The Howard Hughes of Fashion

Salon has a fascinating piece on Abercrombie & Fitch head honcho Mike Jeffries today. The article pointed to a string of adjectives that reminded me of Howard Hughes: “driven, demanding, smart, intense, obsessive-compulsive, eccentric, flamboyant and, depending on whom you talk to, either slightly or very odd.” Sure, he “always goes through revolving doors twice, never passes employees on stairwells, parks his Porsche every day at the same angle in the parking lot (keys between the seats, doors unlocked)” but greatness is often accompanied by a measure of insanity. What was most amazing was his Machiavellian candor:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “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.”

I’m sure that quotation will enrage most people, but again I say, “why is this surprising to anyone?” If you have any awareness of the insipid, fascist behemoth that is Abercrombie & Fitch, you know that it has to be led by someone like Jeffries. He has sold America an almost Aryan Ideal of fashion. It’s a wonder they haven’t started performing eugenics experiments on their employees. Actually, scratch that, they practice a commercial form of it:

For example, when I ask him how important sex and sexual attraction are in what he calls the “emotional experience” he creates for his customers, he says, “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.”

Still I admire the guy’s honesty. He’s a complete ass and he’s proud of it. His success has justified his worldview.

As a sidenote, the piece also mentions a dedication to “the brand,” and I just want to say that, as someone who works in a marketing-related field, I pity anyone who depends entirely on brand awareness for their survival. To say that your brand is more important than your product means that your product isn’t good enough at setting itself apart from the competition, so you have to convince people that your brand is somehow special in some unquantifiable way.

Which leads me to this: judge clothing by clothing, not by what store you buy it in. People who insist on only shopping at certain “lifestyle brand” stores are fools who have been hypnotized by the Convincing John[1] of advertising. If you assign any portion of your identity to a store in a mall, you have lost a part of your soul. Except of course, for Chick-fil-A, which is the nectar of the Gods, as everyone knows.

1.) God bless you, Jim Henson, for creating this character and helping to make kids aware of his presence in our culture.

4 thoughts on “The Howard Hughes of Fashion”

  1. It also helps the store that it smells like sex on a hot fudge sundae.
    If Goodwill smelled that awesome, people could buy the same quality,
    beat up, worn out, “I can’t believe jeans with 1,000 holes in it are $150”
    kind of clothes.

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