A Look Back at American Apparel’s Most Provocative Advertising

As the company grows up and sheds its controversial founder, we remember the sexy aesthetic that defined a brand.

American Apparel is practically a national treasure.  Sure, the company’s founder Dov Charney has displayed a few unpleasant personal quirks—ok, maybe more than a few, given the string of sex harassment suits that eventually led to his dismissal—but the clothing company itself? It’s a pretty amazing American brand.  From the smart, simple tee shirts and shorts (and tube socks, don’t forget them), all of it manufactured in the good old USA, to the enticing ad campaigns—you know the ones—the label has always been a favorite.

With new CEO Paula Schneider in place, the company is making big changes. Underperforming stores are already being shuttered, layoffs are underway, and the company just exited bankruptcy proceedings without its mercurial and controversial founder Dov Charney. But design-wise, expect the same, tried-and-true quality basics AA has been hocking for over two decades.

A bigger change will undoubtedly involve those notorious ad campaigns, which were eye-catching to put it mildly. (Remember “Meet Trudy”?) Whether you consider them exploitive or just hot, the ads did us a service by showcasing the beauty of real women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, rather than just the tall, skinny, pale mannequins who dominate most fashion advertising. While that unconventional approach isn’t being completely retooled, some of the more controversial  tactics (see: barely legal models in compromising poses) will surely be phased out.

Here, a look back at some of the most jaw-dropping AA ads from the past few years.