American Apparel: Hipster to prepster

American Apparel is betting its future on the return of the preppie look.

“The stereotype of a hipster is not something people aspire to anymore. Do you want to be a hipster?” Apparently nobody does. No one has a better understanding of this than American Apparel CEO Dov Charney who was quoted in The Village Voice lamenting the death of the fad his retail chain championed, if not started. The go-to retailer for scenesters everywhere seems to be having an identity crisis as its net loss for Q1 reached US$42.8 million. Shares have dropped as much as 66% in the past 12 months, are currently trading at just over a dollar, and the company risks being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

So everyone is wondering what Charney has up his sleeve. But it’s not what’s up his sleeve that matters — it’s the sleeve itself. Hailing the rebirth of prep, the company is swapping metallic unitards for blazers, button-downs and boat shoes. The conspicuous CEO just might be on to something. This August saw the first-ever American release of 1965’s iconic Japanese Ivy style book Take Ivy, and Lisa Birnbach, author of the 1980 international bestseller The Official Preppy Handbook, just released True Prep: It’s a Whole New World. Prep may indeed be seeing a rebirth, but there’s reason to wonder if consumers will trust their look to a retailer known more for racy thigh-highs than Nantucket Reds.