Inside the Early Days at Dov Charney’s Seedy, Weirdly Horny American Apparel

Kate Flannery, who was hired in 2005, writes in a new book that he called sexual harassment lawsuits against him "puritanical forces set to destroy everything."

Inside the Early Days at Dov Charney’s Seedy, Weirdly Horny American Apparel
Image:Henry Holt and Company; Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The following is an excerpt from Strip Tees: A Memoir of Millennial Los Angeles, by Kate Flannery. Flannery was hired at the iconic clothing brand American Apparel in 2005, as its founder Dov Charney—who used his unorthodox ways to foster cult-like devotion—faced three sexual harassment lawsuits.

One afternoon in early November, I was finishing up an open call at the Sunset store when Dov’s champagne-colored Caddy pulled up outside.

“He’s here!” Anarah yelled.

She sounded the alarm, and it ricocheted through the shop.

It’s DOV! Look busy! Toss any food—no drinks on the cash wrap! Exterminate all dust bunnies. Cover all exposed tattoos. One last quick mirror check for fuckability before he—shit, he’s here!

“Everyone!” Dov barked, throwing open the shop doors. “Back room meeting.”

He stormed the floor like a gale-force wind, hangers rattling in his wake, and disappeared into the back.

The door opened again and belched out a backstock boy.

“He told me to man the cash wrap, but I’ve never done that before,” he said, panicking.

“Figure it out,” I ordered, before heading back myself.

Something was up.

Dov was jubilant.

One of the lawsuits had been dropped that afternoon. A federal district court judge had dismissed the case and entered an order that American Apparel pay nothing to the plaintiff. Dov gathered us all into the back room of his precious baby of a first store to celebrate.

“A defeat against conservatism cloaked as liberalism,” he yelled, shaking a fist in the air. He was buzzing around the back room, smiling manically at us.

Dawn, Gia, Anarah—all the girls were standing at attention. I spotted Big Dick Vik unloading a box of 2001s. He winked at me. We hadn’t spoken since our date at Star Shoes, but I’d heard through the backstock boy grapevine that he had been bragging about our night of underwhelming sex. I rolled my eyes at him and looked back to Dov.

He was holding up his hand for high fives and dancing like he’d scored a touchdown.

“Have you read The 48 Laws of Power?” he asked one of the boys.

“I’ll get you a copy. Law number two—Never put too much trust in friends. Let’s take these suits for what they really are—PC bullshit. We’re changing culture here, and it’s big work. There are puritanical forces set to destroy everything we’ve built so far! Don’t let them.”

Kate Flannery, the author. Photo:Billy Baque

There was that us-versus-them dynamic again—all of us, together, unified in purpose against an unseen enemy. It was easy to get swept up in—Dov’s charisma. He had won, and by default, we were all winners now. I started clapping for him along with the others.

I looked over at Dawn. She was clapping, too, transfixed.

“Now listen,” he said, propping a foot on a stool. “When you’re successful, you attract hangers. Laggers.”

A switch flicked inside him, and his eyes darkened.

“Opportunists!” he snarled.

He punched the desk, and a stack of paperwork kited to the ground. Anarah scrabbled to pick them up.

The back room went silent—he had swapped euphoria for blind rage so quickly, no one was sure how to react. I could hear the thud of the store iPod pumping through the drywall, chugging along while he recalibrated. We made eye contact, and his glare softened a bit. He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath.

He was quiet for a minute while we shifted uneasily in our spots—he seemed to sense that he scared us. Suddenly he leaped to his feet and jerked his jogging pants down to the ground. Underneath was a pair of pink American Apparel briefs, the ones with the white piping.

The backroom erupted in laughter.

I laughed, too, grateful for a break in the heaviness. The tension hanging in the air started to dissolve, and soon we were all on the same team again. All winners here.

My eyes ran over the hairy expanse of Dov’s thighs and settled on the bulge in his underwear. It struck me as kind of profound that whatever was covered there by a few cubic inches of American-made cotton could be the root of so much turmoil. Truly the crotch that launched a thousand ships.

It was the driving force propelling all this provocative chaos that was making the company thrive. It could cause a press frenzy, could launch an empire, could even destroy it.

“Anyone offended by this?” he asked, shuffling across the room, his pants around his ankles.

He looked ridiculous. We were all eating it up—now it was really a party.

“Are you offended?” he said, pointing to Gia. She was fanning away the tears in her eyes from laughing so much.

“Nope,” Gia said.

“How about you?” he asked Dawn.

“No way!” she yelled.

“You?” he said to Viktor.

“Fuck no.”

“What about you?” he said, pointing at me.

I shook my head no.

“Good. This is a big win for all of us—for all of you.”

He gathered us together in a huddle.

“Fuck sexual harassment culture! It’s the fabrication of a bunch of pierced protestors. It makes victims out of women, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s victim culture. Don’t fall for it.”

A buzz from his phone distracted him.

“I gotta take this. Go and spread the word,” he told us, hitching up his pants.

We were still clapping and high-fiving each other when the Caddy pulled back out onto Sunset Boulevard. It had only taken a few minutes to whip us all into a frenzy, but it stayed with everyone the rest of the afternoon. American Apparel versus the world!

Excerpted from STRIP TEES: A Memoir of Millennial Los Angeles by Kate Flannery. You can buy the book now at Bookshop and Amazon.

Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2023 by Kate Flannery. All rights reserved.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin