US fashion retailer sexes up the teen market

Abercrombie & Fitch braced for more outrage over relaunch of its 'soft-porn' quarterly. Susie Mesure reports
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The Independent US

Abercrombie & Fitch, the US clothing store that courts controversy as effortlessly as it shifts stock, is planning to re-launch its infamous magazine four years after dropping it in the US amid claims it was pedalling soft pornography to children. The company risks sparking a backlash with its graphic sexual images that critics fear will be a magnet for teenagers who lust after its frat-boy fashions.

The A&F Quarterly will go on sale in April, just over 12 months after the company's arrival on UK shores. With provocative photography by Bruce Weber, famed for his penchant for chiselled male beauties, the magazine will be no ordinary store catalogue. Its most notorious issues, which drew protests from a US state governor, the Attorney General and disgusted mothers alike, featured pictures of unclad models, interviews with porn stars, and a guide to "cocktails for back-to-college fun". It was eventually axed in 2003.

Claude Knight, a director of the charity Kidscape, said that, unless the 2008 version takes the fate of its predecessor into account, "we will not hesitate to raise grave concerns [about] a racy magazine aimed at teenagers and featuring sexually explicit content".

Geethika Jayatilaka, deputy chief executive at the charity 4Children, warns that an "irresponsible approach" to sexual images and pro-drinking messages targeting young people could have dire consequences. "The UK has a high drinking culture and there are links between the use of alcohol and sex that is later regretted."

The Quarterly's 1999 "Naughty or Nice" issue prompted the then Governor of Illinois, Corinne Wood, to call for a consumer boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch, and saw four states threaten legal action against it.

A picture of Santa and Mrs Claus apparently fornicating alongside the statement "Sometimes it's good to be bad" caused particular offence as did the A&F "sexpert" offering advice on sex for three. The company's response was to stop selling it to under-18s, but the risqu content stayed. As did its popularity: it had a circulation of 1.2 million at its peak.

A company representative said the revamped Quarterly for UK readers would stick to a "similar theme" as its earlier counterparts. "It will be unique and will definitely to grab people's attention," she said. Abercrombie & Fitch is using the creative director Sam Shahid, who handles the retailer's infamous ad campaigns, for the London magazine launch.

In its new incarnation, the magazine will also be aimed at over 18s but mothers and charities are worried that, given the store's popularity with younger teenagers, it will also be pored over by those not yet old enough to drink legally or have sex.