For years now, American Apparel has indulged in a singular marketing strategy: porny pics of young girls.

Thomas Alleman, a photographer based in L.A. (also the hometown of American Apparel), says the billboards are a ubiquitous part of the urban landscape.

While photographing the city for one of his earlier series, one of the American Apparel ads suddenly stood out to him: an ad with four girls posing, next to four satellite dishes.

"That confluence of billboard design and real-world happenstance seemed too cool to pass up," he says.

However, that "confluence" may have been an anomaly. Much of the images seen in The American Apparel highlight the absurdity of the ad campaign when its plastered near bus stops, or treks home from the grocery store.

“My mission is neither to validate nor vilify,” Alleman tells Co.Design.

American Apparel, of course, didn’t invent the idea that sex sells.

Instead, the company popularized the pervy “pictures of gawky teenagers made by a cousin or uncle, on the sly, down in the basement with crude equipment,” as Alleman describes them.

And while some of the pictures seem ignored, like they're just another part of the L.A. skyline, Alleman has found that people on the scene often have questions about the billboards.

“One of the essential issues that’s arisen from these pictures--to the folks I meet on the street when I’m working--is the question of ‘allowability’ or ‘permission’ or ‘oversight,’" Alleman says.

“People want to know if someone is in charge of the public space.”

Indeed, they are subversive images. The basement aesthetic can "look anarchic," Alleman says.

See more of Alleman's work here.

Photographer Makes American Apparel’s Silly Ads Look Even Sillier

Thomas Alleman captures the porny billboards in their urban environment. Look who's doing splits over people carrying their groceries!

Just when you thought American Apparel's Balthusian ads--full of doleful models contorting their bodies in mesh bodysuits and reflective disco shorts--couldn't get any sillier, along comes photographer Thomas Alleman. In his series, The American Apparel, Alleman documents the clothing line’s ads as he finds them in East Los Angeles, one of the city's poorer areas. And just like that, the ads start to look downright preposterous.

“My mission is neither to validate nor vilify,” Alleman says of the series. He doesn’t have to. There’s a not-so-subtle absurdity to a model in a wet T-shirt posing above two weary older women, waiting for a city bus, or a girl doing the splits while locals walk by with grocery bags.

American Apparel, of course, didn’t invent the idea that sex sells. Nor did it invent overtly tantalizing billboards. But the company did popularize the pervy “pictures of gawky teenagers made by a cousin or uncle, on the sly, down in the basement with crude equipment,” as Alleman describes them. They’re subversive (or predatory, depending on your point of view)--and that can ruffle feathers. "It’s a well-known American story, whether we’re talking about making a rock band or building kooky inventions or filming Uncle Toby’s homemade porn," Alleman tells Co.Design. "The results look anarchic."

Alleman, who has spent years as a street photographer in L.A., says that the American Apparel ads present the opportunity for an intellectual conversation: “One of the essential issues that’s arisen from these pictures--to the folks I meet on the street when I’m working--is the question of ‘allowability’ or ‘permission’ or ‘oversight,’" Alleman says. “People want to know if someone is in charge of the public space.”

See more of Alleman's work here.

[h/t LAist]

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5 Comments

  • “One of the essential issues that’s arisen from these pictures--to the folks I meet on the street when I’m working--is the question of ‘allowability’ or ‘permission’ or ‘oversight,’" Alleman says. “People want to know if someone is in charge of the public space.”

    So what's next? A ten year old with a dick in their moth selling a $5 tee?

    I see no bottom to this barrel. The overt sexualisation of brand imagery is pretty overwhelming. The line between porn and advertising is becoming more blurred as the years roll on. It's something that I do seriously wonder about. Will we have product placement in porn - the market is there. I figure these 2 world will collide at some point.

  • Aman Ganpatsingh

    maybe it's just me but isn't this the point of AA? The sleazy advertising fits perfectly in the settings pictured here. Not to mention that hipsters (main target group for AA) is probably flocking to East LA (I am guessing it is cheap). Now, if this was done with Dior, Chanel, Saint Laurent or even Ralph Lauren I would've gotten the point (or the thesis of the article would've come across more convincingly).