The gentleman that you see in three iterations in the above graphic is none other than Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries. I've always had a beef with A&F and have never actually purchased anything from one of their stores. I can probably actually count the number of times I've browsed their stores on one hand. I take that back, I have owned a pair of their jeans once, but for in my defense I bought them from TJ Max for about $15. A&F has never been anything more than a symbol of status and the following article link I'm about to toss at your is living proof from the horses mouth. And, unfortunately, A&F has been a culture maker for years now and that's the problem; society and our culture at large holds a view of beauty and value that is simply so far out of whack that most of us can't even see straight. Take a trip to the local supermarket and peruse the magazine section, or skim the ones at the register and you'll see the societal definition of beauty. It's women and men who have been airbrushed to death. If you've never experienced the power of Adobe Photoshop, check this out. It's a rip-off of a Dove ad from a few years ago, but still shows you what goes into making those cover girls stand out after the photographer is done.
According to Dove, maker of skincare and beauty products, their research shows them that only 4% of women find themselves "beautiful." One would probably look at such a statement and surmise this to be merely a marketing tactic. The reality is the number is probably higher than that, but it's not all that hard to believe that the vast majority of women today do not find themselves "beautiful." It's primarily because they're comparing apples to oranges if we're going off what we see in television, internet or print ads. And, in all reality, they're not even comparing themselves with a real person, but someone who has had the living daylights edited and retouched in a computer application after they've had a team of people primp and paint them for over an hour.
Now, how does Mike Jeffries tie into all this? Well, I saw a link to an article about him earlier today on Facebook it basically whipped me into a frenzy. His views and his brand are merely perpetuating this erroneous definition of beauty that young girls and women of our age are being crushed under. It's maddening to hear, witness and read about. Read this doozy of a comment from Mr. Jeffries about "hot people" and his marketing efforts from a 2006 article with Salon;
“It’s almost everything. That’s why 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,” he said.
Additionally, in a recent interview for his book The New Rules of Retaul with respected finance and technology website, Business Insider, Robin Lewis received this little bit of insight about Mike Jeffries;
“He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”
And the sad part is this mentality isn't isolated to Jeffries, it's cultivated in the training and culture of their stores as well. Maybe not all stores, but at least some. I can attest to this, second-hand, as I personally know people who have been asked to leave an A&F store because of their appearance. No joke. Jeffries also told Salon in his 2006 interview the following;
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “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. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either,” he told Salon.
The subtle irony of this quote, and it's genius (sarcasm) as well, is that if you flash forward to the middle of 2012 things for A&F were going horribly bad in the sales department. In fact, they were postponing the opening of stores because their sales had plummeted an additional 26%. And, as far back as 2009, A&F was rated as one of the worst brands to potentially weather the recession were were in the thick of at the time. Here's a nice little read, again, from Business Insider about A&F's 2012 financials. To further gain insight into Jeffries' delusion read this one from Yahoo! Finance, here. There are 2 primary reasons why A&F is in a stitch financially; 1) They are horribly overpriced for the goods they are selling, and 2) their product is stale and over-branded. A&F isn't offering anything new in terms of design, and they're still selling it a a ridiculous price. The product is cheap and it doesn't last long, yet it costs twice as much as comparable goods of the same build. We have some friends in London who visited the states a few years back and they were excited to visit an A&F store because they'd heard so much about them, and because A&F had plans to open a store in London soon. However, once they visited the authentic store here in the states, they experienced a huge let down because the design was stale and pricey for what it was. Quite honestly, I can't even stand walking by their stores and opt for taking the long way around them due to the insane volume of their music and the stench of their cologne oozing from every fiber of clothing in their store. I may sound old and crotchety, but I'll go in a Gap, H&M or American Eagle store any day of the week and be fine with the atmosphere. And I can walk out without feeling like a cologne capsule has been lodged in my sinuses. And besides, what child of the 90s doesn't remember that horrible song, Summer Girls, from LFO, right? Oh my that was just awful. Enough ranting.
The fact remains, dudes like this are shaping culture. A&F may not be the culture-maker that it once was, but they are still in the mix and contributing to the bevy of voices out there that sustain this ridiculous definition of beauty that society cannot seem to shake. If anyone believes that the state of modern marketing is weak, I would ask you to reconsider based on this topic alone. We've convinced ourselves to loathe ourselves because we just can't square up to the image we see in the mirror, versus that of the ads we see on television, on the internet and in the checkout lane. Now, loathe could be a strong word here, but just look at Dove's latest internet sensation to get my drift.
Sad, right? The reality is that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. It's not a societal standard that we have to live up to and we have to soundly reject such a notion. If we continue down that path and let the Mike Jeffries of the world continue to dictate what is beautiful or what has absolute value, then most of us end up marginalized and living on the fringes. Additionally, if you're an adult and you're still living life based on status symbols like clothing labels and cars, you have my congratulations because you're still living in a system used by high schoolers. It's time we all straighten up a bit and drop the act. Dudes like this don't deserve to have your ear, or your dollar. Sadly, as you can clearly see from the images in the banner above, Jeffries has a problem with his own self-image. Clearly he's had plastic surgery performed on his own face through the years. This isn't reality, it's a child with too much money and time to stare into the mirror of vanity. I hate sounding so harsh, but I don't want my child(ren) to grow up dealing with this stuff. I can raise, steward, teach and instruct them as much as I want to, but it's just awful that kids of this age are subjected to the crushing and unrealistic standard of the world around them. It's real, I've seen it. It's not that you have to shelter yourself or kids from things like this, doing so only hinders your ability to graciously and lovingly approach issues like these to help change the perception. But the thoughts and opinions of men, and women, like a Mike Jeffries has to be soundly rejected on all levels. This is what ruins people.