Monday, June 29, 2015

Culture | The Abercrombie Boy/Guy, America's Greatest, Triumphant Gender Ideal...

For the first time, The Sitch on Fitch presents
what no historian has ever yet noted, the powerful significance
of the Abercrombie boy/guy ideal across the American landscape, and beyond,
at the turn of the new millennium, the 21st century followup to
the nation's first ever gender ideal, the Gibson girl...

         BY THE TURN of the 20th century, the first ideal of national American beauty had come about: this was on the American woman and was known as the Gibson girl - so called eponymously after the creator and illustrator of the ideal, Charles Dana Gibson, who believed his artistic creations captured and represented a coherent, singular visual of the best of the natural beauty of varied American female youth (based on the societal standards of the time).

Ironically, however, Gibson stated to journalist Edward Marshall, in 1910, that the Gibson girl did not exist. For it, after all, was a singular ideal. What did exist, Gibson furthered, was the diversity of fine characteristics, found in the amalgam of varied American women, from which he created his singular Gibson girl. Thus, in turn, he would "see" the Gibson girl about wherever he went because he would see real-life women exemplifying characteristics which made up that singular ideal of his: "I'll tell you how I got what you have called the 'Gibson Girl'. I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theaters, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue [in Manhattan] and working behind the counters of the stores. From hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, I formed my ideal."

And Gibson was particularly biased in his belief in that, at their most virtuous, the American - its men and women - represented the finest of ideals, of all peoples, in refinement and strength. But it should be noted, however, that this was during a time of rising nationalism and racial, cultural, and political ideologies based on Social Darwinism gaining traction worldwide. (Editor's note: back then, people ignorantly - pseudoscientifically founded, and most certainly based on sociopolitical interests and ideologies - referred to what we in 21st century now distinguish as ethnicities, as "races". Furthermore, even people of different nationalities were considered of different "races" (i.e. the "American race", the "English race", the "German race", the "Japanese race", etc.). Gibson was merely an individual of his time and space, a 19th/20th century American, and his personal perception of things were merely a result of his circumstance in said time and was his Gibson girl.

Via the illustrations of the artist, the Gibson girl became a national icon which first appeared at the beginning of the 1890s - at the time of the founding of Abercrombie Co., by David Abercrombie, and so he and Ezra Fitch (who would join him in 1900 to later incorporate Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in 1907) most certainly knew of the Gibson girl. The popularity of the Gibson girl ideal - which embodied elements of a fine, well-rounded, strong-minded woman though nevertheless mindful of expectation of her as a well-placed woman in society, and contrasted strongly against the less-popular "New Woman" type (which was not about exemplifying constructed, conformist feminine ideals but about continuing feminine dignity though with progression, liberation and independence and which began to place pressure on male-dominated society) - triumphed on through into the early-1910s. By the breakout of World War I - then called "the Great War" - the entire social-cultural landscape was altered - with dramatic changes to continue to unfurl, doing away with the old world, into the 1920s and beyond into the 20th century - and there was place for the Gibson girl ideal no more.

But what no historian has yet hitherto recognized and acknowledged is that, by the turn of the 21st century and dawn of a new millennium, a new gender beauty and character ideal had taken hold, across the American landscape, as and even more iconic, influential, and renowned, and in widespread globalized manner, than the Gibson girl, the ideal of the Abercrombie boy (/guy).

So christened and distinguishably known as for being the centerpiece of the revolutionary, unprecedented and blockbuster romanticized All-American image pioneered and embodied by Michael "Mike" Jeffries' Abercrombie & Fitch, the Abercrombie boy came to powerfully represent across the American psyche and beyond, as journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis surmised, the best of what America had to offer up...

"He's cool, he's beautiful, he's funny, he's masculine, he's optimistic, and he's certainly not 'cynical' or 'moody', two traits he [Mike] finds wholly unattractive."

The wholly attractive, youthful, energetic and athletic golden Abercrombie boy became the embodiment of ultimate desire and popularity, the apex of modern quintessential Americana idolized and revered and pined for by his male and female peers alike: as a young man, you wanted to become him, and both guys/men and girls/women to be in his company. He was at the height of campus and greater youth cultural Social Darwinism, exhibiting traits in physicality and mind that made him overall beloved, though strongly envied by others, and privileged universally: in essence, the youthful, ideal personification of modern America.

