It ain’t the 90s anymore: Thin isn’t in, and high-priced exclusivity isn’t exactly sitting at the Cool Kids’ table these days. And neither, it seems, is Abercrombie & Fitch. At least, A&F hasn’t found itself sitting at the cool kids table in the boiler rooms of Wall Street, where its rapid slide back into irrelevance from 2011 was hastened all the more by the recent, Ultimate Douchebaggery of its CEO, Mike Jeffries. Behold, the poster-man-child for “College Frat Bro Desperately Clinging to Surgical Youth”:
No, that look on Jeffries’ face isn’t happiness. Actually, it might be. It might also be sadness. Or nausea, constipation, an allergic reaction to shellfish, tetanus or accidentally sitting on a particularly oriented cucumber. With this much surgery and Botox, it’s hard to tell. But for these purposes, let’s just assume it isn’t happiness.
Jeffries has been CEO of Abercrombie since the 1990s, and saw the brand through its modern re-invention as the go-to clothing designer for high-school and college-age preps. And over these many years, it’s been something of an open secret that Abercrombie targets a rather specific audience. A few years ago, ever-controversial Jeffries said this about the store’s hiring policies:
“We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
We’d have never guessed.
So, okay…a little douchebaggy. But, a pretty honest marketing observation, at least. Give him that. And it’s not as though Jeffries himself were the one deciding what made someone “attractive” or not. Or, he wasn’t openly doing so until pretty recently.
In May of 2013, Abercrombie finally came out of the “We Hate Fat People” closet; a reality to which anyone who’s ever attempted to shop there and walked out empty-handed could attest. Jeffries:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
For Abercrombie’s high-school and college audience, the implication may be best expressed as a logical “Barbara” syllogism:
Skinny is cool.
Cool is attractive.
Therefore, skinny is attractive.
And that’s a bit of logical proof that didn’t fall too well on Jeffries’ post-90s customer base. Since making that statement, A&F’s already failing stock has been dropping faster than last year’s hip-huggers on a freshman with no hips:
Even with squinty Botox-eyes, it was hard to miss the writing on the wall for A&F. As of 2014, their stock had dropped to nearly its absolute bottom since Bush recession-slapped its customer base to The Gap. Even as far back as 2008, the $71-million-a-year Jeffries was named by the Corporate Library as the “Highest Paid Worst Performer” in any industry. And the company’s stock prices reflected that assessment; hemorrhaging cash, Jeffries’ “exclusive” brand was well on the track to becoming utterly worthless in three to four years. And that was before Jeffries made his stand on which body type was cool. Since then, Abercrombie’s death sentence seemed to have moved up to about three months from now.
Welcome: CEO Rick Perry.
Worse, Abercrombie had a hard time simply firing him, because he’d taken a lot of his payment in stock. Now owning about 3 percent of the company, Jeffries would have to change his tune, or risk losing everything for everyone…most notably, himself.
And last week, Jeffrie’s quietly changed the station.
On November 6th, with as little fanfare as possible, Abercrombie sullenly announced that starting this spring, it would start offering plus sizes in its stores to market to the now approximately 68 percent of its demographic that was evidently “too fat to be cool” last year.
So quiet was the announcement that at the time of this writing, you’ll find only a short mention of it on Reuters, and one other site. On the WHOLE INTERNET. Now, that’s some low-key pouting if ever we heard it.
Now, if you’re feeling a bit underwhelmed at Abercrombie’s newfound magnanimity, then congratulations — you’re not alone. Jeffries’ announcement, while garnering a little bit of initial excitement, seems to have utterly backfired. Here’s the stock picture as of this month…see if you can spot the subtle change of attitude:
So…that would be a pretty fat “Yeah, screw you anyway” from the market.
Literally the last two things that were this bad for Abercrombie & Fitch were a recession and the Season 6 premier of Friends.
Just a final, personal thought. Little editorial.
Because we all know how well these always turn out.
As much as some of us loved the 1990s, and at least remembered the 1980s…maybe its time to move on from certain habits and preconceptions in society. Among them are obviously our take on the value of exclusivity vs inclusiveness; a generation raised on TV shows and economic realities designed to eliminate “the weak” seem to have a slight distaste for the whole exclusionary thing. That’s the big, broad social take-away here.
But, there’s another, more specific one.
(And, just to preface the following: This is coming from someone who quite openly doesn’t sexually discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to dating.)
Michael Jeffires has been openly gay for a long time now. Which is great…good for him. A lot of males in the fashion industry are and have been. So much so that during the 80s and 90s, the idea became something of a stereotype; it was weird if you were a male who worked in fashion and weren’t gay. And for good reason, too: At the time, it was one of the very few high-paying industries that welcomed gay men.
But, that isn’t true anymore. So, I have a request:
Can we please, for the love of GOD…
STOP LETTING GAY MEN RUN THE FASHION INDUSTRY!!!
SERIOUSLY…can you THINK of a group WORSE QUALIFIED to judge the standards of feminine beauty than the ONE group of people who are guaran-freaking-TEED not to be attracted to women? For Christ’s sake, people, at what point is somebody going to look at these female runway models and notice that, proportionately, they all seem to bear a stunning resemblance to
You want to know how “thin came in?” People who aren’t attracted to women started deciding what was supposed to be attractive about women. Meanwhile, those of us who LIKE the way women look — with curves and everything — have spent the last 30 years staring at androgynous runway stick figures who make women-shaped women feel like crap about themselves.
Look, fashion industry, Mike Jeffries et al — speaking as someone who has happily exercised some choice in the matter — if I wanted to date someone shaped like a 19-year-old male, I’d just date a frigging 19-year-old male!! I know, I can, and I have. And you know what I’ve decided?
I still like women who LOOK LIKE FREAKING WOMEN!
So, please…please, dear openly gay friends: The world isn’t forcing you into fashion or flower arranging anymore. You don’t have to live the stereotype any longer. And, let’s be honest: You’re about as qualified to decide on female standards of beauty as my (still somehow) two best gay friends were qualified to set me up with my last three girlfriends. Yeah… talking to YOU, Bradley and Jordan.
And for everyone else, remember:
The next time a magazine or fashion retailer tries to sell you on the idea that skinny is the hottest thing a female can be…remember that the guy who decided so doesn’t particularly like females.
SO STOP IT!!