American Apparel’s ousted Dov Charney was unpredictable interview subject

Dov Charney of American Apparel
Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, at the company’s factory in downtown Los Angeles in 2012.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

American Apparel founder Dov Charney was an unpredictable executive.

Although heralded as a retail innovator and an advocate for American manufacturing and fair wages, he also faced numerous sexual misconduct accusations.

Over the years, the chief executive -- who on Wednesday was ousted by American Apparel’s board of directors because of “alleged misconduct” -- behaved oddly during many interviews with Times reporters. 

During a factory tour several years ago, he refused to answer questions about the company and talked repeatedly about “Sesame Street.”


After four female former employees sued him for sexual harassment in 2011, he invited two Times reporters to American Apparel’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters to discuss the allegations. (One of the cases settled; the others are in arbitration.)

In his office, Charney and his advisors showed the reporters sexually explicit emails, photos and text messages that he said were from some of the women who sued the company.

The photos showed some of the women posing nude in suggestive positions, in one case with Charney. In at least half a dozen of the texts and emails he showed reporters, the women asked Charney to pay for plane tickets and provide them with money. 

Charney insisted during the visit that the four women who sued him had come onto him and any sexual relationships had been consensual. He said adults should not have to hold back their sexual desires. Many women approached him and some would show up unannounced at his Silver Lake home, he said. 


At one point, he stood up, faced his desk chair and began thrusting his pelvis into the seat, shouting, “Oh Dov, oh Dov!” as he mimicked what he said women would do to entice him. 

He also maintained that he didn’t see a problem with a chief executive of a company having sex with his employees. Adults, he repeated, should be able to do as they please.

When reached by phone Thursday, Charney acknowledged details of the interview, but declined to comment further. 

Shortly after the meeting at company headquarters, a Times reporter received two emails from an unknown sender that contained 27 graphic images of two of the women who filed suit against Charney. Some of the photos were racy but not pornographic. One showed one of the women lying on a bed with a sex toy. 

A few months later, Charney suggested dinner at a downtown L.A. Korean restaurant with a Times reporter and bestselling author Robert Greene, a longtime friend of Charney’s who was and still is a member of American Apparel’s board of directors. 

Over Korean barbecue and beer, Charney lauded Greene’s books, including “The 48 Laws of Power." 

Charney referred to his close friend alternately as a genius, El Senor and Jesus. The American Apparel founder said he was hooked on “The 48 Laws” the moment he opened its burnt orange cover. The book draws on the ideas of Machiavelli, the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and others.

Charney -- who at one point during dinner kicked off his sneakers and laid on his back on the booth cushion -- was a fan of another Greene book, “The Art of Seduction,” which counsels readers to “get what you want by manipulating everyone’s greatest weakness: the desire for pleasure.”


The seduction book, Charney said, was fascinating to him as a study in human behavior, from the perspective of the seducer and the seduced.

“We all like to be seduced,” he said. “We all want to be lied to once in a blue moon, and the seduction book documents this pattern.”

Follow Andrea Chang on Twitter. 

Times staff writer Tiffany Hsu contributed to this report.

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