A&F: THE BUTTS START HERE

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — It must have been some seven days in Santa Barbara.
Abercrombie & Fitch launched its latest quarterly catalog Thursday night with a party in Manhattan’s West Village that clarified the company’s artistic reaction to all the controversy that has stemmed from its previous, racy issues — it brought out more nudes.
The issue, shot over the course of a week in Southern California to resemble a “spring break in Bermuda,” carries the title “XXX” and includes Bruce Weber photos of twin male models frolicking in the buff in a lake, naked men and topless women cavorting in a pool, women tearing the pants off a boy at the beach and then more of the same with the twins at a raucous party, where a fully clothed male also samples a birthday cake shaped in the form of a naked woman’s torso.
The catalog includes pick-up tips from adult-film star Ron Jeremy, an essay from Camille Paglia on exposing oneself in public, and this opening disclaimer: “Before you letter writers begin, just remember we’ve been down this road before. Since you already have to be 18 to get the quarterly in your hands, we figured we might as well make it worthwhile….”
Yet Michael Jeffries, chairman and chief executive officer of A&F, said at the party that the company wasn’t looking for more controversy.
“I think it’s a beautiful magazine,” he said. “Really, everybody construes different meanings from it, but we were just having a good time.”
There were several interpretations on that meaning at the party, where models from the book, including twins Kyle and Lane Carlson, intermittently removed their tops for photo opportunities.
“It’s risque, but it’s more interesting,” said actor Jason Biggs, who is 22. “It’s cool for guys my age. If there was anything I had to complain about, there was just a little too many pictures of men in this one for me. The opposite sex would have been a little bit better.”
Joey McIntyre, formerly of the band New Kids on the Block, described the latest issue as “a bold choice.”
“If I was a kid, I’d really want those catalogs to come to our house,” he said.
McIntyre is releasing his second solo album in April called “Joe Mac.”
“This album is not like, ‘I love you, you love me,’ but about where I am now and the choices we make in life. It’s about being in love and not knowing whether you want to be a nut for a few more years or settle down. What life is all about is finding a balance. It’s about deciding whether you want to go to the woods and build a cabin rather than being on MTV every day.”
Asked to relate that sentiment to the catalog, he theorized that, “Sometimes it’s hard to be yourself, but it’s a little bit easier with Abercrombie & Fitch.” McIntyre briefly considered that statement as a potential song lyric, then realized it might sound a little too like the band LFO for him.
As if on cue, the members of that band, who included a reference to the brand in the 1999 hit “Summer Girls,” entered the party. Rich Cronin, one of its members, admires A&F for having a low-key look while “not trying to be anything it isn’t.” Despite the plug for A&F, Cronin said the band never received any free clothes from the company.
“In a weird way, it was cheap,” he said.
Actor Stephen Baldwin also pays retail for A&F, and flipping through the “XXX” issue, he repeatedly pointed items out to his wife, Kennya, saying, “This is cute.”
“The bad part about Abercrombie is that, literally, I am one of those suckers who think the clothes are cool just because,” Baldwin said. “I go out and spend $5,000 in the store because I’m a fool.”

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