Just in time for warmer weather, the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is changing its look. Gone are the half-naked men, also known as beefcakes, who used to greet customers at the company’s US stores.
The change comes following the December departure of chief executive Michael Jeffries – who took over in 1992 – after the company’s shares fell by about 39% over the past 12 months.
“I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the company forward in the next phase of its development,” Jeffries said as he left.
Christos Angelides, president of the Abercrombie brand, and Fran Horowitz, the Hollister brands head, are now looking to turn the company around by scrapping Jeffries’s legacy – a “look policy” as well as the shirtless models.
The death of the Abercrombie & Fitch dress code and other changes are part of a plan to cater more to shoppers, the two presidents told Bloomberg, adding that for too long stores and clothes were tailored to Jeffries’s whims.
“By the end of July, there will no longer be sexualized marketing used in marketing materials, including in-store photos, gift cards and shopping bags,” the company said in a statement on Friday.
For now, the stores remain the same. On Saturday afternoon, an Abercrombie & Fitch store in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City was darkly lit, like a nightclub. Music was pumping and the smell of cologne lingered in every nook and cranny.
Inside, foreign tourists browsed, clearly oblivious to the changes that were coming.
“I’m French,” said one visitor, waving off questions. When pushed, she shrugged, saying it didn’t matter to her if the store’s employees were called models or brand representatives. The store’s employees, however, seemed to care.
“I personally like [being called a brand representative], because I am not a model,” one female employee said.
Dressed in all black and wearing black eyeliner and mascara, she said she was excited about the new dress code, because it would allow for more freedom.
One of the main reasons that the store’s dress code had come under scrutiny was a US supreme court case in which Samantha Elauf, a job applicant, accused Abercrombie of religious discrimination.
The hijab – which Elauf wore to a job interview – violated Abercrombie & Fitch’s “look” policy because it was black and because it was considered to be headwear, like a hat or a cap. As a result, Elauf received a one out of three rating for “appearance and sense of style” and was not offered the job.
Since Elauf’s job interview, which happened in 2008, the company has loosened its look policy to allow headscarves and for black clothing.
“It’s been a while since we weren’t allowed to wear black,” the female New York employee said.
As of Friday, the company’s entire look policy is officially dead. Gone with it are bans on French-tip manicures, un-natural highlights and facial hair.
The four employees spotted at the store on Saturday were all female. The one monitoring customers coming and going at the front door was bundled up in a heavy winter jacket. Underneath, she wore a comfortable striped top and jeans. She said she too preferred the term “brand representative” to “model”.
Since there were no “beefcakes” or bare chests in sight, the Guardian was unable to find out if any male employees were excited at the prospect of being allowed to grow a moustache.
This article was written by Jana Kasperkevic in New York, for theguardian.com on Sunday 26th April 2015 16.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010