Abercrombie&Fitch Magalog Content Riles Illinois Lt. Governor

Abercrombie & Fitch has no plans to alter its A&F Quarterly magalog after Illinois' lieutenant governor called for a boycott of the retailer and set up a Web site to protest the sexual content in the magalog.

“The only complaints we get are from people who are older and don't understand what we're doing,” said company spokesman Hampton Carney. “This is specifically for 18- to 22-year-olds and no one else.”

In its first week, the site, www.StopAandF.com, collected 660 online signatures objecting to the content. The site includes photographs that appear in both the spring break and summer books, blocking out parts of the photographs. There is a statement by Lt. Gov. Corrine Wood on why she began the campaign and a copy of her letter to A&F CEO Michael Jeffries.

“There's full nudity and some suggestive poses,” Wood said of the summer edition. “We've called for parents, who don't believe we should be using sex to sell clothes to young kids, to not patronize their stores. Obviously, that's going to be something that affects them the most.”

Abercrombie & Fitch, Reynoldsburg, OH, said it understands that the magalog is risqué but said it is appropriate for the quarterly's college-age target audience.

“There's nothing in our [magalog] that you wouldn't see on the beach, in the middle of summer, in Miami,” Carney said. “We have separate stores for kids and for high school [children]. But A&F Quarterly is a college brand and is directed toward that demographic.”

A&F Quarterly, launched in fall 1997, publishes four times a year in spring break, summer, back-to-school and Christmas editions. It is sold in the company's stores for $6 per issue or $12 for a one-year subscription and has a circulation of 300,000 per quarter, split evenly between in-store purchases and subscriptions. Issues are shrink-wrapped and marked with a label warning about the adult content.

The retailer began limiting purchase of the magalog to those 18 or older after Michigan's attorney general filed a complaint in 1999, prompted by the purchase of the publication in one of its stores by a 10-year-old. Those who buy single issues of A&F Quarterly, as well as subscribers, must now show ID. Subscriptions are only available in stores.

The magalog includes a listing of all Abercrombie & Fitch stores and an order form. Pages that feature Abercrombie & Fitch clothes list the price, colors, a toll-free number and the company's URL, www.abercrombie.com.

While Abercrombie & Fitch's Quarterly may cross the line of what some think is appropriate, some industry executives said the company succeeds in being distinctive and reaching its college-age audience.

“I think different catalogers in different categories have used signature styles for years,” said Andy Russell, president/CEO of AGA Catalog Marketing & Design, New York. “They've created a relationship with their customers. While [A&F Quarterly] is provocative, it is also commercial. It's about the merchandise and the lifestyle related to the merchandise.”

Bill Dean, president of catalog consultancy W.A. Dean & Associates, San Francisco, and a columnist for DM News, said Abercrombie & Fitch pushes the limit but does a good job at capturing its target audience.

“Would other catalogers do this? Probably not, because it's a tough thing to do,” Dean said. “But for someone in a public office to [begin] a crusade [of] this nature and using the position of which she was elected to get off on some sort of a moral campaign, I find it very offensive.”

This is Wood's second battle with Abercrombie & Fitch. She began a protest in December 1999 after finding a copy of the Christmas magalog, titled “Naughty or Nice,” in the bedroom of her daughter, who was 14 years old at the time. Wood could not remember whether she or her husband had requested the book or whether it was shrink-wrapped with a warning of adult content. This latest boycott was launched after she received complaints from constituents that A&F Quarterly had become racier.

Carney disagreed, saying A&F Quarterly has not become more sexually explicit. Its followers know that each edition has its own theme and collection, he said.

“I don't think there is any escalation of nudity,” Carney said. “If you look at all the quarterlies in a row, you see the varying themes. If it's spring break, obviously there are more people running around in bathing suits, as opposed to fall where there are more sweaters. There's no conscious effort to raise the bar.”

A&F is no stranger to controversy regarding the magalog. In 1998, Mothers Against Drunk Driving slammed the cataloger's back-to-school issue for containing an article titled “Drinking 101.” The organization claimed the piece encouraged under-age drinking. The company apologized for the piece.

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