Some call for store to shelve ad campaign

Critics say pictures of young models send inappropriate sexual message

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
While some residents object to new display ads on the storefront windows of a soon-to-open American Apparel shop in downtown Silver Spring, calling them too provocative, a representative from the Los Angeles-based company said, ‘‘It raises eyebrows in, I think, a good way, and for some people, it’s in a bad way.”

Storefront displays for a new clothing shop in downtown Silver Spring are getting the attention that the company is seeking, but some residents say the photos of young women are not appropriate.

The ads for American Apparel, a Los Angeles-based clothing store soon to open Colesville Road, show young men without their shirts and young women in what some have called provocative clothing and poses.

The women, though they may be older than 18, look like teenagers, said Silver Spring resident Michael Gurwitz.

Gurwitz said he supports free speech and the even right to create and view pornography, but the photos plastering the windows of American Apparel border on child pornography. And that, he said, he can’t support.

Many of the poses the girls are in ‘‘have Lolita written all over them,” he said.

Ads like these hypersexualize teens, Gurwitz said, and encourage them to wear skimpy clothing. Also, they promote having sex at a young age.

‘‘I think that they’re encouraging children to grow up too fast,” he said. ‘‘... I think it’s OK to sell sexy clothing. I think it’s OK to show young people wearing sexy clothing. I don’t think it’s OK to let these young people pose in these suggestive poses.”

Gurwitz called American Apparel to share his concerns. He said the company listened but did not indicate it would change the ads or take them down.

A company official said last week that the store’s ads come across exactly as intended. The company’s founder and senior partner, Dov Charney, has gone on record supporting the company’s advertising campaign, said Miguel McKelvey, project manager for American Apparel.

‘‘He believes in freedom of expression, freedom of having sexuality being a positive thing and not something that should be stifled,” McKelvey said.

In October 2005, the company was honored for marketing excellence at the Los Angeles Fashion Awards, according to a news release. The award acknowledged the company’s creative use of media outreach and artistic execution.

The award came shortly after an article in ‘‘Ad Age,” an advertising publication that praised American Apparel for its advertising campaign, calling it ‘‘hot” and saying it enforces the brand message of no-frills clothing made in a sweatshop-free environment.

‘‘It raises eyebrows in, I think, a good way, and for some people, it’s in a bad way,” McKelvey said. ‘‘I don’t think it’s any different than Abercrombie & Fitch.”

McKelvey didn’t know how old the models are. However, he said, there are models in magazines like Vogue that are 15 and 16 years old, wearing much less. ‘‘It’s no different than any other fashion photographer using models.”

The company is excited about coming and adding to the environment of downtown Silver Spring, McKelvey said. ‘‘We typically look for places that are developed but are not necessarily at the peak of their development. I like the fact that Silver Spring is sort of coming up and that there’s interesting stuff happening there.”

The location on Colesville Road and Fenton Street is ideal, he said, because the store will help activate that part of the downtown, which lies just outside the newly redeveloped strip of Ellsworth Drive. The store will open in six or seven weeks, barring construction complications.