Skip to main content
rob magazine

Dov Charney was born for the "Yiddish hustle," as he's fond of saying, and when he's practising the art form, he can be convincing. "I love the company, there are loyal customers and employees that are a great part of it, and I naturally have a very high level of confidence in our long-term viability," he tells me about American Apparel in the early fall, despite pressing evidence that his business is sinking.

Successful salesmanship, of course, requires innate conviction. This scrappy, wiry cool kid from Montreal, now 41 and looking firmly middle-aged, is, if anything, a believer in his own rather unique vision.

As the garment trade's proto-hipster hustler, and American Apparel's founder and chief executive, Charney seems to fuse his entire energetic persona to his brand. He is an incendiary marketer. He is untamable-bold, showy and brutally frank about everything that defines him, whether it's the crotch-shot emphasis of his advertising or an erstwhile habit of calling women "sluts."

Everything to do with his vision-how Charney articulates it, sells it and builds on it-has been a knot of contradictions. On one hand, he is the controversy-prone CEO of a public company, a man accused of sexual harassment and portrayed in the press as both pervy and a micromanager, so looks-obsessed that he even demands his retail staff groom their eyebrows a certain way.

Then there is the other Dov, the brilliant creative force whose anti-sweatshop and pro-labour practices at American Apparel's Los Angeles factory have made him an unlikely hero in a politically charged battle to legitimize undocumented workers in the United States.

Critics add to the man's litany of opposites. His brand is both this and that, a hyper-sexed retailer...that also carries Sesame Street gear for toddlers. All of this, of course, has made Charney a star, a "what will he do next?" character in the buttoned-up world of business. Hardly anyone in charge of a high-profile concern will actually dare peek out of their Brooks Brothers closet-at least not without a force of media trainers preparing an advance-and yet there Charney is, the chief exhibitionist officer romping around in pink American Apparel underwear.

There is something to be said for Charney's approach. Most corporate chiefs will do anything to cover up their peccadilloes, but Charney, guilt-free, lets it all hang out. (He describes AA's culture to me as one of "openness," attributing this to the "California influence.") And for years, he's been so colourful and infuriating that those qualities alone seem to have elevated his company's profile and his own celebrity.

Then, this summer, the dazzling high-wire-while-fire-juggling act came crashing down. AA's auditors, Deloitte & Touche, resigned. The company was in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange for not submitting a quarterly earnings report on time. (It now has until Nov. 15 to make the filing.) Suits piled up from law firms representing some of AA's investors, who are riled up over its use of illegal workers, its declining revenue and its escalating debts. Most threatening of all, the company fell in danger of breaching covenants for an $80-million loan from the significant debtholder in this drama, British-based Lion Capital, a private-equity firm (all currency in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted).

Suddenly, Charney's antics weren't so funny any more. He may hold 53% of American Apparel's shares, but that's hardly a guarantee of security: He's the guy who was in charge as the company amassed more than $120 million in debt, in part by expanding briskly and failing to scale back enough in the recession. (The company currently has 10,000 employees and more than 280 retail outlets in 20 countries.)

And yet, only a few weeks after American Apparel issued a statement warning there is "substantial doubt that we will be able to continue as a going concern," Charney is buoyant and garrulous. "We're in the early stage of our development," he tells me. True enough: American Apparel has only been retailing since 2003. "There's a lot of maturing that's going to take place in terms of the customer's understanding of who we are and our own ability to operate in a fully efficient manner."

Of course, one strategy for a salesman is: Never give up the sell, not until you take your last breath.

There is no army of handlers standing sentinel for Dov Charney. If you call the number listed for American Apparel's CEO, it goes right to Charney himself. In fact, he calls me just hours after I send an e-mail to an address I assume belongs to the first gatekeeper of many.

This past June, when became hell-bent on exposing the hiring practices at American Apparel's retail outlets-the allegations are that managers are told to favour young women of certain ethnicities, and must submit photographs of prospective staff for approval by head office-AA responded on its website with a denial and an invitation for anyone who wants to discuss the matter to get in touch. "You can reach our CEO directly at 213 923 7943 or at"

I find the phone most effective. After all, as reported in Jane magazine's infamous 2004 piece about Charney-in which he talks about his business while indulging in "self pleasure"-his e-mail inbox held more than 21,000 messages at the time. Every 48 hours, he received a photo-enhanced entreaty from yet another young woman interested in working for the company, wrote journalist Claudine Ko. "He clicks on one that displays a photo of a twentysomething Asian girl wearing tight jeans, lying in bed. Her message reads, 'I'm 5'4", 106 pounds, bust size 32B-C. Plus, I'm professional, artistic...' "

As it turns out, I miss his first call, but we connect later that day in September, when he happens to be in Toronto, visiting his retail staff. That's where I am, I say. Why don't we meet in person?

