When news surfaced earlier this month that American Apparel was on the chopping block, it was met with murmurs of nostalgia rather than gasps of surprise. After filing for bankruptcy twice – first in 2015 and again last November – the brand was auctioned off to Canadian clothing manufacturer Gildan in an $88-million transaction that did not include any retail stores.
Launched in 1989, American Apparel was lauded for its vertically integrated business model and Los Angeles-based manufacturing, but struggled to stay afloat in an era of fast-fashion and became as infamous for its provocative ad campaigns as it did for the sexual misconduct cases brought against its founder, Montreal-born Dov Charney.
For most thirtysomething urbanites, American Apparel defines a unique style moment of the mid-2000s, and for many consumers, shopping there was an entry point into the culture of buying locally and ethically. The brand's affordable neon T-shirts, metallic leggings and striped sports socks became synonymous with an anything-goes party scene captured by photographers like the Cobrasnake, and marked the beginnings of the street-style era of fashion photography.
We asked three industry insiders who lived through American Apparel's rise and fall to share their memories of the brand.
"I wore the deep V everywhere with skinny jeans and some sort of ankle or cowboy boot. If I was feeling really brave, I would wear a boyfriend's deep V over leggings. I think American Apparel influenced, if not solidified, that MySpace-era idea that individual style is just as fascinating as what you see on the runway. The idea that kids could take these blank basics and give them their own creative spin was just so liberating and inspiring to see. For me, it was something that sparked playfulness, individuality and a sense of reality and grit that made me look outside the establishment as a stylist. Even now, images with that kind of spirit still speak to me." – Tiyana Grulovic, editorial director at Los Angeles-based online retailer Nasty Gal. Grulovic worked for American Apparel in 2004, first as a marketing intern at its showroom in Montreal and then as a sales associate at one of the brand's Toronto stores. She was also previously an editor at The Globe and Mail.
"I still own my favourite [scoop neck and back tunic top] in black, although I don't wear it as a dress any more. I was raised in the Canadian fashion industry, so shopping local and supporting Canadian businesses and designers has been something I've done my entire life. However, I do remember being excited and intrigued by American Apparel's dedication to making their items in the U.S.A. It was the first time a lot of my peers had become aware of why they should think about where and how their clothing is made." – Gracie Carroll, fashion and lifestyle blogger and founder of The Chic Canuck, an e-commerce platform that sells Canadian-made goods.
"American Apparel was definitely a big part of the scene at The Social. You could go in and make an outfit for, like, $50. It didn't matter if it looked great and you only wore it once and then it got trashed. There were tons of people who used to wear those T-shirts and hoodies, like, you had to get them in a certain colour – people got really weird about those hoodies. It was so closely tied to music and nightlife. It was pre-EDM, that whole neon generation that they kind of created. I never wore it though. I was too old and it wasn't my style." – Richard Lambert, co-owner of Toronto-based restaurant, catering and events company, The Social Group. From 2004 to 2011, Lambert operated The Social, a popular nightclub that hosted era-defining electronic artists including Diplo, MSTRKRFT and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy.
THIS WEEK'S STYLE HAPPENINGS
- French designer, artist, and scenographer Pierre Charpin has been named Maison & Objet’s 2017 designer of the year. From Jan. 20-24, a selection of his work will be on display at the M+O Paris fair. Closer to home, Charpin’s designs are available at Kiosk in Toronto. For more information, visit www.maison-objet.com.
- With a focus on fashion tech and eco-friendly designers, Berlin Fashion Week wraps up Jan. 20. Throughout the week, runway shows and various events included presentations by designers Marina Hoermanseder and Perret Schaad, a Vogue Germany-sponsored Vogue Salon, which served as a platform for up-and-coming German designers, as well as a cocktail party that celebrated young designers’ work styled by Sex and the City costume designer Patricia Field. For more information, visit www.fashion-week-berlin.com.
- Don’t miss Toronto’s Interior Design Show, which kicks off with Thursday’s opening-night party. Running from Jan. 19-22 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the event includes Globe Style Saturday on Jan. 21. Watch for a series of talks with design experts such as Amanda Nisbet and Nicky Haslam, hosted by Globe Style contributors including fashion editor Odessa Paloma Parker and columnist Jeanne Beker. For more information, visit www.interiordesignshow.com.