One of the biggest things that helped American Apparel levitate its image from just hipster to sexy hipster is its non-model policy. The company has proclaimed for years in publications around the world that it does not hire models for its ads, but rather hires normal people or American Apparel employees to strip down and contort themselves into awkward positions for the sake of selling awkward clothing. Heightening their image of realness, they don't use professional makeup artists, stylists (though there's often not a whole lot to style), or airbrushing. However, Jezebel reports that "some of [the women in American Apparel ads] are definitely models. Professional models. Represented by agencies." Jezebel cites Zanita Whittington, a five-foot-eleven-inch professional Australian model who was recently confirmed for an American Apparel gig.
American Apparel has not taken too kindly to Jezebel's accusations of their "lies," and sent us a statement from their creative director, Iris Alonzo:
I'd say that 95% of the people we shoot have never been professionally photographed before, and approximately 50% of those people work for the company in some capacity. I'm excited to work with someone like Zanita, who we found through her blog and whose self-portraits we recently featured in our collaboration with LOOKBOOK.nu. She may be a professional model, but I think she's making more waves with her photography and styling and that's what we'll focus on when we collaborate. In the same vein, I was excited to shoot Martine, a fashion marketing assistant who works at our Los Angeles headquarters, and C Diamond, a retail backstock employee, because their personal style and energy resonates with the brand. What's most important to us is that our photographs and advertisements capture our garments and models as they naturally are.
Our $50/hour flat rate for modeling means we don't have agents knocking on our door too often and we like it that way. Many American Apparel models work with us because they support our company or appreciate our aesthetic, or better yet, they are employees who have helped build the company into what it is today. To me, this is a big part of the reason American Apparel images evoke the emotions that they do.
Even if American Apparel's ads were lies and they did use real models like most fashion companies, what in fashion isn't a lie? Fashion is a business of lying. Getting dressed could be called a lie too. Spanx away a bulge, conceal a blemish, shave away the pit hair, wear contacts instead of glasses. Kelly Cutrone once said, in one of her wisest moments, "We’re all hookers." Maybe all of us with clothes, shaving cream, and a makeup bag are liars, too!