"I'm not sure. I certainly think I can talk to you. Can you call back in an hour? We have this meeting at 9, but I'm pretty sure I'll be free in an hour," he says genially. An hour later, he says, "I'm just not sure I'm in the right headspace. Can I call you back-how late are you going to be up?" (It must be said at this point that I sense no lecherous intent in his tone.) "Ninety-per-cent sure, I'll call you by about 11. If not, tomorrow."

That night, there's no call, and nothing the following day.

The next time I get in touch, he answers in San Francisco. "Listen, let's talk on Sunday, or maybe Monday." And here I recognize something: the traits of a hummingbird who flits from one shiny distraction to the next. Most people in jobs a fraction the size of running America's largest domestic clothing maker scurry away from thorny calls and e-mails, but Charney-who can conceivably delegate anything he likes-is determined to control matters personally, despite his own attention span and time constraints. His devotion to the cause has been described by Allan Mayer, a director of American Apparel's board. "This is a guy who works seven days a week, 52 weeks a year," Mayer told Bloomberg Businessweek. "You don't build a $600-million-a-year vertically integrated manufacturing and retailing business on an edgy image and sexy ads alone."

"The last time," I tell Charney, "I waited until midnight for your call."

Slowing his pace, he apologizes; we speak at length, and talk again some days later. "I'm in Vancouver! It's my first time. I love this city." (He drove up the coast from Los Angeles and visited every American Apparel store on his way.) He is cordial and upbeat, and knows-has actually learned-when to employ caution and go off the record.

Chiefly, Charney wants to talk about the impact of an investigation by the United States Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement-known by the shiver-inducing acronym ICE-which forced the departure of more than 1,500 undocumented factory employees from American Apparel last year. Coming during a recession, this was brutal. "It broke our efficiencies and generated a situation where we were late delivering garments. It lost us an enormous amount of money. It cost us agility," Charney says. What does it cost to work through production delays, hire more than 1,000 replacement staff and train them in the swift mechanics of producing combed-cotton T-shirts, spandex leggings, neon bike shorts, and preppy trousers and hoodies? In apparel making, perhaps tens of millions.

The ICE storm dealt a blow to Charney's solar plexus, and to what he believes in. "We brought Canadian values to apparel making," he says, referring to the idea of providing a mainly immigrant workforce with above-average wages and benefits. Which Charney has done, concurrently with walking around the office in his underpants.

To garment workers, Charney is an advocate and ally. And every time he acts heroically, he posts the evidence on his website. It's not for self-aggrandizement, I believe, but out of a more layered motivation-he wants at once both to publicize the serious plight of illegal workers and to reveal American Apparel as an innovative enterprise. Charney's company began lobbying for immigration reform as early as 2003, long before it became an issue Barack Obama promised, amid weak support, to address.

If you look on, there's a section called "Legalize LA," which has become the name of an activist group underwritten by American Apparel. (The company also advocates for same-sex rights under "Legalize Gay.") Charney is shown in online videos speaking passionately about the issue, albeit sometimes in an incongruous setting. (In one clip, he is seated on a latte-coloured sofa inside his hillside Silver Lake house; a bulbous purple lamp at his elbow resembles a bouquet made of female breasts. There are vintage fondue sets on the Scandinavian-style shelving behind him.) "The politicians have not completed the difficult task of designing laws to absorb the demand for new workers," he says, "because it's politically difficult to explain. If we work together with the best, the brightest and the most motivated people…it's what keeps this country alive. You take the immigrant out of that equation, you kill America's soul."

From his youth, Charney has been as outspoken as he is eccentric, the stuff of Mordecai Richler and John Irving. An entrepreneur before he hit puberty, he was profiled at age 11 by The Canadian Jewish News for publishing his own newspaper, What's Up. He ran off 500 copies per issue and sold them for 20 cents each around Westmount. He also appeared in a bizarre 1983 documentary called A 20th Century Chocolate Cake, sounding like a young Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties, complaining about having to hide money from the counsellors at his "communist" summer camp.

The family businesses were art and design. Charney's father, Morris, studied architecture at McGill at the same time a future icon, Moshe Safdie, was there working on his master's project: Habitat 67. Morris later married Safdie's artist sister, Sylvia. Dov is their only son; he has a sister, a half-sister and a step-sister.

