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Porn Stars In My Underwear
There's sexy advertising, and then there's hiring hot porn starlets to sell tube socks
SF Gate
Mark Morford
June 24, 2005

Oh, I know, it's all horrible and exploitative and demeaning and softcore pornographic and stuff.

It's all destructive and debilitating and morally dubious, the fact that the oddly patriotic clothing company called American Apparel dares to photograph barely of-age girls and boys in sly, smiling, half-lidded, gritty, delightfully sexy poses in order to sell socks and underwear and T-shirts, all manufactured by an L.A.-based company that swears it doesn't employ sweatshop labor and claims it treats its local work force fairly and lovingly and decently, while at the same time it has zero moral issue with hiring -- has anyone noticed? -- true-blue porn starlet and AVN Performer of the Year Lauren Phoenix to model their tube socks and undies and boy-beater tanks.

To which we can only say: God bless them. Mostly.

Oh my yes. This is the new thing. This is the latest salvo, the next iteration of advertising savvy and no-holds-barred guerrilla marketing to make you go, oooh.

Lauren Phoenix, down-home and wholesome and girl-next-doorish and star of such family-friendly video delights as "Anal Delinquents," "Angels of Debauchery," "Assploitation 2" and "Assploitation 4" and "Full Throttle Anal" (among many, many others), now appearing in casual ads for inexpensive brand-free all-American clothing.

Phoenix is lovely. She is nubile and good and makes angels want to drink heavily and belch. And she makes tube socks look more orgasmic than a tongue vibrator strapped to a wood nymph in a vat of liquid chocolate sighs.

Can we not love the irony? Socks and tank tops and porn stars? Can we not love how the Religious Right must be gnawing off its own arm in appalled self-righteous indignation at the whole thing, even as it secretly buys Phoenix's movies in bulk?

And can we not love the sweet dichotomy of a company that touts its sweatshop-free humanitarianism and simple brand-free design aesthetic as a major selling point in one breath, while in the next it happily hires multitalented orally gifted gluteally accomplished porn starlets to complement its already quite stunning array of young, nonprofessional models, most of whom are "real" girls and some of whom are even the company's own employees? Natasha! Nour! Xochielt! Oh my. Makes those tired Victoria's Secret catalogs look like your dad's 1982 Playboys.

Have you heard of American Apparel? Spreading fast, it is, opening multiple open-aired clean-cut brand-free stores across the nation and across five countries and they are, apparently, a big hit with hot urban chicks and lesbians and DJs and club kids and sporty types and grungy '70s-inspired dudes who like to wear floppy hair and multiple layers of really simple clothing covered by nicely made hoodies of various primary colors, all without actually thinking they're attaching themselves to a brand or a logo or a "look," even though, of course, they very much are.

American Apparel. It was founded and is run by a talented and sexually nutty and increasingly notorious, mutton-chopped, '70s-happy 36-year-old dude named Dov Charney, one of the more unique and controversial and libidinously open CEOs in all of corporate America, unafraid and unabashed and just a little greasy (click here to see a video interview with Charney, via Lou Dobbs).

And Dov, well, he happily indulges in consensual sexual relationships with members of his staff, and he uses tons of raunchy language in the workplace and posts old shots from Penthouse magazine up in his stores to complement the racy retro hipster club-kid design aesthetic, all despite a slew of sexual-harassment lawsuits now winging his way, fast.

Charney takes many of the company's beautifully racy ad photos himself. He encourages a sexually open workplace atmosphere. He works not at all to hide his predilections, and most people claim he has never done anything that hasn't been fully consensual, out in the open. And, according to this BusinessWeek article, he pays his largely Latino factory workers nearly twice the minimum wage, and gives them health insurance, subsidized lunches and paid time off to take English classes on the premises.

To which you're like, no way! Companies still do that? In this corrupt, greedy, outsourced, BushCo-ravaged age? An age when even all-American icon Levi's are now made in foreign factories? And American Apparel can still make a profit? Why, yes. And a quite large one, at that. Amazing, is what it is.

There are, of course, problems. Charney is, apparently, in trouble with harassment lawsuits, with complaints, all surrounding his unorthodox approach, his attitude, his propensity to masturbate, like, all the time.

He is a self-professed "hustler." Women either love him and date him or complain bitterly of the flagrantly sexist workplace and blatant favoritism and general pervy creepiness on the part of Dov, and there was, apparently, a very strange article about Charney in adorably snarky Jane magazine a while back, wherein Charney performed oral sex with a female employee and masturbated in front of the interviewer multiple times, with full awareness and consent all around. Note to most flabby American CEOs: Don't even think about it.

But of course, it can be easily argued this behavior is no worse, no weirder (and in fact might be a whole lot better, given its openness) than most every other company where all the kink and all the sexism is hushed up and all the dating takes place behind closed doors and all the executive masturbation happens on the copy machine and the workplace problems manifest in myriad other ugly and depressing and cubicle-pummeled ways.

The truth is, I have little idea as to the convoluted sexual politics of American Apparel, or its perv-o-matic owner. And I don't wear the clothes. It might very well be the coolest, hippest clothing retailer to work for in the U.S. right now, or it might be the weirdest, most sexist, most perverted and slimy. Maybe it's both. Depends on who you ask. Or who you've slept with. Or how many of the company's bitchin' boy-beater tank tops you own.

But you really must applaud the advertising, the unabashed sexiness, the open appeal to youthful sensuality sans explicit raunch or the typical hints of pedophilia or abuse or typical obnoxious modeling gloss.

There is, for example, no silicone. There is no collagen. No Botox. There is no obvious retouching and no major Photoshopping to eliminate bulge or nipple or shiny forehead and there is occasional body flab and stocky leg and there are plenty of "average" (read: nonanorexic) female body types, and as mentioned all the models are amateurs, real women and men, and each is funky and ethnically mixed and unexpected, and Charney even leaves in the red eye and the sweaty lips and the odd angles and there is an air of salty delicious intimate funk to the pictures that makes you go, now this is what T-shirts should really be all about.

Is it lightly pornographic? Why yes, yes it is. Is that such a horrible thing? The fact that healthy nonretouched youthful multiethnic sexuality is being flaunted in the face of FCC crackdowns and rampant right-wing homophobia and screeching Focus on the Family dogma and Laura Bush?

Oh, I know, it's all just sly marketing BS. This ain't exactly revelation, a new sexual revolution. But then again, doesn't it help counter the dark and rigid forces of the culture, just a little? Or does it contribute to them? You be the judge. I vote for the former.

And yes, Dov Charney might indeed be a slimeball sexist. But they hired Lauren Phoenix, which is just one more step toward the mainstreaming of porn in America, for good or ill but mostly good but maybe a little too much ill, simultaneously. But to my mind, in the war against rigid sexless sanctimonious groupthink, porn stars in tube socks are a very positive thing indeed.

Oh, and by the way: Abercrombie & Fitch, you have so been served.