Abercrombie & Fitch, Shower Horseplay


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 -- including this one -- 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 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
Jess Pervert
Am torn on this one. Depending on how you look at it, it could be harmless horseplay, or abuse about to happen.

Rudy LaShay
Oh my stars! What a simply fabulous advertisement! What man wouldn't want to be groped in the shower by handsome fellows like that? Where do I sign up?

Farraro Sutton
Great ad! Those who never horseplayed in the shower missed out on a lot of fun. Loved this ad, reminded me of my school days. Thanks for the grin and smiles. But really, what's gay about this ad? Just guys having fun.

This picture is very sexy. I hope they make another one so I can be in it.

I think its a cute ad. Reminds me of those days in high school when guys could act a little playful and no one cared. Hell, I would be staring at them too. Nice ass on that one!

What a beatifull picture, I wish I was in it too!!

Rees Bennett
This is not a particularly "gay" or expressly "homoerotic" depiction. As an athlete, I have seen this type of antics in the locker rooms and showers among my very "straight" identifying teamates. While this may play into the fantasies of gay men, I ask you to look at the many interactions, both casual and deliberate, which may be looked upon as erotic. In much the same way as the professional and college athletes "pat" each others' behinds as comaraderie, these antics are testosterone-laden examples of childish games, which as a gay man, I have never been aroused by.

Kenneth Demsky, PH.d.
As a psychologist, let me assure everyone who may doubt it that this is a classic expression of homosexual desire. It may represent a wish-fulfillment fantasy of an individual with repressed (or barely suppressed) homoerotic urges in which intimate homosexual touch is allowed to occur within a setting devoid of intimacy and which does not ask the "dreamer" to claim his unconscious motives. Early in the Clinton administration a NY Times editorial was titled, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Drop the Soap."

William Hopkins
I love this picture. To me it symbolises young gay men having fun!!!

Six against one? If only we could see that the gentleman being ganged up on was enjoying the fun, or that everyone was enjoying "going naked", it would lend to a more reassuring ad.

Allen Griffin
The thing that comes to mind when viewing this ad is freedom to be; these young men appear to be unencumbered by society's strict rule:"You can't do this with another guy." Thank God we are slowly emerging from such antiquated teachings (rules).