This week has been a big one for envelope-pushing artists in New York. First, we saw Allen Henson's photography of a topless model at the Empire State Building become a campaign for women's rights. Now, it looks like American Apparel is addressing the conventional attitudes about female-shaving habits. Notice anything different about these mannequins? Yeah, they've got a more natural look, with pronounced nipples and very noticeable pubic hair.
Ryan Holiday of American Apparel told Gothamist the display was designed for the East Houston Street store specifically. Created by CEO-turned-window-designer, Dov Charney, the mannequins are intended to encourage conversation. Holiday released a statement from the retailer explaining its motivations: "American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine's Day window continues that celebration. We created it to invite passerby's [sic] to explore the idea of what is 'sexy' and consider their comfort with the natural female form. This is the same idea behind our advertisements which avoid many of the photoshopped and airbrushed standards of the fashion industry. So far we have received positive feedback from those that have commented and we're looking forward to hearing more points of view."
Some may argue that the display embodies the feminist spirit. But, as Washington Post writer Caitlin Dewey points out, the bare-all mannequins could just be a clever advertising plan. After all, she explains, the ads Holiday is referring to are "the same advertising campaigns that were banned by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority for demeaning women, and that have sparked protests outside of stores in New York for depicting ladies as 'disembodied butts and boobs.' So, are American Apparel’s motives are more capitalist than feminist, banking on the same theory of controversial advertising buzz that previously brought you topless models, grinding pelvises, and all the other pseudo-smut in American Apparel’s soft-porn arsenal."
Of course, the display is sensationalist. And, regardless of the retailer's motives, it's clear that the mannequins are meant to stir some controversy and promote deeper discussions about the female body and how we define sexy. The window display certainly got us all talking about an important topic — and, if it just so happens to end in increased sales for American Apparel, worse things have happened.