Charney's childhood friend, musician James Di Salvio, tells me: "We became friends on the school bus one day. Dov sold me his Yashica FX-3 camera. I can't remember how much I paid, but I recall it was a good deal."

Of their well-to-do private high school, St. George's, Charney writes on his blog, "I was an editor of the school paper, student council president and a yearbook photographer. Many of the teachers and students had a permanent effect on my persona. Rodney Walker was an English teacher [who]worked with me closely for a year-2 hours per day-to help me to finally learn how to read and write. I was functionally illiterate until the age of 13. Hyacinth Young, a Jamaican-born Canadian, who now lives in L.A., exposed me to some alternative thinking about race and politics. Ms. Young was also the head of the debating program, which was also important to me."

Then there was making money. Pals like Di Salvio and Rasmus (Raz) Schionning (who, until recently, was American Apparel's director of Web services) would sell homemade T-shirts outside the Forum after a rock concert. At the time, says Di Salvio, "there were guys bootlegging this cheap-looking Bryan Adams and Rush stuff. We came up with neon colours, got creative with it, did our own puffying. After a while, Dov would pop by and start selling shirts. It was a nice lifestyle for all of us. We made a few grand a week."

In 1987, Charney was arrested for selling on the street without a permit. Morris Charney appeared on his son's behalf at a hearing and paid a small fine. At the time, Dov was away at boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, where he was spending a year before university. While at Choate, Dov realized there was a market back home for Hanes and Fruit of the Loom T-shirts, which he hauled to his hometown in bulk. "It was my belief," he has blogged, "that T-shirts were…an American heritage product. If Montreal bagels were better than their New York counterpart, American T-shirts were better than those made in Canada."

Later, at Tufts, an Ivy League university near Boston, Charney had an extra phone line installed in his dorm room and began fleshing out his business. He partnered with an authorized Hanes dealer named Bob Smith, who came up with the name American Apparel. According to Charney, "[Bob]thought I was a little difficult to deal with and, months later, he told me he loved me, but things were not going to work out. I returned the $16,000 he invested." But Charney did draw on a $10,000 loan from his father, and began making his own 18-single jersey shirts in 1990, the year he dropped out of Tufts to go head-to-head against the Hanes Beefy T. He relocated to South Carolina, of all places, where the shirts were produced and then sold to other companies that would screen their logos and designs on to them. But by 1996, with Charney over his head in debt, the first incarnation of American Apparel filed for Chapter 11.

The following year, Charney moved to Los Angeles. He was inspired by the "fucking freaks" and watching Easy Rider, or so he once said. Renewing American Apparel, he enlisted two veterans of the garment community, Sam Lim and Sam Kim-their early ads talked about "two Koreans and a Jew making T-shirts"-and perfected the cut and fabrication of his iconic Classic Girl T. The new AA took shape in a factory under two ramps of the 10 Freeway near downtown. And Charney immediately revealed what a talent he had for marketing and positioning the brand.

In the ensuing boom years, American Apparel expanded its wholesale business, and the headquarters began growing into a two-building, one-million-square-foot premises befitting an ambitious, vertically integrated concern. The 2003 move into retail was inevitable, he says.

But because everything is complicated in Charney's world, the boom years were also trouble years. When critics said his ad campaigns were "inspired by amateur '70s porn," Charney seemed pleased by the comparison. The handlebar mustache and boxy glasses he sported at the time seemed the outward expression of an inner skeeziness. He openly said he had relationships with several of his female employees. "I'm not saying I want to screw all the girls at work," he said in Jane, "but if I fall in love at work it's going to be beautiful and sexual." In 2006, he gave a deposition in a harassment lawsuit brought forward by former wholesale salesperson Mary Nelson, during which Charney admitted to using the c-word to refer to women, and also to walking around without trousers at the office. "There were months I was in my underwear all the time," Charney said. "It became very common."

When Nelson's lawyer asked him, "Did you ever, at work, refer to women as 'sluts'?" Charney's response was, "In private conversations, where such language was generally welcome."

"Do you view 'slut' as a derogatory term?"

"You know, there are some of us that love sluts. You know, it's not could also be an endearing term."

It's unclear how many sexual-harassment suits or almost-suits existed, but between three and five is the common estimate. In any case, none of the allegations has been proven in court. (Later on, none other than Woody Allen sued American Apparel too, because Charney had used his image without permission on a billboard. Allen eventually won a $5-million settlement.)

