NO BRAND LIKE AMERICAN APPAREL: A METAPHOR

by james eskeldson

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Fashion is a metaphor. It is always a symbol for something else. Whether we are conscious of it or not we make purchasing decisions based on deep-seeded values or lack thereof. We end up supporting brands that are metaphors for values / ideas / movements we believe in. For example, the Louis Vuitton fan base believes in luxury and glamor on a global / ‘culturally-relevant’ scale. Wearing Louis V means you are part of this network of ideals. You become co-branded with the metaphor. Fashion is about so much more than current styles, hot colors, or popular designers. It is about beliefs. It is about becoming a ‘living metaphor’ for what you believe. We are walking advertisements, for brands and for ‘something bigger.’

Real talk

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At some point over the past few years, minimalism became a dominant pop metaphor and has been best expressed through sexed-up hipster fashion label American Apparel. Somehow a plain colored t-shirt became a cultural symbol of cool. The brand vision [via Dov Charney] and smart positioning certainly helped make the brand as popular as it is, but what about the style itself? What does the American Apparel aesthetic represent on a larger metaphorical level? Are we ‘tired of design’ and just want to strip our lives down to the basics, letting ‘who we are as people’ represent us instead of our clothing? American Apparel made popular a new kind of fashion modernism, like they are attempting to create The Great American Uniform. When it comes down to it, the simplicity of American Apparel is almost shocking. Very intentionally, they stripped away the layers of embellishment from all contemporary attire, eliminating the memories always associated with design.

We are a new generation purging culture of the past (i.e. parents are lame, obvi)

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American Apparel as a metaphor represents something new. Their well-articulated brand image is a focused refusal of the world as it has been, which frees them from the baggage of association. They present themselves as a ‘new kind of clothing’ for a ‘new kind of people.’ Never mind that the basic idea of their product has been around longer than any of us, it is their unspoken brand statement that sets them apart as something innovative. It is their attitude. Their success story is about finding a group of young people with shared ideals and creating a movement.

And that movement is united under the increasingly derogatory label ‘hipster’

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(Quick sidenote: It’s hard to imagine American Apparel without hipsters (and vice versa). They seem kind of interdependent. And it’s strange that the centralizing force of a counter-culture movement is a clothing company. It’s like WTF I thought subcultures were supposed to lean away from consumerism. Have consumerism and rebellion finally started to understand each other, even benefit each other? Or does this only validate the hipster critics, who consider the movement shallow and materialistic? Or can consumerism actually inspire positive social change? American Apparel has already taken a stands on immigration and gay rights. Maybe they are the template for a new kind of lifestyle company that takes a more active role in the public forum.)

But really, where does American Apparel go from here?

I kind of feel like the high rise is over and, although they are still expanding like crazy, their momentum is slowing down. I mean basic tees, etc. can only inspire hype for so long. It seems like they have successfully ‘updated’ our nation’s wardrobes and are ready to chill. I think from now on they will be more of a necessity store than a hip fashion destination. In a lot of ways they wiped the slate clean in the world of apparel and brought basics up to speed. It’s almost like designers of casual apparel now have a ‘blank canvas’ to start from.

Do you guys wear American Apparel?
Are they the ‘uniform of hipsters’?
What’s up with that Dov guy? Love the ‘stache.
What are your fashion choices a metaphor for?

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