To that effect, Mike Jeffries' Abercrombie & Fitch became a multi-billion dollar global icon, having become the standard of ultimate cool and popularity across America, and, subsequently, ushering a quasi neo American imperialism overseas - by way of international expansion establishing quasi colonies in key nodes across the planet - in fashion retailer form, bringing about an unprecedented invasion of All-American ideals compelling and commanding influence over thousands worldwide becoming a part of, and assimilating to, its empire of American exceptionalism.

And at the forefront of revolutionary paramount magneticism - drawing even thousands upon thousands of crowds to high-profile recordbreaking store openings, not to mention flocking to the stores to shop bolstering revenues and profits at their best - the ideal of the Abercrombie boy iconically exemplified by the selection of varied young adult men, exuding characteristics of it, for what became the renowned Abercrombie & Fitch marketing and promotional practices. In a world in which marketing has yet remained majorly dominated by narrow, conformist heterosexual men sexualizing women, Abercrombie & Fitch broke all the molds. It was explosive and unprecedented.

In reflection of the beginnings of the distinguished marketing and Abercrombie boy ideal (all of which manifested in combination with the initial creative, visionary efforts of Mike, revered American photographer Bruce Weber, and the brand's first creative director of marketing, Sam Shahid), Shahid stated to Museum Magazine, in 2013:

"Mike Jeffries and I met at my apartment at the time [in the mid-1990s] on Greene Street. He said, 'Tell me what you think about Abercrombie.' I said, 'I see it like Norman Rockwell. It's a very healthy company. It's very masculine and it's very outdoors. It's always kind of Norman Rockwell, but modern.' [On seeing A&F along the aesthetics of Norman Rockwell] Yes, it made sense at that time. It would be depicting stories about American life and kids. If you look at their ads individually, you'll see that. [But of the resulting homoreroticism in marketing for A&F, a conscientious thing] Not at all. It does have a gay sensitivity to it. It just does. The models are very beautiful and sexy, but there was never that intention[...] Mike said to me, 'My God, these kids are gorgeous.' Actually, the very first [Abercrombie & Fitch] ad we ran [together], the guys were running naked around the Princeton [University] campus and the girls were chasing them. When we ran that, everybody said, 'Woah!' The gays loved it. The straights loved it. It really had a crossover there because all the girls want to meet those guys. Those guys want to be those guys who meet those girls and the gays want to meet them too. It was a real crossover. It seemed all-in-one to me. It all seemed fine."

Precursor to the Abercrombie boy was the "beefcake" male aesthetic of the 1950s which focused on the clean, classical, well-muscled sculpted physique/look of select adult men. As Denizet-Lewis placed:

"Much more than just a brand, Abercrombie & Fitch successfully resuscitated a 1990s version of a 1950s ideal — the white, masculine "beefcake" — during a time of political correctness and rejection of '50s orthodoxy. But it did so with profound and significant differences. A&F aged the masculine ideal downward, celebrating young men in their teens and early 20s with smooth, gym-toned bodies and perfectly [coiffed] hair."

And in ultimately capturing the ideal of the Abercrombie guy, and the world he populated, came in Bruce Weber whose creative corpus of photography and film had already become renowned in the industry, by the late '80s, for its sensuality, sexuality, and provocation; gift of photographing youth nude (most distinguishably the male form) and their spirit; and for his overall classic, iconic Americana aesthetic unparalleled. The Abercrombie boy was born, and to be him and a part of his world, you brought into it.

