Dov Charney, Like It or Not

The founder of red-hot American Apparel has the simplest possible business strategy: He does and says exactly what he wants to.
  1. This is not your typical CEO story. But then this is most definitely not your typical CEO. I refer to the shirtless man, the scrawny, square-shouldered dude with the hairy chest talking to his mom on a cell phone while circling a picnic table in New York City's Washington Square Park. Periodically he stops to eat chicken and mashed potatoes from a plastic deli tray parked next to a woman studying Spanish. It is his first and probably only meal of the day.

    The CEO—who actually answers to the title senior partner—is probably five-eight and might top 140 pounds if his pockets were full of change. With a tangle of brown hair and muttonchop sideburns that meander across his face until they meet his mustache, forming a seamless band of hair from nose to nape, the 36-year-old proprietor of one of the hottest brands in fashion bears a strong resemblance to a young Gabe Kotter with a whiff of Vincent Gallo. He is also commonly said to look like a 1970s pornographer, and that is the sort of comparison that makes him very, very happy.

    He is Dov Charney—T-shirt salesman, tastemaker, ladies' man, pied piper, bon vivant.

    He is the founder of American Apparel and he is proudly Canadian.

    Today, on the first genuinely hot day of an otherwise mild start to summer in New York City, Charney is giddy, which by all accounts is the norm. A tightly wound dervish of energy, he sits down, then quickly stands back up and strolls off to get some private time with his mom, returning a few minutes lat...

Originally published in Inc., September 2005