In 2007, the company had used a shell entity called Endeavor Acquisition Corp. to go public, with Charney as its majority shareholder and gleefully unrepentant ringmaster. The next year, in the middle of new harassment allegations, Charney was parodied by Fred Armisen during a Saturday Night Live segment. The comedian, with glued-on facial hair, wore American Apparel's signature knee socks and a pair of Kelly green Y-fronts as he spread his legs on top of the Weekend Update desk.

That's the absolute mountaintop for a certain type of fame in America. But a more substantial form of notoriety was just around the corner.

Dov Charney's tempus horribilis began with a pile of paperwork. In early 2008, American Apparel turned over approximately 7,000 employment documents called I-9 forms to the federal government as part of what company lawyer Peter Schey calls "a routine order." AA had always complied with the law in keeping the forms, Schey adds, which are required for all new hires: They list employees' pertinent information along with details on their legal documentation, such as a social security number. According to Schey, "it took the government 18 months to check these documents against databases to see if all the information matched up. The government then advised that approximately 1,500 current employees either fell into the category of 'no matches' or there was a discrepancy in their information." There were findings of "technical violations," such as delays in document completion, and American Apparel was slapped on the wrist with a $35,000 fine.

In the short term, far bigger consequences fell on the singled-out workers. This is when Dov the Good took action. Charney saw to it that during the re-verification process, AA consulted the employees and pointed them to resources for free legal help, so that they could either clarify the "discrepancies" or seek a way to protect themselves from retribution. In the end, some employees left of their own accord. The vast majority could not prove their documents were their own, and ICE instructed American Apparel to terminate them.

According to Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and herself the daughter of a former garment worker, "Dov was really pained by the situation. Many of the people were his best employees and had been with him since the beginning of his factory." Charney tells me he was absorbed in their circumstances for at least "six months solid" and barely had time to attend to anything else in the business.

The effect that distraction had on the company is now well known. And so what happened to those employees?

The backdrop to the answer, according to Salas, who has visited AA's factory at least 50 times for "know your rights" workshops and various community initiatives, goes like this. Teams work at a brisk pace, starting and completing a garment as it gets passed on to various stations along one table. In addition to a base wage, employees earn extra money for product output, tallying anywhere from $12 to $18 an hour in total. (California's minimum wage is $8 an hour.) "Then there are the roving masseuses to ensure that people are able to do their work. There's a recognition that if you have tired workers, you have shoddy products," says Salas. American Apparel also offers a benefits plan, an on-site medical clinic, free international phone calls for staff and a bicycle-borrowing program.

After leaving American Apparel, Salas imagines, many of these workers were welcomed into the arms of the scruple-free underground economy, where they are lucky to earn $5 an hour. (Some are jobless; no one was deported.) Salas believes it's easier for ICE to target one visible company and deal with 1,500 illegal workers in one blow than to go after the "100 smaller shops who are the true labour offenders-the subcontractors and real sweatshops that surround American Apparel."

There are an estimated one million undocumented workers in the Los Angeles area alone. Dov Charney is unusual for an apparel maker in being vocal about their human rights. But does that excuse other, dubious behaviour, such as using sexist language, even if it's "private"? Is he some sort of clueless discriminator who fancies himself the saviour of the Hispanic working class and yet thinks nothing of hitting on the cute office girl?

Charney's higher principles do come at a price. Analysts say that by industry standards, American Apparel's cost structure-a result of resisting the lure of cheaper offshore production-is entirely impractical. The company posted a $43-million net loss for the first quarter of this year. At the end of fiscal 2009, net income after tax was just 0.2% of revenue, and it has declined ever since, which says to outsiders that AA must consider major cost-shearing, especially in labour. "As it is, the company makes everything in the United States," says fashion and apparel analyst Nikoleta Panteva of IBISWorld in Santa Monica. "They could outsource their textile manufacturing, for example, but keep the apparel making."

Add to Charney's worries these other issues: declining year-over-year sales, financing problems that stalled AA's overseas expansion (though in early September, it opened a shop in Paris), and some stumbles in meeting production targets.

Ever the salesman, Charney's refrain is that bankruptcy would be premature. "We haven't worked out all the kinks," he said in April. "Right now we are in a period of rationalization, in a period of working with less and deploying our assets more productively. That means reducing inventory, paying down debt and getting more sales out of the stores we have. We're upgrading software, improving distribution methodology and updating our point-of-sale systems. If there weren't any problems-then I'd be worried."

