Monday, March 22, 2004

Trendy retailer Urban Outfitters Inc. canceled an order last week for 3,500 “magnetic dress up kits” that let users place a devil’s costume, a tutu and other unusual outfits on an image of Jesus hanging on the cross, according to the New York artist who created the product.

Bob Smith said the Philadelphia company notified him it was pulling its order in an e-mail message March 16, three days after a local television station aired an interview with a shopper in King of Prussia, Pa., who said he was outraged about them.

Representatives for Urban Outfitters did not return repeated telephone calls last week and yesterday.

“I don’t mind. I’ve been dealing with this for four years. You should see the hate mail I get,” said Mr. Smith, 34, who created an online version of the Jesus Dress Up Kit in 2000.

Urban Outfitters, which sells T-shirts and other merchandise geared toward young people, bought about 3,000 kits last year, according to Mr. Smith.

The company’s only store in the Washington area is located in Georgetown. When a reporter called it yesterday, a woman who identified herself as a manager said it was still selling the kits and invited the reporter to buy one. However, a visitor to the store later in the day could not find any kits.

The kits are designed to be used as refrigerator magnets, Mr. Smith said. They feature Jesus hanging on a cross dressed only in white briefs. In addition to dressing Jesus in the unusual outfits, signs that read “Hang in baby!” and “TGIF” can be placed on top of the cross.

Mr. Smith said he will continue to sell the kits for $14 apiece on his Web site. He estimates he has sold roughly 5,000 kits since he introduced them last year.

Orders have poured in since the original TV news report was picked up by other stations across the nation, Mr. Smith said. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough devoted a segment of his program to the kits last week, and the Times, a London newspaper, published a brief story on the product Sunday.

Mr. Smith, who likes to be called “Normal Bob,” was raised a Christian but said he became an atheist around his 30th birthday. He said he created the kits to encourage people “to loosen up. I felt like society was getting really oppressive.”

Mr. Smith said he recently attended a showing of the film “The Passion of the Christ” dressed as Satan. A moviegoer threw a cup of soda at him.

The magnetic kits are “ultimately disrespectful to billions of Christians around the world,” said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

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