Los Angeles Filmaker’s Abercrombie & Fitch "Rebranding" Turns Into Downtown Debacle
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
(editor’s note: I didn’t get to snap a picture, as it didn’t seem like the proper thing to do at the time, so instead there are visual representations of the coveted A&F apparel on homeless folks posted throughout this article. The pictures are for educational purposes only.)
I had no idea that what I’d witnessed in my favorite downtown coffee shop was a residual effect of Los Angeles filmmaker Greg Karber’s attempt to “rebrand” the exclusive retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch, by handing out used A&F apparel to homeless folks on Skid Row. It wasn’t until I got home, read the news, and made the connection.
I sat at a chipped wooden table in the corner of the shop. It was the kind of table that makes you wonder who’s been there before you, and what they were thinking about, and if they’re still alive today. And soon you begin thinking about how much long you’re going to live, and how many more coffees you might drink. Before long you’re snared in a mental swirl like that bug you maliciously washed down the bathtub drain before stepping in to take a shower.
All the while I’d been enjoying a strong cup of coffee when a middle aged black man shuffled in. I didn’t think much of him, except that his hair was smattered into clumps.
When the man didn’t go to the counter to order, I looked up. He stood, with his back to me, at the table with the various canisters of cream and milk, and packets of raw and processed sugars, and stir sticks. There was also a large glass water container with a quaint metal spigot. Plastic glasses were stacked beside it.
The man wore a denim, long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. I only noticed the shirt because I had been thinking about getting a new one, and I liked the professional cut of the one he wore. Tapered at the sides. The material didn’t billow outward at its ends, but instead hugged his waist. Who made that shirt? I wanted to ask, but the energy didn’t feel right.
The man turned partly toward me. He held a plastic cup normally used for water, but filled with milk, or creamer. With a flip of his wrist, he tossed the liquid into his open mouth. He grabbed the metal milk container and poured himself more. A homeless man. Come to pinch some milk. From the back, I couldn’t even tell! And there I’d been, admiring his threads.
I glanced at the chubby barista standing next to the cash register and below a giant menu. Her long hair was dyed a dull orange at the ends. The hair hung around both sides of her face, and draped over her bulbous breasts, which were casually squashed against the counter and arced nearly into her chin.
When the man looked at me, I smiled. He smiled back. He was missing most of his front teeth. His beard was gnarled and grimy. He reached up and scratched his scalp, buried beneath the tangled hair. Underneath that open denim shirt I admired, he wore a very tight white tee with huge black letters on the front. A F. His lower belly noticeably bulged against the fabric.
He saw me glance at the barista again. I was waiting for her to tell him he had to buy something, or leave. He too looked at her, but she only smiled. “Oi mami,” he said, or something like that.
From behind the counter, a heavy-set bald man popped his head around the corner. “Hey,” he hollered, “get out of here!”
The man tipped the glass and let the smooth white liquid pour into his mouth. He dribbled a bit on his beard. His Adam’s apple bobbed once. Almost like raising a fist of defiance, I thought. His eyes were bloodshot.
Behind the counter, the owner berated the Latina barista. “How long has he been here? How many cups of milk have you allowed him to drink? We don’t let these guys come in here and drink the milk for free. You know that! Why didn’t you kick him out right away?”
The owner’s hostile tone was not as intimidating as it could have been, because it was apparent by the light smacking sounds of his dry lips and tongue that he desperately needed a drink of water.
“I didn’t know,” the barista said, but before she could finish the owner jumped in to ask, “What didn’t you know?”
“I didn’t know he was homeless,” she said. “He’s wearing Abercrombie and Fitch.”
She had a point there, I thought. This homeless man was, in a way, undercover. Meanwhile, he poured himself another small cup of milk and threw it into his open mouth. His aim was not perfect, and another dribble of white liquid colored his dark beard.
“He’s wearing what?” the owner said. His face was beet red. His lips bared back and his tiny teeth were showing. I could tell, all the way from my corner table, that he was a man who ground them during the day, and then gnashed them with even more conviction at night. He’d been turning his pearls into powder for a few decades, with all the stress of running a business in downtown Los Angeles.