But the problems at American Apparel are not small ones. In mid-August, the company issued its dire "going concern" concerns and, as if to get all of its bad news out at once, said the Securities and Exchange Commission was looking into why Deloitte & Touche ended its tenure as the company's auditor. (The accountants cited a lack of reliability in team Charney's financial reporting.) Enter a new-actually former-auditor, Marcum. AA reported more millions in losses for the second quarter of 2010, as well as an increase in its debt of $28.9 million, vaulting it over the $120-million mark. Deep into some very textured muck, American Apparel saw its share price nosedive to 77 cents, from a 52-week high of $3.88. As of early October, it had rallied to around $1.20.

"The company has been an ongoing circus," says Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates, a Manhattan-based retail consulting and investment banking firm. He gets increasingly worked up the longer we talk about American Apparel. The immigration issue, he adds, "was just one of the circus acts. Their own accountants quit! They resigned! When is the last time you've seen that?"

Peter Schey counters that Deloitte pointed to areas of "weakness" in internal controls but never to wrongdoing on the part of AA employees. Schey says the auditors were also unhappy with the lack of consistency of financial reporting from the company's outlets abroad, where rules are different than those in the United States, and needed further hard information regarding revenue predictions. "I believe the unanswered questions will soon be resolved favourably," Schey said in mid-September, and he expects a similarly pleasing outcome in the matter of the SEC and Department of Justice inquiries into American Apparel's change of auditors.

But Davidowitz has other issues. "Who builds all these locations all over the world? Who does that?" Schey says that the company may "relocate" or close a small number, perhaps 10, of American Apparel's 280-plus shops. Improved production and transportation techniques will add efficiency, he says. By the end of September, Charney and Co. reworked their debt agreement with Lion Capital, eliminating the minimum consolidated EBITDA covenant until the end of this year, and providing for the same covenant to be tested monthly during 2011. "Lion Capital has enormous admiration for both American Apparel and its founder, Dov Charney," says Lyndon Lea, the brash young rainmaker who is Lion's founder. He noted that his firm is working with Charney on hiring executives to bolster AA's senior ranks. (The first straight-up business suit to arrive was former Blockbuster Inc. CFO Tom Casey, appointed AA's acting president in early October.) There are no plans for significantly altering labour practices, all parties involved say-and the AA board is behind Charney, who says he is "touched" by Lion's understanding and flexibility.

But even if all these fixes work out satisfactorily, someone like Davidowitz is not going to be satisfied that Charney is a good fit as CEO. "I believe Charney is a genius," he says. "He does have tremendous skills. But he should be running a private company with only 75 stores-and he'd make a fortune. And he'd be happy." For his part, Charney has said he regretted going public via a shell entity instead of an initial public offering.

Davidowitz maintains that the best scenario is for a new, white-knight investor to swoop in and take 30% or so of the company. "Like a Burkle type." (Ron Burkle, an investor lately engaged with the founding family of bookseller Barnes & Noble, currently owns 6% of American Apparel shares.) The investor might insist on his own senior management personnel. He or she could advocate for shifting Charney out of the CEO's chair and into a strictly creative role. So could Lion, for that matter, which issued its $80-million loan in March, 2009, and, in turn, received warrants for 16 million shares or about 18% ownership in the company. It's well poised to take the whole thing over.

"At the end of the day, Charney's 53% is going to be meaningless if he goes broke. The 53% he could use for toilet paper," says Davidowitz. "The only thing that could save Charney is an investor who believes in his skills-someone that buys into him." But how many might look at it that way? "They might say this guy's a maniac, with all the locations he's opened and coming to work in his underwear."

All the recent turmoil has left Charney in a contemplative position. As he told Bloomberg Businessweek in August, "A lot of assumptions that I grew up with are no longer reality. Those were things that we could rely on: that lenders will always be there, that they'll behave ethically and they'll always have money, that you can trust that as the sun comes up the consumer will be healthy, that we'll always be close to full employment in developed nations. Now there are no certainties."

A month later, Peter Schey tells me that American Apparel's primary goal is to stay committed to "a sustainable, ethical model of business" and that the company is in the process of "a reassertion of its values," meaning that Charney and his team have crafted a vision statement. In it, American Apparel promises to make "cutting-edge, high-quality" apparel; improve the vertically integrated business model; provide industrial workers with fair wages and a healthy environment; ensure employees have "opportunities for advancement without regard to race, age, ethnic origin, gender, or sexual preference"; advocate for vulnerable people; engage in humanitarian relief efforts; shrink AA's carbon footprint; and build consumer and investor confidence, among other noble efforts. Schey does not detail a plan to fund these initiatives.

