investors to put up capital in the hopes the inflated inventory would pass an audit by another investor,” according to the lawsuit.

You’d think that since we’re in the midst of one of the worst-ever economic crises, the media would ignore the craziness surrounding American Apparel and its CEO. Still, the hot mess that is Dov Charney has continued to capture the interest of mainstream media:

Portfolio just featured a profile of Dov Charney on its cover.

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