I saw an Abercrombie & Fitch store last weekend and I wondered how they're still in business, which reminded me to watch Netflix's documentary, White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. Maybe because Abercrombie was such a cultural staple during my tween and teen years, I felt especially angry watching this. I think it's an important watch, because it also highlights the problem with many diversity & inclusion initiatives beyond the obvious.
The thing I remember most about Abercrombie is that pervasive scent that intoxicates their stores and can be smelt a block away. It's the scent of their men's perfume, "Fierce." Though it was popular, as a teenager I never thought much of the brand, other than it being a trendy clothing store with generally basic clothes. I do also remember being really uncomfortable with the half-dressed male "models" that would stand at the entrances though. Something about that just always felt exploitative to me.
While I definitely wandered the stores with friends countless times, I never shopped there. It was too exepnsive and, and at least to me, there was nothing about their clothes that screamed "must-have" to me. It was like overpriced, cheaply made shirts. The only Abercrombie I ever owned were hand-me-downs.
So, maybe for this reason, I also missed all the controversy that brewed within the brand and eventually embroiled it. Now learning about it, I feel grossed out for my generation. Master manipulation of young minds in one of its most grotesque forms. Even if I didn't shop at Abercrombie, I can still see the shopping bags laden with half-naked models, and their role in defining beauty standards that I didn't and would never fit into.
What's grosser is the international appeal. They're so popular in some European cities, that shoppers have to queue outside to get in. This why I became a copywriter. Brands have so much power. They are culture changers, influencers, and at the very least enablers. So, the images that Abercrombie have defined as what's young, hot, and American is what people around the world see, too.
It's no wonder that people have a certain image of the "typical" American and if you dn't fall into what that looks like, then you're automatically an "other."
Mike Jeffries is a sick person, and it irks me so deeply that he was allowed to be in the position he was in for as long as he was.
But he's not a unique monster. What bothers me just as much is the response to racism. It's a common issue I've seen even in the entertainment industry. Many times when a diversity issue is presented, the response is diversity for diversity's sake. As a person of color and a woman facing these situations, the ingenuininess creeps along. your skin.
I'd like to say that I can see a change in tide and we're starting to see more genuine forms of representation. But that's because women and people of color are building their own empires.