A Brief History of PR Disasters By Abercrombie & Fitch

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In many ways, Jeffries’s most impressive accomplishment was not the signature Abercrombie style but the signature Abercrombie attitude, with its bluntly brash appeal. As one former employee put it, “The only bad news was no news. Controversy was what you wanted.” Consequently, the list of PR disasters past and present is too lengthy to fully detail, but the more notable flare-ups include the following: the quickly recalled line of Asian-themed T-shirts, which featured men in rice-paddy hats and cartoonishly slanted eyes; a line of thongs, marketed to girls as young as 10, with the words wink-wink on the crotch; an issue of A&F Quarterly that included a user’s guide to having oral sex in a movie theater; and the disingenuous joke-apology to critics that appeared in the same periodical in 2003: “If you’d be so kind, please offer our apologies to the following: the Catholic League, former Lt. Governor Corrine Wood of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Stanford University Asian-American Association, N.O.W.”

In 2010, Michael Stephen Bustin, a former pilot of the Abercrombie corporate jet, filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie in a Philadelphia federal court, claiming he’d been unfairly dismissed because of his age. (He is in his mid-fifties.) Abercrombie & Fitch settled with Bustin, but not quickly enough to prevent the disclosure, by Bustin’s lawyers, of a 40-plus page Abercrombie “aircraft standards” manual, a copy of which leaked online.

Included in the manual are rules on crew apparel (the male staff, hand-selected by a New York modeling agency, were to wear a “spritz” of Abercrombie 41 cologne and boxer briefs under their jeans), the specific song to be played on return flights (“Take Me Home,” by Phil Collins), and the way the toilet paper in the aft lavatory should be rolled (never exposed; end square neatly folded). If Jeffries makes a request, the crew is always to respond with “No problem” instead of “Yes” or “Sure.”

It’s Fashion Week in New York, and in New York magazine, Matthew Shaer looks at the rise and fall of retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, which is attempting to reposition itself in a the current market, where stores like H&M have found success. A+F CEO Mike Jeffries helped rebrand the company in the ’90s to much success, but has unable to keep the company up with a changing consumer market. Read more business stories at Longreads.

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Photo: Daniel Spills

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Mike is the managing editor at Longreads, on the editorial team at WordPress.com, and is the editor of The Billfold. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, Pacific Standard, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.
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