Abercrombie & Fitch started its corporate life
as nondescript sports equipment and menswear clothing division of Leslie
Wexner’s The Limited. In the early ’90s, it was spun off from the parent
company as its own individual tracking stock on the exchange. But its
success was not a forgone conclusion. In the mid-’90s, new management
took over and completely overhauled the company, eventually evolving into
the moneymaking machine that it has become.
The first A&F Quarterly appeared in late
1997 or early 1998. As a marketing tool, it was an immediate success.
Its mix of feature articles, pages displaying the product and page upon
page of nearly naked flesh struck a chord with young people everywhere.
Much like Vogue and Architectural Digest, the quarterly
served as a means of aspirational (and inspirational) living for young
men and women all over the country. The girls lusted after the handsome,
nearly naked boys on the pages and vice versa. The male readers, in addition
to lust, bought into the idea that girls would find them even more attractive
if they were wearing a pair of A&F surfer shorts,
and the unspoken thought that sex (yes, sex) would follow. And of course,
the underlying concept of appealing to gay men wasn’t initially made clear
or highlighted; but make no mistake, nothing was left to chance in mounting
the rebirth of this company.
I was a convert from the very beginning, and although
I don’t shop from every catalogue, I appreciate every issue. I appreciate
them even more when my friends would come into my home and my latest A&F
would turn up missing after they’d left.
Nothing succeeds like success and someone is always
out there trying to spoil your fun. Hence the occasional controversy.
The first full-blown controversy came after the summer 1999 issue. A ‘concerned’
parent group held a press conference to tell the world that Abercrombie
& Fitch is the ‘devil trying the corrupt the innocent minds of their
If only they knew what their kids were doing when they
Naked flesh struck a chord with young peoplebut also raised controversy
with parents groups because of the hints at sexual activity. Image
from the spring 2001 issue. Below left: When the product is not
seen in this photograph (Back to School 2001), is it emotive brand-building
or soft porn? The controversy continues. Below right: But not all
images can be misinterpreted, surely? From the Back to School 2000 catalogue.