- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

It says its a clothing catalog. But one peek inside Abercrombie & Fitchs new 280-page summer catalog reveals much, much more.
Interspersed among the khaki shorts and polo shirts are 120 photos of naked and near-naked coeds in sexually provocative poses. One pool shot suggests bestiality and another shows three naked men romping in the surf. Others are a mix of wet T-shirts, and topless and bottomless men and women amidst a tangle of arms and legs at various beach locations.
The back pages include cartoons, movie reviews, sex advice and a "Greatest Hits of Dirty Reading," which are books that have been barred from school libraries.
"Since the catalogue youre holding is no stranger to criticism, wed be honored if it too were banned from someones library," it reads.
The catalogs detractors say they plan to do more than that, such as organizing petitions and boycotts against the clothing line company. Family groups insist the publication is little more than a junior Playboy that sends a message of sexual promiscuity and deviant behavior to American youths. Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F;) is a popular clothing line among junior high and high school students as well as among college students.
But representatives of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio-based catalog suggest the pictures, taken by fashion photographer Bruce Weber, are great art.
"We liken it to the Norman Rockwell," spokesman Hampton Carney said. "Its so beautifully and tastefully done. Its fun, beautiful, healthy images and its sexy.
"Its a chronicle of the college experience. Its very wholesome. Its very clean. Its treated just like a magazine," he said.
"Weve been a leader in the fact that weve gone to great lengths to ensure that the publication only goes to those people for whom its intended." As the brainchild of A&F; President Michael Jeffries, the publication is aimed toward college-age students, Mr. Carney said.
Opponents question the relevance of having near-naked models in a catalog purportedly devoted to the sale of clothes.
"Theyre selling sex, selling bodies, selling images and sexuality as opposed to a product," said Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association (ADA), a Michigan-based group that began a boycott against A&F; in March after it learned of the summer catalog.
Until four years ago, A&F; merely published a free, quarterly mail-order catalog with content suitable for all ages. But starting in 1997, it began selling a hefty $6 quarterly with increasingly erotic photos, advice columns, celebrity profiles and book reviews.
In November 1999, after a 10-year-old in a Michigan mall purchased a copy, state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm ordered Mr. Jeffries to cease distributing the catalog to minors. Citing the violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, Miss Granholms letter to Mr. Jeffries said the catalog contained material that cannot be sold to minors under state law.
In December of that year, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution urging a customer boycott to discourage A&Fs; advertising practices. When Illinois Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood saw her 14-year-old daughters 1999 Christmas edition, she also called for an A&F; consumer boycott. She now has a Web site (www.stopaandf.com) devoted to the task.
A&F; says it prevents distributing its catalog to minors by using shrink wrap, applying a label to warn readers of its mature content and asking for age identification from store customers. A&F; customer service manager Tom Goulet said he was aware of customer concerns.
"We apologize that you were offended by its content. It was not our intention to offend you and we will take into consideration your comments when we begin the process of coordinating our next magazine," he said in a letter to ADA.
"It is important to us that they know we want customer feedback," he said. "We want to make sure that people feel listened to."
Mr. Johnson said the catalog "desensitizes" the public and youths to pornography. He also says that other clothing companies may follow suit by using partial and total nudity to sell their products. He hopes the boycott will yield 100,000 signatures on a petition posted at www.americandecency.org.
The intention of the boycott and petition, he says, is to "put in place a mechanism for people to demonstrate concern across the country."
Other family groups also have issued protests.
"It sells clothes with nudity," said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America. "It seems their goal is to promote sexual ideas and sexual acts amongst young people."
David Miller, the national field director for the American Family Association, said sexually explicit images in the A&F; catalog lead young people to believe that their actions have no consequences.
"Id like to see them use their catalog to sell merchandise, not ideas that are destructive to peoples lives," he said. "They are merchandising a philosophy that is harmful."
Adam McManus, the host of "Take a Stand with Adam McManus," a radio show on KSLR-AM 630 in San Antonio, encourages listeners to join the ADA boycott by signing ADAs online petition and inundating the local A&F; store with telephone calls.
"We believe this is a classic Polaroid snapshot of the moral depravity that is haunting our nation," he said. "A&F; has elevated the Hugh Hefner philosophy of sex anywhere, sex with anyone, sex anytime to a whole new level."
"The only people who will be cheering this decision of A&F; to sexualize our kids are those who profit from selling abortions and medications for sexually transmitted diseases," he added.
In spite of such criticism, A&F; said it receives overwhelmingly positive responses about the quarterly from its core audience of college-age students.
"Its something that people sit by their mailboxes and wait to come," Mr. Carney said. "It has become so popular that it is now the cornerstone of A&Fs; correspondence with our customers."

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