Feb 7, 2011

Cool vs. Camp

bodysuit, AA.  cargo leggings, Express.  boots, Harley Davidson.

Photography by Ian Tak Momyer

Back in the ‘aughts, American Apparel, or AA as bloggers have ironically shortened it, held a luster, a brightly colored, tight fitting, cotton jersey, gay friendly luster.  The bravado of their Terry Richardson-esque marketing campaign, raccoon-eyed prepubescent looking models bearing skin like credit card wielding daddy’s girls had become some sort of visual definition of hipster cool.  ‘Hipster’ itself is a slippery term, stigmatized by some and embraced by others. Who even knows what ‘hipster cool’ means anymore (I’m not going to attempt to define it here)?   I don’t think AA had any idea; otherwise they would have bottled it, mixed it with new ideals and remained cool to this day.  But they didn’t.  They’ve gone from ironically fashionable with their over-priced organic tees, nylon fanny packs, and multi-functional dresses to a tragic display of soft-core porn.  AA is crotch shots next to close-ups of cute girls with nerdy plastic frames, most likely housing fake lenses.  It’s fashion retail’s version of the virgin/whore dichotomy; sometimes the AA girl is all tutus and innocence, then she puts on the metallic gold bodysuit, arches her back, lets her hair hang down, and puts her hands places unacceptable for the ten-year-old at the bus stop staring at an upturned copy of the City Paper, lewd whorish spread on the back cover.

There’s been a porno edge to AA since it’s inception, but it worked in the beginning, it was just shocking enough to make you say “hmmm,” and promptly enter the jersey knit and lamé wonderland to find yourself enthralled by the sheer quantity of t-shirt reversions and tops, dresses, and scarves that had a zillion different ways to be worn.  They went for comfort, and economy; a $38 jersey knit dress could become a halter-top, a skirt, and five different dresses.  I’m poor, sometimes sartorially inventive, and downright fickle when it comes to clothes…I was AA’s target consumer, and they won me over with not-so-basic basics.  It all started with a navy blue jersey scarf, the gateway drug.  That was followed by slinky U-back dresses that promptly became a mainstay in my daily dress code…next came leggings…thigh-high socks…bandeau bras…and bodysuits.  Those were the days when everything was functional and had no message aside from “legalize gay.”

Flash-forward to the present day, AA has been through some shit, some badmouthing by the very slew of twenty-somethings who, just a few years earlier, were eating their stock up.  Their hiring practices came under scrutiny when some sort of dictatorial by-laws surfaced that said ‘No’ to things like gauged ears, tattoos, and bangs (?!), all aesthetic elements present on my local AA staffers.  I read a story on Racked NY about AA’s line of nail polishes exploding on the shelves; never good for the gauntlet that is the blogger/consumer rumor mill of free marketing.  And now, they’ve taken the porno ad campaign thing to a whole new and weird level.  The ads can best be described as watercolor porn, sketches of blonde, 80’s style women with exposed breasts wearing AA lingerie, mostly in the act of removing said lingerie.  Poignantly described by illustrator and fellow blogger Claire Napier as being “like a Judy Blume Nightmare,” it’s hard to discern if AA was going for camp, or if they actually think that these comely women are tastefully portrayed.  As a culture we’ve been so jaded by commercial sex via photographic impressions and video capture of the “real” that it takes a sketch artist who happens to be really good at drawing one thing, naked women, to make us say, “WTF…this shouldn’t be so commonplace!”  

Props to Boris Lopez (the artist) for his mad skills with the pencil and watercolors, I mean, the guy’s got talent.  And I really don’t have a problem with pictures of naked girls; we’re all so far beyond squeamishness as a result of an exposed nipple at this point.  But is that the danger of oversaturation realized?  It’s all familiar and clichéd, even for that ten-year-old at the bus stop.

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Claire said...

This is a good read, of the type where I read it, ponder a while, return later and read it again, then ponder more.

Not just because that's my naaame up in there. That's a bonus!

I'm unkeen enough on the AA advert style that the only time I buy their stock is by accident, because indie brands often use their massive range of t-shirt colours to put their graphics on..

Claire said...

That bodysuit does look grand on you though.

K8 said...

Haha...thanks Claire..yeah, I don't shop there anymore, but my collection of AA pieces remain staples. I love this bodysuit! I also inadvertently buy t-shirts that are AA, but it's pure concert-going merch force.


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