I could imagine what he was thinking: it’s difficult enough to turn a profit in this economy, and now we’ve got bums dressed in professional clothing stopping by for freebies, and the goddamn younger generations of clueless baristas are not savvy enough to avoid being fooled by the true derelict behind the expensive clothing.
“Abercrombie and Fitch,” she said again. “It’s pretty expensive clothing.”
“Jesus!” the owner said, and slammed his palm onto the counter.
I watched the homeless man stroll away, probably satisfied with his belly full of cool milk.
“What is this world coming to?” he continued. “We’ve got bums walking around wearing expensive cool-kid outfits. I’ve got an employee who thinks wearing Abercrombie and Fitch makes a person more legitimate, so he can come right in here and take whatever he wants, and she’s not going to say anything because she recognizes his brand name clothing.”
He shook his head. The barista apologized. She had a huge frown on her face. She was confused. She’d done everything wrong. “It was only a little milk,” she finally said.
“About six cups,” the owner said, and retreated back to his office, or whatever was behind the counter. Two seconds later, he called out, “And make sure that milk is full!”
The barista lifted the hatch in the counter and stepped out to check on the milk. She glanced at me. “It still feels full,” she said, as she lifted the canister and held it next to her chest. “He was wearing Abercrombie, right?” she asked me. “It was like a whole outfit.”
I’m no expert, I said, but I’m not sure what else that huge A and F could stand for. Unless he’s a fan of Aretha Franklin. Or Anne Frank.
She said, “I think I’ve seen him before, but usually he’s got on a black shirt with holes in it. It threw me off.”
Don’t feel bad, I said, sometimes companies have homeless people model their clothes because of that rugged, rustic look that nobody else can get without living on the streets for a few years first.
I said this not knowing that we’d just run into a direct result of that local filmmaker’s efforts to try to burn a popular retail chain by handing out the brand name garments to disenfranchised folks. When I found out, I wasn’t sure who should be more offended, the reluctant homeless people, or Abercrombie’s CEO Mike Jeffries.
First of all, the Abercrombie & Fitch debacle as of late is a non-issue. Yes, it gives everybody on Facebook a fresh topic to bitch about. It’s easier to understand the politics behind A&F’s discrimination of certain body types than it is to read up about the Federal Reserve’s continued quantitative easing, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the LIBOR scandal.
But, with all the real issues going on in this country and world, a retailer that chooses to make their clothing for a limited body type is perfectly within the limits of the Constitution, and it’s their right to risk alienating an enormous percentage of an overweight American population.
In fact, my tall, thin skeleton body has trouble finding clothes that fit. Either too short or too wide, because it seems most retailers stock up on the most common sizes that fit the popular range of American body types. I love a finely tapered shirt, yet sometimes they’re difficult to find for my build. If it wasn’t for the silliness of their advertising, and their brain dead, superficial look, I’d give Abercrombie & Fitch a try.
Secondly, while doing a nice deed for homeless folks (giving them a free shirt or pants), filmmaker Greg Karber intentionally sought out the least attractive folks in Los Angeles, stuffed them like scarecrows into specially tailored clothes they could never afford, all with the hope of pissing off that demon Mike Jeffries and making a statement doing it.
He’s called for all of us to fish out our old Abercrombie & Fitch apparel and hand them out to homeless people. It’s an attempt to fire up a circus sideshow, and use people who couldn’t give two shits about designer clothes. Let’s get the most washed out, struggling human beings in this country to sport this company’s clothes. It’ll be a great photo-op. It will embarrass A&F. It’ll be a hoot.
Either way, that A&F denim shirt fit that homeless man very well. He had an air of confidence in it. The shirt underneath was less appealing. I’m convinced this anti-Abercrombie move is in the right direction for the mega outfitter, as it makes the cravings for the brand among the trendies and self-proclaimed “cool kids” that much more intense.