“Eww! It has pubes!” an onlooker proclaimed as I walked out the door of American Apparel’s store on New York’s East Houston Street. The controversial retailer’s latest display features mannequins showing off more than just lingerie. Beneath their see-through bras and underwear lie nipples and an abundance of pubic hair.
One woman sheepishly tried to steer her young son away. Another mom took pictures to send to her daughter. Some men laughed and pointed, while others walked by unfazed. It’s certainly a conversation starter, and maybe that’s the point. Thanks to Cameron Diaz and her girl Gwyneth Paltrow, we’ve all been wondering if the bush is back.
To get more insight on the matter, we sat down with one of American Apparel’s visual merchandisers, Dee Myles, to discuss those bushy displays.
Styleite: How long have the mannequins been up?
Dee Myles: They went up this morning at 3 a.m., so we put them up last night.
S: What has the response been so far?
DM: You know I find that the response is more curiosity than anything. People don’t seem to have a negative reaction or necessarily an overly positive one. It’s just…They want to know what the stance is and why the decision was made to portray mannequins in that light. So yeah, it’s more of a curious one I would say.
S: What would you say the stance is?
DM: Well, American Apparel has always been a company that celebrates natural beauty. I think that it’s a continuation of that celebration. It’s more so showing a natural form in our lingerie. I think it’s to spark conversation rather than controversy over what we deem beautiful and sexy.
S: So actually putting the mannequins together… Is that hair floating in there? Glued on? Can you buy mannequins like that?
DM: It was an addition to our mannequins, so the mannequins didn’t come that way. Along with the areola and nipples, those were things that were made by our display team. The hair was purchased in a store and added on. That’s actually another part of it. It’s interesting that we’ve gotten so much more of a reaction about the addition of pubic hair rather than the addition of the nipples, so that’s kind of interesting as far as the feedback we’ve gotten.
S: The mannequins have been up for a day. Do you feel you have had more customers coming in or the same amount?
DM: This location? I would say the flow is about average, however there is more interest in our lingerie section, which is wonderful from a company stand point. I like to think its not because we’ve exploited, it’s more an exploration. It’s making everyone see sexy in a more natural way. I think that’s the way we want to sell lingerie — making it for everyone, making it real. And also bringing the sensuality and the lust factor back into Valentine’s Day.
S: That holiday is coming up…
DM: [Laughs] It is, and that’s also the main reason for the window, preparation for Valentine’s Day.
S: Is this a national display?
DM: This is actually a concept that was devised by the New York display team for American Apparel. Every region and every district has a display team and they decide the concept they want to go with. It was approved by other people that are in charge of the company as a whole, but every store in American Apparel in New York is going by that display team, so there is going to be a lot of different versions of the window, hopefully with this idea. Not necessarily all the mannequins are going to be in lingerie with pubic hair, but it’s going to have this same feel of not just a guy and girl on a date night. Maybe it can be more individualistic as far as feeling sexy without necessarily insinuating they are going to be going on a date or something more traditional I guess. It’s trying to break free from that, but also keep it real, raw, and natural.
S: Did Cameron Diaz’s book have anything to do with it?
DM: Actually I was just reading an article that someone put up about it, and they are referring to it as the Gwyneth Paltrow. I think that’s interesting, but Sawyer Ballance of the display team is the main one behind it.
S: Do you think it will be controversial?
DM: It should be offensive that people are offended. That’s how I feel. I mean, I was a women’s study major in college. I already sent photos of the window to my mom. So, yeah I think it’s having us internalize if we are uncomfortable, why that is? Because that’s more natural than if the mannequin did not have it. We are all really excited. It’s not about being controversial. It’s about sparking conversation. It’s not supposed to be shock value. I think we come from a time where people can be blowing up things on television. Why would this be thought of as a greater issue?
S: Was it fun to put together?
DM: There were two people that put together the window last night, Julio Delgado and Molly Hatch. They actually implemented Sawyer Ballance’s concept, and they had a lot of fun. They were sending photos and FaceTiming the whole time. When you think about it artistically, which I hope is the way people think about it, it’s taking in consideration that the nipples are made by hand and the color palate that we are using–that speaks volumes of keeping it really soft and minimal versus maybe making it really aggressive by using reds and blacks. In the end, it really should be about celebration and glorification. As natural as possible, not like texploitation.
S: Would you say bush is making a comeback?
DM: I think being comfortable with the bush is making a comeback. Everyone is calling it the ‘70s window. Even if you look at it from a feminist point of view, feminism is about choice. How do you want your body to look? Feeling that however you decide to look, you are comfortable with that, and people aren’t going to think its gross or awkward. I think self-realization and taking back the self is coming back.
S: So there’s a lot of hair… Was there ever the thought to tone it down a bit?
DM: We wanted to make sure that some have more and some have less. So, not all the girls have the same amount. If we did go the route of making it less, then my concern, on a personal note and as a feminist, would be that it would then say, “If you do have this hair, it should be trim and polite.” It would actually, in my opinion, oversex them. By making it a bit more obvious and substantial, it lets you have your own idea of how much or how little you would like. The drama of the amount [of hair] we put on [the mannequins] brings it down to that natural feminist feel, rather than making them sex dolls.