A&F’S BAD FORTUNE

Byline: Joshua Greene / Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — Has Abercrombie & Fitch finally crossed the line?
The women’s and men’s wear retailer, long known for its controversial marketing and imagery, said Thursday that it would stop selling a group of graphic T-shirts that offended customers who claimed the shirts were derogatory toward Asian-Americans.
Some featured caricatures of Asian men wearing rice-paddy hats. One slogan read “Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs can make it white.” The T-shirts retailed for $24.50 and arrived in stores last week. Other slogans read “Abercrombie & Fitch Buddha Bash — Get your Buddha on the floor,” and “Wok-n-Bowl — Let the good times roll — Chinese food & bowling.”
According to an A&F spokesman, efforts to remove the T-shirts and have the company issue a public apology were led by students at Stanford University. In addition, the Asian-American Journalists Association received e-mails asking that its members report on the issue.
“It is not and never has been our intention to offend anyone. These graphic T-shirts were designed with the sole purpose of adding humor and levity to our fashion line. Since some customers have been offended by their content, we are pulling these shirts from our stores,” A&F said in a statement on Thursday.
A spokesman said A&F executives learned of the complaints on Wednesday. The removal of the apparel at the stores and on the company’s Web site began Thursday, the spokesman added.
Controversy is nothing new for the company, however. The A&F quarterly, which started in fall 1997, has drawn protests from politicians in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas for its high sexual content and racy articles. The quarterly often shows nude models in sexual positions, and it ruffled the most feathers with its winter 1999 “Naughty or Nice” catalog, which featured an image of a nude model reclining atop a horse, a purported interview with a convicted sex offender posing as Santa Claus and an interview with a porn star.
The catalog is such a hit with teens that it often sells out of stores, but parents and politicians have spearheaded campaigns to make it less available to teens. Now, photo identification proving the buyer is over 18 must be presented upon purchase and all copies are wrapped in plastic to avoid any poisonous page-flipping.
A&F skipped its holiday quarterly because the company felt with the events of Sept. 11, it was not in keeping with the mood of the country. It came out with a spring quarterly which had no partial nudity. But for summer, nudity is back with a vengeance. The new A&F quarterly, called Paradise Found, will make college students blush with tons of topless women and nude males frolicking on the beach.
“We feel that our customers are ready and anxious for us to be once again more irreverent and funny,” said an A&F spokesman.
Besides the images that were shot by Bruce Weber in the Florida Keys, there are interviews with Michael Pitt, Azura Skye, Jennifer Coolidge, Tom Robbins and Eddie Kaye Thomas. The catalog was created by Sam Shahid, partner in Shahid & Co.
And for the first time, the quarterly contains a bank of ads, including Playstation 2, Trek Bikes, and the WB Network. “We’ve had so many requests from companies asking us to run ads. We decided to try a few. We love it,” said Shahid. “And if they wanted to advertise, it had to be a spread.”
Clearly there’s a limit to how far A&F’s political correctness goes. The summer quarterly, which features the offensive garbs will be released as planned. Some 300,000 copies were printed, and half will be sent to subscribers, and the rest will hit A&F stores Saturday, selling for $6.