Yesterday, Downtown’s often debated American Apparel shared something extremely interesting: pieces of their history. By way of a very subtle and tiny Facebook album, they shared classic advertisements from the years Am Appy was just a baby company, only selling lady’s t-shirts without showing the lady’s breasts. It’s a fascinating visual read, tracing from quarter or eighth of page advertisements in 1995 to 2012’s near fashion editorial advertisements.
“For nearly a decade, American Apparel’s provocative ads have been at the forefront of our worldwide success, always standing out from our peers,” the Advertising section on their website says, obviously alluding to the antics that have gotten them both good and bad press. But, in the beginning, they were actually a South Carolina brand who just made bulk t-shirts. They didn’t have the Helvetica, they didn’t have bags with international capitals, nor did they even have their iconic logo: they were just any local t-shirt maker.
Above is one of their first advertisements, where the girls are representing mid-nineties realness super hard, but not pushing any envelopes just yet. This kept on through 1997, while they were still in South Carolina. Taking a gap through 1998, assumedly to rebrand and settle, the brand landed in Los Angeles and their advertising had a decided shift in tone, taking on racier territory, using bawdier slogans and–you know–titties and asses to sell. “Our ads feature the familiar faces and backsides of fans, friends and employees,” they declare, which obviously started happening in 1999, the big city tainting their Southern sensibilities.
As you can see in the header’s (semi-racist) advertisement from 1999, raci(al)ness back then was performed beyond the body and placed onto race: “Our iconic ads reflect the diversity, individuality and independent spirit this company was founded on, with little regard for mainstream advertising trends.” Well, yes, exploiting minority races is very much against regarding mainstream advertising, yes. This is particularly funny because, now, they are obviously still using race and “the oppressed” as a big leverage point to save them, trying to legalize immigrants and LGBT alike to redeem themselves. Back then it was the butt of an advertising joke.
Examining these advertisements really is very interesting and, I’m sure, will be the basis for some smart college student’s smarmy, intelligent, and post-post modern thesis on advertising, sex, and the rise and fall (and maybe rise again?) for American Apparel. Time will tell.