Cynical Picture Emerges In 'Splasher' Mystery

After the Splasher strikes, the scene is the same: tossed paint upon street art and a mumbo jumbo
After the Splasher strikes, the scene is the same: tossed paint upon street art and a mumbo jumbo "manifesto." (By David Segal -- The Washington Post)

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By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 10, 2007

NEW YORK -- For months, a minor mystery has beguiled the hipsters of this city: Who is splashing paint on New York's highest-profile graffiti?

Late last year, someone with nerve, time and a taste for vivid colors began to deface walls where stars of the semi-underground world of graffiti have left their handiwork. The aftermath always looks the same: a piece of "street art," as it's called by fans, covered in gobs of haphazardly tossed paint, with a pretentious manifesto pasted nearby. "Avant-Garde: Advance Scouts for Capital" reads the headline. Most the copy is mumbo jumbo like this: "A fetishized action of banality, your work is a trough for the gallery owners and critics."

Who would deface graffiti, of all things? And what is "fetishized action" anyway? Nobody has caught the Splasher, as he or she has come to be known, leaving room for abundant speculation on local blogs and, more recently, in stories in New York magazine and the New York Times.

But now a suspect has emerged: American Apparel.

Yes, the Los Angeles-based clothing chain that sells slim-fitting "baby rib crop" T-shirts to 22-year-olds. To date, the company has been known primarily for its hasty expansion -- there are two stores in the D.C. area and more than 140 other locations in the United States and elsewhere -- and for the saucy, amateur-porn style of its advertising. That, plus the exploits of the company's founder, Dov Charney, the randy 38-year-old chief executive who boasts about his romps with employees and has been sued for sexual harassment. (According to a spokeswoman for the company, Cynthia Semon, one suit was dismissed, one was settled and one is pending.)

The cloud of suspicion settled above American Apparel because a new version of the Splasher manifesto popped up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, apparently on Sunday night. The text and font were identical to the original, but there was a key difference: An ad for American Apparel was stripped across the bottom. "Try this!" the copy reads, next to a guy in a pair of American Apparel green underwear and tube socks.

At first glance, this appears to be a freshly pasted-up manifesto, along with an American Apparel ad, both splashed with bright blue paint. But here's the twist: There are a bunch of these new manifestos, and each one is splashed in exactly the same pattern, and with exactly the same shade of blue. In other words, the image you see at the beginning of this story is a color photocopy -- manifesto, ad and fake splatter, all on one page.

You getting the picture?

Then you know it's time for a phone call to American Apparel.

"I can tell you this didn't come from us," says Semon. "We make ads that are provocative, but we don't splash paint on graffiti."

Semon then says she'll call the company's advertising department, just to double-check. Ten minutes later, the phone rings.

"They laughed," she says. "This has nothing to do with us. The company loves art. Dov's mother is an artist. We've got photographs all over our factory," which is in downtown Los Angeles.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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