Abercrombie & Fitch, On Board the Porpoise


This insert to Vanity Fair shows 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.

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.

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 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
I think people are trying to hide behind their little finger when they say that only dirty minds read something gay into this. The pair were obviously being directed and even if straight, they were having fun as father and son might. Without the knowledge that they are father and son, I think anybody would think they were gay from their appearance and body language. And so what? Does it matter? Appearances are what enable gay men to find other gay men - gaydar.

I think this ad is pretty cool. I am gay but I also have a very affectionate relationship with all my family, father, brothers and sister (mom died when I was 4). I've been trying to find more information on this ad on google, but I can't find anything. I can't even find any mention of Anthony Wayne. By the way, John Wayne sure left behind some pretty nice genes.

B. Kniipe
Very nice ad, I believe it shows a lot of compassion.

A great ad. Although I'm a heterosexual, I believe that the gay community should be treated with more respect because they are human too. I like this ad because it reflects a happy gay couple who lead a good life and although different to most ads it's refreshingly good to see something different.

Farraro Sutton
Love this ad! I only wish I could have such a great, loving friendship with my own Dad. Very tasteful, warm, affectionate, fun and yet loving. Great to see an ad that portrays a strong bond between a father and son.

Lindsey Ho
Well, since these two guys are father and son, the ad doesn't really address a same-sex romantic relationship. The ad would be beautiful as one with a real-life gay/bisexual couple.

Jeffrey D. Allen
It's disgraceful that this ad is even on your site. It's a beautiful display of Father/Son affection and to have it perverted into a sexual relationship is dishonoring. Please take the higher ground in future additions to your site. Just because some of our community need to pervert everything they see, doesn't mean you need to participate.

Great ad. It's a shame people read so much into it. Adults should grow up and get their heads out of the gutter.

Brian Douglas
This is a very beautiful and heart warming ad-- I think most people choose to see gay guys because our cultures fear male affection (non-sexual in nature) for one another. Be one gay or straight, it gets under our skin. We are saturated with this attitude of the macho man without a heart and expect all our men to behave that way (in public)! The ironic thing about this is these two prospectively beautiful men are the son of a man who has optimized this viewpoint for Americans of the past and present, Mr. Marion Morrison! (smiles)