Abercrombie & Fitch, Plaid Ocean


With nonstop pictures of beefcake, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has not only taken the gay community by storm but straight young men in college as well.

The company's black & white magazine ads feature young men streaking through campus, in the showers pulling down others' boxers and fully nude posteriors on the beach. One insert to Vanity Fair showed a middle-aged man and young man in playful, romantic poses aboard a sailboat, an ad that many read as a gay couple -- even though in reality they were the son and grandson of actor John Wayne.

Although the Reynoldsburg, Ohio retailer's advertising appeared in OUT magazine over the years, A&F spokesman Hampton Carney said the company doesn't target the gay market. "We really market to 18-22 year old college students," he said.

The company has never feared that its advertising appeared too gay, Carney said. He then added, "It's a shame almost, that it's been pigeonholed as homoerotic."

Many were upset when an article in New York magazine about the American version of controversial Brit hit "Queer As Folk" (aired in the US on Showtime) pointed out that the retailer would not allow product placements in the show, along with other fashion brands Versace, Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Anne Klein, Old Navy and Casio, along with the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers. Some of the companies later claimed they were not asked and A&F said it never loans product for placements.

The successful quarterly magalogue has also brought some trouble to A&F, for its occasional male nudity (shrink wrapping coupled with an age disclaimer were added in 1998) and for appearing to encourage alcohol consumption among youth. The magalogue and ongoing ad campaigns over the last four years have been created by celebrity art photographer Bruce Weber and Sam Shahid, creative director of Shahid & Co., New York.

The two have worked together for 15 years, starting at Calvin Klein in 1981, where they helped win acceptance of the male body in mass media. They put up a larger-than-life billboard in Times Square of a muscled man in white briefs that became synonymous with Klein — a brand that now has tremendous currency in the gay community. Back then, the nearly nude male was considered taboo in a business that used women's bodies to sell most anything.

From there, Weber and Shahid moved to Banana Republic, where in 1992 they created a sensation with the "Free Souls" ad insert into Vanity Fair. In a sensual series of six heterosexual couples, the insert closed on a male couple, arms entwined. Shahid had to insist that the couple be included when he created the ad.

Openly gay Shahid said that Abercrombie has never been concerned about his work appearing too gay. Yet like A&F, he is uncomfortable talking about the advertising in terms of its appeal to the gay market. He focuses on its universal appeal, noting that heterosexuals love the advertising as much as gays.

The ads for A&F, with uncommon displays of male physical interaction, strike many as gay vague too. Shahid describes such model interactions as uncoached, that their physical antics are mostly spontaneous. "There's a freedom there, they don't have any problem touching one another. We as adults have a problem when we're looking at it and read things into it."

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User Comments
Joseph Wilson
Abercrombie misses a key part of who really buys their clothes. I am an older gay men, but due to a gym regime of about 16 hours a week and dieting, my body is quite buff. I often wear their clothes on the weekends and their body hugging styles get me lots of positive attention from younger gay men. The financial security of a higher income as I have advanced professionally gives me more income to buy more of their clothes than when I was younger and not as muscular & thin. Their masculine styles are great for gay men that can who is muscular and in shape. Many of the younger gays are just thin, but lacking in muscularity to continue wearing Abercrombie past 30. Abercrombie needs to think Colt models and diversify their male models, it would help their struggling bottom line. I shopped them right around Thanksgiving and they are offering huge discounts to grab shoppers in the George Bush depression of 2007-?. They need to think outside the box and advertise on Logo and other gay media outlets.

Angela Roberts
Look, here in Jacksonville, there are countless billboards with half naked depictions of femininity; it is HIGH TIME that we got to see some male flesh! If anyone out there is interested in joining in my pursuit of an A & F billboard, let's get a revolution started; I want all those dirty old men to take their minds off the 16-year-old Bought Babes and know what it feels like to look up and see images of gorgeous BOYS/ MEN!!!! Maybe we'll have a few less slobs if they feel THEY must top what the media projects to us...

Andrew Ager
I am pleased that finally a company will advertise in this manner. While they may not be ready to admit that gays make up a huge percentile of the population, at the very least they have the guts to create some racy ads. I see more "straight people" in gay bars and why? If they so hated us, they would stay in those places that made them more comfortable. Hurray for our mystique and to those that have the guts to stand up to their fears.

Markus Daemion
Regarding the article, very well written, and argues many good points and reason. The majority of society needs to realize that there are more gays than they think, some with better jobs than any straight person. Dancers, models, and even models for Abercrombie, no way around it. I know this for a fact, I met my ex-boyfriend at a modeling shoot. I myself am not "fully" gay, I'm bi, which also brings about many problems and controversies.

Christopher Lee
I know this guy. You know this guy. He is that clean-cut guy you went to school with who played on the football team or the soccer team or was the class clown. He was the playful jock who everyone loved and hated. This photo takes that familiar image and place that we all know and makes it strange. It takes the guy no one ever would have thought and says 'what if?'

Gay or straight, two hot guys with big packages touching each other are okay by me!

Farraro Sutton
Great ad! Just two guys horseplaying around, having a good time among good friends. Nothing really gay in my opinion. Just a really great ad.

J.A. Dalton
Wonderfully sexy! God loves all people, even hot gay guys on the beach in their undies. Take a look at the ratings of most of these ads, they all have very HIGH, LOVE IT !! Thank you for providing me with this wonderfully titillating photo.

David H.
Well apparently A&F are trying to get to the gay market. Most straight guys would see this ad and say, "This store is gay," then leave. When I wear an A&F shirt, a lot of people I meet automatically assume that I am gay, because of the shirt I'm wearing. (It's a small town.) A&F are probably afraid that they might lose some of the straight market if they come out and say that they market to gays. But I do love this ad and hope to see more like this, and it does help the gay community by showing that gays are here and we accept it.

I love this picture. It is so HOT and I love it.

Alston Green
Even though to many this has a homoerotic suggestion, it very well could be two straight jock guys. In today's society, I have often seen straight men embrace and hug each other. Well, maybe not touching another guy's nipple. :-)

I might be able to understand how these photographs aren't meant to express homosexual displays but I find it sad that a company has to only show the buff, extremely attractive half nude model to advertise clothing. They are trying to sell clothes with models that don't wear any.

William Hicks
How sad that a beautiful picture such as this can inspire shocked outrage, when not a word is raised about the daily bombardment of scenes of graphic violence and mutilation to which we are all subjected; are some people so afraid of love? I want to see more pictures like this, and I hope these two kissed each other in the next shot.

Melinda Gibson
I guess I won't be shopping online from this company any longer. My husband's credit is safe.