Art, branding and being stupid about it all: Abercrombie & Fitch

Paradoxes, purposes an ponderances - general thoughts on culture and current events by Artist BZTAT

Paradoxes, Purposes and Ponderances is a series of articles written by Artist BZTAT commenting on current events and culture.

You have no doubt read about the latest Abercrombie & Fitch controversy, or maybe you have seen people lamenting and gnashing Facebook teeth about it. Maybe you saw Ellen Degeneres’ televised A&F smackdown, or have read celebrity tweets admonishing the allegedly “cool” clothing brand.

At the heart of the controversy is a Salon article about the company’s CEO Mike Jeffries, that, in fact, was published in 2006. It is not clear why the article has re-emerged in 2013, but one particular quote from Jeffries has stirred many to cry foul in the present:

“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.”

Many people see Jeffries’ statement as a direct and insensitive slight towards individuals who are too large to fit into A&F clothes.

No one chooses to be overweight or larger than size 10, which is the apparent limit to “coolness” according to Jeffries, self-appointed arbiter of “cool”. Many people make food choices that may lead to extra girth (myself included), but no one decides that they want to be heavy.

So, if we ascribe to Jeffries’ definition of “cool”, there are “haves” and there are “have nots”, and one will always be inferior to the other.

Obviously, Jeffries’ candid statement of belief has some people up in arms.

Some have sought to get A&F to change, insisting that they make larger sizes. Some have implored people to donate A&F clothing to homeless people in order to trash the brand’s promotion of their vision of “coolness”.

A&F and Jeffries have defended the brand, however, and they have shown no desire to change. Should they change?

I don’t think they “should”. They are under no obligation to stop being idiots. We are also under no obligation to buy their product.

When Jeffries took over the struggling company in 1992, he rebuilt it in the way that an artist approaches a creative work. He created an imaginary world, inventing ideals that fed perceptions of emotionally immature adolescents looking for self outside of their own being. Using artful photography, A&F pushed ideals of youth, attractiveness and sexuality into a youthful consciousness, implying that only certain individuals that fit the ideal were worthy.

Gallery Exhibit
Digital art by BZTAT

If the A&F images and fashion designs had been displayed on gallery walls, they may have been heralded as an amazingly creative concept and an  interesting aesthetic.

When art coerces people to change their individual mindsets about themselves, AND when people are manipulated by art into purchasing products in order to feed a false collective mindset – that is another thing entirely.

Art and commerce rely on tapping into an existing mindset, though, to be successful. Collective and individual mindsets change.

Jeffries apparently has not gotten the memo – our collective mindset is not as elitist now as he once presumed it was.

It is no longer “cool” to put others down in order to put yourself ahead. It used to be cool to be exclusionary, but now? DUDE! That’s SO yesterday.

red equality sign dove BZTAT
Diversity is Cool-Art by BZTAT

Today’s cool kids care and treat others with respect. They are self assured and they base their sense of self in their talents, skills, and openness to diverse perspectives.

Their sexuality and appearance are part of who they are, not all of who they are, and they have no interest in the false ideals that are promoted by Abercrombie & Fitch.

The new cool kids may find the A&F imagery interesting on a gallery wall, but their purchasing power will not follow.

Those whom A&F considers “cool” are seen in modern culture to be insecure bigots and snobs. Not exactly the sort of brand identity that sells overpriced clothing.

Mr. Jeffries – you overreached in both art and business. Recent reports of your demise in stock and sales declines make you look so uncool.

I don’t think you should change. I think you should lay in the bed of ruin you have made for yourself.

Fountain  by Marcel Duchamp
“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp (1912)

It was an interesting experiment to see how gullible people can be, but then, so was Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”.


  1. Paula Rodgers says:

    Well said. You and I agree on many things, and on many things we disagree. I enjoy and appreciate reading your ever articulate, thoughtful and witty opinions! In short, I think you’re cool.

  2. BZTAT says:

    Me? Cool? I was decidedly uncool even when I could fit into a size 10. But who the heck cares? There’s more to life than stuffing your identity into a pair of too small jeans.

    I like that you think I’m cool though. 🙂

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