"For many young men, to wear Abercrombie is to broadcast masculinity, athleticism and inclusion in the "cool boys club" without even having to open their mouths (that may be why the brand is so popular among some gay men who want desperately to announce their non-effeminacy)." - Benoit Denizet-Lewis, The Man behind Abercrombie & Fitch, 2006

So iconic had the ideal become, that its renown and influence permeated well beyond malls and the campuses of America. Of some of the most notable mentions and partakings in pop culture, Jennifer Anniston's Rachel Green on iconic Friends (1994-2004), one of the most popular television series of all-time, remarks while on the phone for pizza, "Is the cute blond guy delivering tonight? Very Abercrombie & Fitch?" during December 13, 2001's airing of "The One With the Creepy Holiday Card", episode 11, season 8. Tina Fey, creator of pop culture icon Mean Girls (2004), had also commented for the DVD that when it came to developing the character of Aaron Samuels - the on-and-off boyfriend to queen bee Regina George - she wanted to cast someone who looked like the Abercrombie boy. The references and influence come about throughout in pop culture from the time, and the turn-of-the-century founded influence, in culture, of the ideal young All-American guy ideal pioneered by Abercrombie & Fitch remains on across television, film, literature, and even in pornography well including gay.

Certainly, the "Abercrombie girl" was also a well-known type - LFO released "Summer Girls" in 1999 which became a hit and classic; Mike would even mention, "and a band wrote a hit song about girls who where A&F" - but she was merely the complimentary, refined yet cheeky species which populated the world of the Abercrombie boy; it revolved around him, and he was the face All-American cool.

But for however celebrated the Abercrombie boy ideal was - with his athleticism and masculinity - Denizet-Lewis found an aspect of it contradictory and ironic:

"But because A&F’s vision is so constructed and commodified (and because what A&F sells is not so much manhood but perennial boyhood), there is also something oddly emasculating about it. Compared to the 1950s ideal, A&F’s version of maleness feels restrictive and claustrophobic. If becoming a man is about independence and growing up, then Abercrombie doesn't feel very masculine at all."

He made a fair point, but the Abercrombie boy was idolized for his youthful, unadulterated, compelling attractive look and attitude - representing one at the peak of energetic, bright, spirited youth with aspirations and all to look forward to and enjoy carefree - what all men ideally want to be, remain, and women fantasize of whom to enjoy, not post-youth manhood. Although, truth be told, it's all subject to what one wants in life: the Abercrombie boy represented the epitome of the most renowned of desires.

He furthermore was given a scent, FIERCE cologne, which, introduced in 2002, went on to become one of the most renowned and coveted fragrances, by men and women alike, of the early-21st century; its marketing image made signature for it by the turn of the 2010s, and found on the back of the glass bottle, became the most well-recognized Abercrombie & Fitch image, lensed by Bruce Weber, worldwide of all-time.

Like the Gibson girl a century earlier, the Abercrombie boy was a singular ideal made up of the most attractive elements exemplified by varied guys across America who channeled quintessential, bright American cool and universally-revered sense of being. There is no one individual who could be truly selected to be the Abercrombie boy for guys who were "such an Abercrombie boy" true-and-true would nevertheless be not one-and-the-same all the way: of a certain type, however, they most certainly were.

Some of the most idolized of models utilized to represent Abercrombie & Fitch:
top, Matt Ratliff, main face of Christmas 2005, a Bruce Weber photobook centered around him,
attended A&F Fifth Avenue private opening party and signed copies; middle left, Matt Zagorski, main face Spring 2006
in one of the most iconic of Weber shots for A&F, and he was reused; Mark Carroll, main face Christmas 2006,
he also modeled for Hollister (though made it not in final marketing), returned to A&F, and RUEHL No.925;
and James Preston, Spring 2011, one of the last great, revered, well-used models.

The Abercrombie boy ideal, at its finest, was the ultimate American ideal of beauty and character - an influential revolutionary force, iconic worldwide - and epitome of the glory of Mike Jeffries' classical Abercrombie & Fitch.

If America is indeed, metaphorically, the successor of Greece and Rome, the fitting cultural hallmark of focus on the ideal youthful male form - strong, energetic, athletic, virile and sexuality-unhindered classically, virtuously - was that brought forth and embodied, within an American context, by the Abercrombie & Fitch ideal.

Since the December 2014 retirement of Mike Jeffries, and the passing of his A&F, key, distinguished elements which made the business revolutionary and iconic, as one collective culture and powerful force, have been undergoing a brute dismantle and abandonment, by ignorant and unenlightened minds, instead of intelligent translation, readaptation and elevation for new era...even if such a suggested, imagined progression would mean the come-about of the Abercrombie man.

For that, the Abercrombie boy has come to pass just as the Gibson girl of yore...