Most everyone's agreed: Dov Charney's been a bad boy.
The founder of American Apparel has been getting a lot of bad news lately. A seemingly neverending series of lawsuits against him for sexual harassment and his company's failing finances both led to a nasty coup d'etat by the board of directors two weeks ago. Then, when it seemed he was on the cusp of regaining control of his company by buying back 43 percent of the company shares, the board responded by adopting a "poison-pill" package, a kind of self-destruct mechanism in which the company sells a ton of shares cheaply—devaluing everyone's shares but making it harder for Charney to gain majority interest.
Even if he does regain control, the deal Charney has struck to finance his buying spree specifies that every decision he made would have to be OKed by the hedge fund that paid for it all, Standard General. And, of course, he still faces an internal board investigation of his behavior, which could lead to lawsuits from the board, the shareholders, and pretty much everyone else he hasn't already been accused of sexually harassing.
So it's fair to say that Dov Charney has led an eventful life. But how much do you really know about him? We've gathered some juicy intel on the man, below.
He's not actually American: That's right, the founder of American Apparel is Canadian. But Charney, who was born and raised in Montreal, said he developed an early love of American style that led him to the clothing business.
American Apparel was "born" at Choate: Charney came up with the idea for a retail business that sells all-cotton t-shirts while at the prestigious boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall, in Connecticut. It's there that he fell in love with the school's all-cotton t-shirts, which he found superior to the polyester blends back home, so he bought American cotton t-shirts in the U.S. and sold them to his friends in Montreal when he went home for breaks.
His Choate classmates accused him of inappropriate behavior too: Though acknowledging Charney's intelligence, one former classmate told Jezebel that Charney was best known for his aggressive courting techniques and for a bizarre plot in which he allegedly masturbated into his own cup of hot chocolate and then accused his roommate of doing it.
He masturbated in front of a reporter eight times: For a 2004 profile on Charney for Jane magazine, reporter Claudine Ko spent weeks with him, during which he waxed poetic about the benefits of pleasuring himself in front of women. Then he demonstrated his point repeatedly, once with the help of a female employee.
He's won awards for his work: In 2004, Charney was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2008, he was named Retailer of the Year by the fashion industry's Michael Awards, joining the ranks of Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Oscar de la Renta, and Tommy Hilfiger. He was also made a member of Details's 50 Most Powerful People in 2006, so there's that.
American Apparel hasn't turned a profit since 2009: The company hasn't had an annual profit in five years, but is still considered a draw for the coveted 19- to 30-year-old market.
His famous antipathy toward brand logos extends to the bedroom: "I can't wear any brand on my body. I just freak out," he told the Montreal Mirror in 2003. "I mean, if I'm with a girl who's wearing a Christian Dior necklace, I can't even fuck her."
His made-in-the-USA business model is actually all about making money: In the same Montreal Mirror interview, Charney explained that offshoring production ultimately ends up costing more than vertically integrating manufacturing in North America. "What I'm talking about is the exploitation of human potential instead of the exploitation of humanity. I'm saying you don't have to fuck the Third World up the ass, or the shareholders, or the consumers, or the Canadian and American workers, to do business."
Employees aren't allowed to photograph him: Though he loves photographing his female workers, they must sign a confidentiality agreement that dictates that they are subject to $1 million in damages if they record Charney or any of his residences.
He's a sensitive individual: A year after the infamous Jane article, Ko returned to Charney's L.A. home for a followup, where the clothier bemoaned the attention his masturbating had gotten. "I'm not some Terry Richardson guy who's there for shock value," he said. "I'm a sensitive individual, and had I the impression you weren't enjoying yourself, it would've ended immediately."
He's been the target of sexual-harassment lawsuits from at least nine women since 2005: Allegations ranged from giving one employee a vibrator, shocking one with a "cock sock," ordering a female employee to pretend to masturbate (she refused, so a male employee and Charney did so instead), and turning one into his "sex slave" as soon as she turned 18. He was also accused of choking and throwing dirt in a male employee's face in a separate lawsuit.
Woody Allen sued him too: In 2008, American Apparel took a frame from Annie Hall in which Allen is dressed as an Hasidic Jew, and plastered it on a billboard in Los Angeles. Charney's assistant claimed this was a social commentary on how people accused of sexual harassment are akin to victims of anti-Semitism. Allen fired back with a $10 million lawsuit for using his image without his permission. American Apparel seemed poised to bring up Allen's own dirty laundry in what was expected to be a vicious but (for everyone else) highly entertaining legal tussle-turned-mudslinging match, but the company agreed to settle for $5 million, possibly the biggest-ever payment for a New York privacy claim. Charney claimed that his insurance company had forced him to settle, and that he had been prepared to fight it out in court.
His house is fire-proof: Charney lives in an all-concrete home in Silver Lake that has no fireplaces and reinforced steel for doors. It includes a 20-room "dorm" for American Apparel employees.
He was forced to fire 1,800 employees: In 2009, American Apparel had to fire more than a quarter of its workforce after the federal government found problems with the employees' immigration paperwork. Hundreds quit soon thereafter, crippling the company.
He thinks the word "slut" can be "endearing": During a videotape deposition for one of the suits, he said: "You know, there are some of us that love sluts. You know, it's not necessarily—it could be also be an endearing term."
Underwear is appropriate office-wear, for him: In that same deposition, Charney said: "There were months I was in my underwear all the time. It became very common."
Some have suggested that he judges employees by their looks: In 2009, a disgruntled manager leaked that Charney made every American Apparel store in the country take photos of its employees so that he could personally decide who was good-looking enough to continue working. Later, an employee told Gawker: "Your looks determine your position and pay rate, not how effective you are at your job."
He may actually win back control of American Apparel: With only 7 percent of the remaining shares left before he has a majority, experts say Charney has a good chance of succeeding by the time the board convenes in September, as he has requested. Still, the company is now in such a shambles, with shares worth 50 cents instead of the $15 they once commanded, that no outcome is looking particularly great. "Hard to see how this is a good thing for this company," mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer David E. Rosewater told The New York Times. "No matter what happens, no matter who wins."
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