For years, allegations of sexual harassment, even lawsuits alleging such behavior, have shadowed two of the most powerful men in the fashion industry: American Apparel’s Dov Charney and famed photographer Terry Richardson. Both men have prospered, enjoying insulation due to their success and something of an advantage against the young, easily replaceable women — models and employees — they’ve been accused of mistreating.
On Wednesday, Charney, the chairman, CEO, and founder of American Apparel, was ousted by the company’s board. Charney was suspended immediately, and has 30 days before he’s officially fired — known as a cure period — according to the terms of his employment. John Luttrell, the company’s chief financial officer, was appointed interim chief executive. According a release by the company, Charney’s firing was directly linked to an “ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct.”
During Charney’s tenure, the company faced multiple sexual harassment lawsuits alleging Charney’s sexual misconduct, including one by former sales manager Mary Nelson, who said Charney perpetuated a “reign of sexual terror.” That was nearly settled for $1.5 million had it not involved what the Wall Street Journal called a “sham arbitration. ” Charney’s firing came 10 years after a Jane interview that documented Charney masturbating in front of a reporter. In 2008, another former American Apparel employee sued Charney for harassment after he allegedly ordered her and her supervisor to “pretend to masturbate.” “Saturday Night Live” made fun of him in 2008 for his penchant for parading through American Apparel offices in his underpants.
Charney and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations in the suits, dismissing them as shakedowns.
“We take no joy in this, but the Board felt it was the right thing to do,” Allan Mayer, one of two board members who replaced Charney as co-chairmen, said in the statement. “Dov Charney created American Apparel, but the Company has grown much larger than any one individual and we are confident that its greatest days are still ahead.”
Charney is also known as an outspoken proponent of the “Made in the U.S.A.” movement and immigration reform and has decried sweatshops. However, in addition to lawsuits from employees charging sexual harassment, there were also suits about working conditions and compensation. A 2009 immigration investigation found that 1,500 of the company’s 5,600 employees were undocumented — and they had to be laid off.
Charney and Richardson have been instrumental in bringing about the 1980s resurgence that’s dominated everyday fashion in recent years. They have, through a relentless, neverending stream of photographs and advertisements, normalized hipster style, evident in portraits of both men, who are instantly recognizable thanks to their predilection for wide-framed, oversize 1980s eyewear and ironic facial hair. You might call it “trucker chic.” It’s part of their je ne se quoi.
“I am a bit of a dirty guy, but people like that right now,” Charney told the Jane reporter in 2004.
Richardson, the photographer du jour who directed Beyoncé’s “XO” video and shot her GQ cover, likes to be called “Uncle Terry.” He’s photographed everyone from Madonna to Miley Cyrus, and even has a self portrait with President Obama.
“He has become the dominant photographer of our time, and it’s a curiously stubborn reign. Setting aside his personal behavior, his technical and artistic work seems emotionally and culturally arrested,” wrote Maureen Callahan for the New York Post last year. He was the subject of a Sunday New York magazine profile that sparked debate about whether the magazine had gone too easy on the fashion photographer, and a new wave of sexual harassment and quid pro quo allegations of the sort that have trailed him for years. Richardson has repeatedly denied any misconduct, including in this most recent profile. Some of the backlash had to do with the magazine’s provocative headline, which asked, “Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?” as if the two were mutually exclusive. Flavorwire answered, “Both, most likely.”
Wrote New York’s Benjamin Wallace:
Richardson is also famous for another reason: He has cultivated a reputation of being a professional debauchee, a proud pervert who has, outside his commercial work, produced a series of extremely explicit images—often including himself naked and erect—that many find pornographic and misogynistic, and which can make viewers distinctly uncomfortable. In recent years, a number of the models in those images have indicated that they, too, weren’t altogether comfortable, filing lawsuits and, increasingly, speaking up in essays and interviews. Richardson has been called ‘the world’s most f—ed up fashion photographer’ by the website Jezebel, ‘fashion’s shameful secret’ by the Guardian, and ‘America’s Next Top Scumbag’ by Wonkette. Baron von Luxxury, a Los Angeles DJ, wrote a song called ‘Terry Richardson’ with the lyrics ‘She’ll have a few more sedatives / I’ll have whatever comes next / And then I’ll burn the negatives.’
American Apparel and Charney are known for championing an aesthetic of hipster softcore pornography in advertisements featuring a neverending conveyor belt of models styled to look as though they’re auditioning for “Lolita.”
Both American Apparel and Richardson were largely responsible for foisting upon the zeitgeist that now-ubiquitous style of simplistic, washed-out photography with too much flash that was a hallmark of bad amateur 1990s picture-taking. Richardson’s Instagram is essentially a shrine to it.
In April, following yet another set of allegations, this time by model Emma Appleton, who alleged that Richardson had offered her a shot at a Vogue editorial if she would have sex with him (she took a screenshot of the conversation and tweeted it), Vogue announced that it had “no plans to work with him in the future.” This was essentially classy Voguespeak for “We heard you and we’re not dealing with this guy anymore, so get off our back about him.” Vogue said it last worked with the notorious photographer in 2010. The Representation Project started a “Stop Terry Richardson” campaign, complete with a #NotBuyingIt hashtag, urging consumers to put pressure on the clothing retailers and magazines that still use his work.
Precipitous downgrades in the stocks of both men could signal something of a sea change in the fashion industry. They’ve both proven difficult to unseat, though Jezebel has been perhaps the most dedicated in documenting the cases against both men for many years. Monday, another model, Anna del Gaizo, came forward with the story of what had happened to her when she was a 23-year-old model in 2008. She alleged that Richardson had asked her to take her top off, and she obliged, and he later came into the shot and pressed himself, aroused, against her face. Gaizo wrote:
Disgusted and unnerved as I was, I smiled and laughed back as she continued snapping pictures for a few moments. I didn’t want to act afraid; I was outnumbered, and I thought showing fear or outright shock would lead to something worse. I just knew I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I stood up, fixed my bra, muttered something about having to get back to the party, and jetted out of there, returning to Delicatessen to down a vodka soda and try to forget that I had just gotten totally taken advantage of like a naïve schoolgirl.