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Blame It on Bush: American Apparel Sparks Hairy Merkin Debate
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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To bush or not to bush. The debate can get hairy sometimes, with advocates on both sides of the issue (yes, it is an issue). But not usually in public. That is, until American Apparel displayed three mannequins sporting shaggy bushes in one of its New York storefront windows.

Some commentators called the display "gross," others "shocking," and others a "feminist manifesto." What can’t be debated, however, is that American Apparel has everyone talking about it — again, with the creation of its latest PR stunt.

From the hundreds of New Yorkers who are taking pics (and sharing on social media) to bloggers to national media outlets like The Telegraph, New York Magazine, and Elle, American Apparel has sparked a national debate about the merits of the hairy merkin.  

Founded in 1989 by Canadian Dov Charney, the chain now boasts more than 270 outlets around the world and more than 11,000 employees. The hairy mannequins are just one in a long line of PR stunts by the retailer, the most recent of which was a menstruating hairy vagina T-shirt.

The controversy began organically through social media when visitors to its Houston Street shop on the Lower East Side started sharing the store window pics on their own social media; fashionista and social commentator bloggers quickly began to take note.

American Apparel addressed the bush controversy through its Twitter account by asking its 466,000 followers what they thought and interestingly, did not go out of its way to share the mannequins on its social media prior to their discovery by the American public.

Clever PR?

With seemingly everyone talking about the hirsute merkins, Elle magazine called the retailer for comment:

"American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine's Day window continues that celebration. We created it to invite passersby to explore the idea of what is 'sexy' and consider their comfort with the natural female form. This is the same idea behind our advertisements, which avoid many of the photo-shopped and airbrushed standards of the fashion industry.

“So far, we have received positive feedback from those that have commented and we're looking forward to hearing more points of view."

Judging from the thousands of comments on and across social media, the jury is still out on sporting female pubic hair.

Said Lauren David Peden on her Twitter account, “If they really wanted to celebrate women they wouldn’t be known for ‘70s rec room porn ads.”

Said Joslyn B, “ummmmmm! Trying to figure out how I feel about this lol.”

Said Kaye Toal@ohkayewhatever on her Twitter feed: “I’m gonna go ahead and admit that the full bush mannequin is the only thing American Apparel has ever done that I approve of.”

Said Sara Nelson@SaraCNelson on hers, ‘LOVE these American Apparel mannequins. Minge is back.”

However, what is clear is that American Apparel has done it again, winning this week’s PR sweepstakes, especially potent in the lag months of the post-Christmas retail season.

They’ve not only introduced us to the word "merkin" (a pubic wig originally worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia and now used as decorative items by both men and women), but they’ve also got us looking a bit closer at their T-shirts, leggings and pullovers. At least they hope they do.

It will be interesting to see what is next for this controversial and always original retailer.

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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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