Blog: Leonie BarrieA&F in a state of undress

Leonie Barrie | 5 February 2008

Abercrombie & Fitch has been in hot water this week after some nearly nude photos at one of its US stores – or marketing material in A&F speak – were confiscated by police and the store manager hit with a misdemeanor obscenity charge.

It now transpires that the incident was simply the result of the authorities “overreacting,” and the charge is likely to be dropped. But the images – one showing three shirtless young men, with one man’s upper buttocks showing, and the other of a woman whose breast was mostly exposed – are typical of the promotional style that has got the company into trouble before. In 2003, it withdrew its A&F Quarterly catalogue after complaints about sexually suggestive photographs, and the following year paid $50m to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of cultivating an all-white image.

Anyway, the incident coincided with a BBC TV programme last night showing how A&F has the ability to stir up just as much controversy on the other side of the Atlantic. Filmed last year, the jeanswear giant had the staid British institution that is Savile Row shaking in its foundations as it prepared to open its first UK store.

Savile Row, of course, is best known for its bespoke tailoring and a heritage going back several centuries, so it wasn’t surprising that the tailors were hardly going to welcome A&F and its nude torso hoardings with open arms. The tailors rallied round, amid fears of spiralling rents, craftspeople moving out and large hedge fund companies and chains moving in. What, they wondered, was the future for businesses where a two-piece suit can start at GBP2,500, and take 80 hours of expert work?

Slowly it dawned on them that the hoards of young people heading for A&F could well turn out to be the bespoke customers of tomorrow. And leading the way was Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie, who duly arrived at Norton & Sons to be measured for a suit.


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