There's one aspect lost in the business press when accounting for American Apparel's virtues and vices, Charney's pros and cons, and the general state of fashion affairs: And that is looking at the clothing itself. Visiting American Apparel stores, and navigating its online shopping site, I found a brand in a state of confusion. Charney, who recently declared that the "hipster is over," is embracing a contemporary version of the Preppy Handbook look. This means librarian cardigans, button-down shirts and high-waisted stretch riding pants that could potentially be the most unflattering cut ever for any woman under 5 foot 8 and over a size 4. For now, the most unflattering pants are American Apparel's pale-mint high-waisted-and, tragically, pleated-linen trousers, which, at $79 (Canadian), are also too expensive for their flimsy quality. As analyst Nikoleta Panteva says, with so much choice everywhere, from the Gap to H&M, "Consumers aren't willing to spend the extra dollar on basic apparel." No matter the admirable sweatshop-free mores.

Preppy positioning aside, the stores contain an awkward conflation of fashion, including the kind of vintage poly-acrylic-blend sweaters you'd find at a church jumble (but for $2 instead of $49), hot pink nylon lace thong bodysuits and unitards (not only NSFW but not suitable for cellulite), black '80s-style sheer collared blouses and the Sesame Street kids' collection, all under the same roof as incidental copies of Butt, the explicit gay magazine.

On the afternoons I visited five of the Toronto shops, roughly 85% of the staff had eerily the same look, the kind described by They are mainly young Caucasian or Asian women with long hair, slender frames, minimal makeup and "natural" eyebrows. Charney apparently prefers the Brooke Shields eyebrow to a thinned one. I did see a few shorter hairstyles and some male staff, who all had the puppy-dog look of Kurt Hummel from Glee. The customer service, I must say, was attentive.

Even after AA posted its rebuttal to Gawker, stating that it does not hire on the basis of "beauty," but rather wants to ensure that its staff has a sense of style that meshes with the brand (a sensible point), Gawker published another in a series of anonymous posts, this time from an L.A. woman: "A week ago I had an interview at AA in their downtown headquarters for an office admin position. First of all, the guy who interviewed me only asked me 4 questions, one of which was 'What are some of your favorite blogs?'…Then he says he's taking me upstairs for a test, which I assume is a computer literacy test and pretty standard for most office/admin positions. So I get up there, and it's the area they have photoshoots....The test they gave me was putting on their ugly clothes and doing an impromptu photoshoot!"

Perhaps the thing about Charney and the rare few freewheeling creative types like him in serious business is that they are neither the good guys nor the bad. Instead, they walk the chalk line in between, determined to follow the single-minded pursuit of their aesthetic ideas. Whatever it takes, no matter the financial woes, come what may.

The final nail in the coffin for American Apparel may be that its distracted genius founder forgot about fashion. Hipster is over. But Dov Charney's not gone yet.

A FINISHING SCHOOL FOR PRACTIONERS OF POPULAR CULTURE? It's the mid-1980s. At the highly regarded St. George's School of Montreal, Dov Charney's circle of friends is listening to Madness, rocking the Rude Boy look and honing an inimitable creativity that they will soon unleash on an unsuspecting world. "We were the party," says class of '86 friend James Di Salvio, who made his name by founding the Montreal musical collective Bran Van 3000. Their independent private school began life in 1930 and developed into an avant-garde, liberal institution challenging conventional thinking (sound familiar, Dov?). A short list of St. George's notable alumni suggests its curriculum prepares students particularly well for careers in entertainment and media.

Stephen Bronfman President and CEO of Claridge SRB Investments and would-be hockey-team owner (see page 76)

Corey Hart 1980s pop star whose string of hits included Sunglasses at Night

Naomi Klein Mega-selling activist author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, and a contemporary of Dov Charney's

Shawn Levy Hollywood director of Cineplex-ruling comedies Big Fat Liar, Just Married, Cheaper by the Dozen, Date Night and both Night at the Museum movies

Kevin O'Leary Entrepreneur and, on CBC's Dragons' Den, TV's most ruthlessly money-minded investor

Jordan Parnass Dov Charney's BFF and founder of Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture, an award-winning Brooklyn-based practice combining architecture, digital media and branding design

Jody Quon Creative director of W magazine in New York

Nikki Yanofsky Jazz singer and voice of the Vancouver Olympic anthem I Believe

Interact with The Globe