By Allen Moore / AIMStudios of Virginia, LLC
In the world of fashion, American Apparel is an anomaly. Founded in 1989 by Dov Charney as a bootstrap operation (selling printed t-shirts out of his dorm room), the company rapidly grew into the largest (if not only) major U.S. apparel label with domestic operations. The company is known for taking on major social issues of the day (immigration, labor standards and marriage equality are among the more prominent) with a fervor worthy of evangelism – on the progressive side of the aisle. Unlike the majority of Corporate America, American Apparel occupies a unique niche in the culture wars.
Financial problems – which nearly bankrupted the company – notwithstanding, American Apparel has made headlines over the years with its eyebrow-raising advertising strategies. In the U.S., UK and Australia, AA has run afoul of advertising standards on several occasions, the most recent being a decision in the company’s favor by the Australian Advertising Standards Board – after the new CEO quietly mentioned that the company’s advertising methods were undergoing a remake.
What is causing all the wailing and gnashing of teeth? The appearance of nipples and pubic hair in AA’s lingerie photos, that’s what. Again, American Apparel is an anomaly – until recently, it was the only mainstream advertiser that allowed either nipples or pubic hair (or both, in AA’s case) in print media. A quick scan of contemporary lingerie advertising reveals absolutely nothing – not a nipple nor a stray pubic hair is to be found anywhere.
Part of this is due to the “here today, gone tomorrow” depiction of pubic hair in art through the ages. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all preferred the hairless look, and a study of classical nude art from the Renaissance through the mid-19th century shows that hairless female vulva were the norm. Until 1866, that is, when Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde turned the art world on its head. So scandalous was this painting, it was not publicly displayed with any permanence until its acquisition by the Musée d’Orsay in 1995.
Prior to the 1980’s, it mostly mattered not to American women whether they sported a full bush or not. If we look at the lovely work of Alfred Cheney Johnston or Albert Arthur Allen from the first few decades of the 20th century, we find a mixed bag of hairless vulva and full bush – but nothing in between. Close trimming (e.g., the “landing strip”) would not become fashionable until much later – when the J. Sisters opened a salon in 1987 in midtown Manhattan, offering a “Brazilian Wax” treatment – complete removal of all hair from the nether regions.
The J. Sisters started a trend which continues today. The porn industry eagerly embraced the hairless look, and skimpier bikinis and lingerie exacerbated it. A study by researchers at Indiana University (you read that right – Indiana University) revealed that a majority of American women between the ages of 18 to 29 prefer the smooth shaved (or waxed) look, or at the very most, a landing strip.
American Apparel, partly in response to continued advertising bans and partly because of the uproar around founder Dov Charney’s ouster by the company’s board of directors, has been quietly retouching its archived lingerie images to remove nipples and especially the models’ pubic hair. This has not gone unnoticed. Writer Nora Crotty, in the Fashionista.com blog, presents the position, “Why American Apparel’s new vanilla marketing strategy — obliterating models’ body parts — is alienating an important group of people: its faithful female fans.” (http://fashionista.com/2015/03/american-apparel-airbrush-nipples)
Whether the strategy will revive the company’s sagging fortunes remains to be seen. But there is doubtless a cadre of loyal fans who believe in the natural look. In case American Apparel executives are reading this, I thought it would be interesting to present some of their lingerie in a style befitting the company’s origins.
The wonderful Tiffany Helms is our model here. Early in her career, she followed the hairless trend; lately she has decided to differentiate herself as a “totally natural” model – she doesn’t shave at all. For this series, I selected two styles of bottoms – a boyshort and a mid-rise thong, and two bra styles – a demi-cup underwire and a full coverage bralette. These styles were selected especially because they are sheer.
We used three presentation styles. The first is a fairly standard catalog / lookbook style which shows that the inclusion of nipples and pubic hair can contribute to the way the lingerie looks in real life (assuming the customer has chosen not to shave), or it can be hidden and still show the style of the garment.
The second is what the industry terms “line sheet” illustrations. These are detailed photographs that show the construction of the garment in close-up detail. Here, the model’s “natural bits” are a prominent part of how the lingerie will look in the real world. With line sheet illustrations, the model is of secondary importance to the display of the garment. In fact, many line sheet photos are made with mannequins. I prefer to use real models; in my opinion, this technique does a better job of rendering how it will drape on the customer.
The third presentation is more editorial in nature. Tiffany is in her element here, creating artistic compositions in which the lingerie plays a supporting role. She has a very limber body, which she uses to great advantage in showing how comfortable she can be while moving around in extreme positions, even while wearing lingerie. Comfort, after all, is a key selling point. That, and the ability of the fashion to make the customer feel sexy.
So, is American Apparel – or any other lingerie manufacturer – ready for the natural look?
Article author & photography: Allen Moore
Model: Tiffany Helms
Hair, makeup & wardrobe styling: Caroline Langdon
Wardrobe: American Apparel
Location: AIMStudios of Virginia, LLC
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