Having worked in the fashion industry for many years (I’m a former model) I have noticed its tendency to take itself far too seriously.
The notion of ‘exclusivity’ went hand in hand with ‘aspiration’ back in my catwalk days and it was therefore considered paramount that the sight of designer garments should leave your average person feeling vaguely suicidal with inadequacy.
Mercifully, a bit of a revolution happened. The people stood up and demanded that life should NOT be a choice between moulding one’s body into the shape of a pre-determined blu-print in order to be able to squish into lovely things, or wearing a floor length potato sack and clogs carved out of bubble wrap. We vented our righteous anger and declared that we wanted to be stylish at any shape or size. The high street listened and is now festooned with ranges for the larger of bust, rounder of tummy, fuller of hip, longer or shorter of leg or the pregnant of belly so that they too can have access to a world which was historically closed to them. Fashion at long last has issued a mass invitation for us all to join the party and we have RSVP-ed with gusto.
Fashion should be FUN, a way for everyone to express their individuality. It shouldn’t be an exclusive club, populated solely by six foot, size 0 genetic rarities, metaphorical bouncers at the door screaming ‘no fatsos!’ as they patrician off the bounty of twinkling glamour beyond with the twisted red rope of shame. But I attended far too many earnest champagne receptions in the late nineties full of people solemnly discussing their ‘art form’ and how ‘curves simply RUIN the line of the garment, darling’ to know that not everyone shares my point of view.
I thought that the majority of those laughably elitist opinions were withering and fading into the fashion mist. That was until yesterday, when it was reported that Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries allegedly said that they only wanted “thin and beautiful” customers.
In an interview with Business Insider, Robin Lewis, a retail industry analyst and co-author of The New Rules of Retail, suggested Jeffries "doesn't want his core customers to see people who aren't as hot as them wearing his clothing".
“That's why we hire good-looking people in our stores,” Jeffries said. “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 went on: “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...Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
I think they have confused the 'down with the kids tone' with 'garments which can only be worn by kids'. Even that’s pushing it – I recently witnessed a not-at-all-unusually plump eight year old weeping because she couldn’t squeeze herself into an Abercrombie & Fitch top. You only have to empirically experience one of their garments to glean that Abercrombie’s ideal customer would be a slight-of-bone pre-pubescent with the metabolism of a whippet with an overactive thyroid.
However, that’s not even really the issue. Tiny people need somewhere to shop too and me and my Amazonian disposable income have myriad alternative options.
The offensive part, if true, is that those words carry the insinuation that “thin” is automatically synonymous with “beautiful”. If this is all, as I suspect, an elaborate marketing ploy to push even more snooty people with delusions of body-specific grandeur through the doors of Abercrombie, then that’s simply a bit annoying. But if Abercrombie genuinely believe that promotion of thinness puts their finger on the pulse of youth, they are far less in touch with the ‘kids’ than their marketing spiel would suggest. ‘The kids’ are not only embarking on a love affair with curves (which comes with its own unique set of challenges, the naturally slender now being bullied and ostracised in many British schools) but ‘the kids’ are getting taller and consequently bigger with each generation.
So here’s my advice to Abercrombie & Fitch. You not wanting me in your store doesn’t impact my life in any way. I find your garments Sloaney, uninspiring, overpriced and generally far, FAR too beige. I could cut some holes in a piece of hemp and probably approximate something akin to the rows and rows of ‘hot’ pants you have lining your shelves, should the need strike.
But if you want to stay in business, you’re going to have to stop living in the past. Everything from your pouty, mirthless semi naked ‘live models’ to your retro body attitudes are just so utterly passé, darlings.
Abercrombie & Fitch were contacted for comment, but are yet to respond.
Natasha will be presenting a lecture at the London College of Fashion next Wednesday 15th May at 6pm as part of their 'wellbeing' series.