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Friday, September 30, 2011

Abercrombie & Fitch: Too FIERCE in Sexuality for Singapore?

Low-rise jeans indeed! More like low-tugged jeans! | (image source)
I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! That four-story billboard covering the facade of A&F Singapore was bound to stir up something. I mean, when I first saw it, I was like "woah!" And Ashley Stewart (CEO of JCDecaux Singapore) agrees, "I was a little surprised when I first saw it. It was more risqué than would normally be attempted, even for an Orchard Road location. We must remember that outdoor advertising here rightly has historically been sensitive to the multi-cultural society that is Singapore; we are not a mono culture - so partial nudity in advertising is generally not acceptable." In the picture, the guy tugs down the front of his low-rise jeans revealing, seriously, his shaved public area. Now, this picture has been frequently seen on Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags (and no one has ever made a complain before). But is it just me or is the pubic area more defined on the A&F Singapore billboard? Whereas on the the bags, the area is like slightly blurred. I thought it was, but didn't make a comment on it. I mean, it's Abercrombie & Fitch?! And it all comes down to the fact that it's art and the over all look is nice, clean, and bold. But others didn't agree and had a thing or two to comment...

"Lewd" and "vulgar" were two of the words reported to have been used in a Straights Time forum in August discussing the imagery. The site Stomp was also filled with debate. And why (when the rest of us are all used to chiseled abs and sexuality by A&F)? Because Singapore is actually a lot stricter than your common nation and, to that effect, has entities that protect "decency" in the city-state. And so the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) butted in. It decided that the photo plastered on the tourist traffic-heavy Orchard Road was "objectionable" on August 31 and called for a suspension of the promotional imagery on September 12 because the billboard made a "breach of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice guidelines on decency." But its just too bad for the ASAS because they can not find a way to get A&F to pull it down. It's very funny. They're like bratty moralist children. They tried to see if the billboard was put up for A&F through an ad agency (that way they could get the agency to pull it down by complying to the code). Nope. They tried to get the  Park Hotel Group, owners of Knightsbridge, to get it down. Nope. The only way to get it down is if Abercrombie & Fitch, which put up the billboard itself, actually puts it down...well that is not happening.

Abercrombie & Fitch is looking into the situation and the ASAS is trying to look for ways to get its way. On September 29, the MDA "voiced its support for the [ASAS]," but nothing has happened yet. The ASAS is still awaiting response from A&F. Supposedly, "photographic image exploits human nudity" can be subject to law under the Undesirable Publications Act.

But this is all very slow and stupid and ignorant. Why now after the damn thing has been up for months - the billboard has been there since June! - are they now making a big deal? Like Stewart told Marketing magazine, "What really surprised me was the speed of ASAS's responce. The ad's suspension was many weeks after it was posted, so it had already achieved the desired effect." Also, its artistic photography...not pornography. There is no indecency because the subject of the photograph is presented in an artistic manner. Like a nude statue Rome, which is riddled with them, if you will, except in photographic presentation. Sure Singapore is not Rome, but the point is that this is art. And yes, sensuality is intended, but it is art nevertheless and offends no one - there is no reason to be offended. Sure enough we must recognize the sensitivity of a culture but how "sensitive" can you be without bordering on ignorance and immaturity. Rayner Lim, a creative partner at Contagious called it "dangerous": "Can you imagine waiting at the junction for green light and a big grown man like me caught salivating at the chiseled abs." Well assuming he's heterosexual he wouldn't have to drool and if he is attracted then can he not have self-control? I mean really? And how old are you? Pathetic.

Billboards on the facade of A&F Milan under construction in 2009.
And how about this...the same picture has been used since 2009 when it was made as two billboards on the facade of A&F Milan when that flagship was under construction back in 2009. It is also on the facade of the upcoming A&F Düsseldorf. There were no remarks of "inappropriateness" from the Milanese and there haven't been any from the Germans. Yeah, again, Singapore may be a different culture, but this is art and it's what Abercrombie & Fitch is Singapore! It's what makes the brand beautiful - its appreciation of the human form (primarily that of the male) - and hot, too. There is no A&F without this.

Marketing - "conservative" by A&F standards - draped over the
sleek and elegant facade of A&F Ginza in 2009.
Granted. When Abercrombie & Fitch placed marketing on the facade of its A&F Ginza flagship store in Tokyo, I considered it an appropriate move. The photograph is from RUEHL No.925 but was used on the then-upcoming A&F Tokyo flagship. The photo - like everything from RUEHL - was reserved and sophisticated. And I thought A&F must have used it while considering that the Ginza shopping district is conservative in a sense. But guess what? A&F then rolled a bus plastered with semi-nude males down the streets of Ginza! That just comes to show that A&F is sensuality/sexuality but in a wholly artistic, near-luxury context.

In my conclusion, there is no reason to make such a big deal. It's beautiful. Yes, it is. And it's art. (As I have said countless times to make my point come across). If this is causing controversy in Singapore then what's next? Are there going to be complains over the photography of the Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags carried all up-and-down Orchard Road by A&F customers?

Seriously. Let's be reasonable here. A&F Singapore opens December 15th! Stay FIERCE!



A&F London, 2006.
P.S. I want to point out something else. Yes, there was also controversy over A&F London in 2006, but that wasn't really all because of the marketing of semi-nude males plastered along the facade (which wasn't even technically on Savile Row itself, found around the corner, but on Burlington Gardens). The problem was mainly because the shopkeepers of Savile Row didn't want a casual, youthful and sexual brand opening near them. Savile Row, renown for its English tailoring is quite conservative by reputation and culture and so then I can understand. But A&F opened anyway and they shut up about it. But this whole Singapore thing is completely different because Singapore does want Abercrombie & Fitch to open on Orchard Road. People are just making a big fuss over a picture. Had A&F placed the same picture it did for A&F Ginza on the facade of A&F Singapore then people would not be making such complains.

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UPDATE: Abercrombie & Fitch has responded to the complaints! Read all about the latest news...FIERCE Sexuality in Singapore to Stay!